Gerald Pollak is Investment Associate at 3VC. Prior to joining the fund, he completed a masters degree at Fudan University in Shanghai and London Business School. During his time in Shanghai Gerald co-founded a non-profit blog about the tech & entrepreneurship industry in China called chinatechblog.org. His first VC experience he gathered during an internship at Seed-stage VC Speedinvest. Before starting the master studies he was working full-time as part of the biz dev team for Apple in Western Europe.
3VC is a European venture capital fund to finance the internationalisation of high-growth technology companies. The fund typically invests in Series A and aims to provide the capital, network, and know-how for international expansion by investing together with global top VCs like Sequoia, Accel, Greylock or Index Ventures.
- How did you get into Venture Capital?
I used to work at Apple for 3 years based in Vienna, being one of the youngest corporate employees in Europe (having started at the age of 20), learned A LOT, but after those 3 years I felt the learning curve is flattening and also didn’t see myself in a corporate environment in my twenties any longer.
Thus, in 2017 I decided to leave Apple for pursuing a masters degree and use that time to answer the question of “what’s next” to myself. A ouple of months later I started the Global Masters in Management program at London Business School (a two-year double degree program from LBS and Fudan University Shanghai), where I very early on got attracted to the idea of working in the startup ecosystem after graduation. The fast pace and energy of startup teams felt really appealing. I used to row competitively for many years, also as a crew member of the Austrian National Team, so I love everything that is highly demanding, exhausting, painful but gratifying.
As a step towards achieving the goal of working in a start-up or founding one myself I thought it would be a good idea to complete an internship in VC and better understand how an investor thinks and evaluates a startup. I completed this internship at early-stage VC Speedinvest in summer 2018 before I moved to Shanghai for my second year of the master program.
In the middle of the year in Shanghai, brainstorming business ideas with my flatmates and running a little blog about startups in China with a couple of months to go till graduating, the back then recently founded 3VC team reached out to me via LinkedIn after reading one of my posts asking to chat. A couple of great conversations later we were negotiating an offer to become a member of the team and I decided to go for it.
2. What intrigued you about 3VC which made you want to work there?
First of all, I really liked the fact that 3VC was just a few months old when we had our first conversation. I initially planned to work on the start-up side and not the investment side, but a newly established VC fund like 3VC combined these two sides in a very interesting way. Working in a new fund also feels a little like working in a start-up.
Secondly, the team DNA is very entrepreneurial. From the very first conversation on it felt like that’s a team I can enjoy being a part of and grow together.
3. How is 3VC different to other Venture Capital firms?
One differentiator is our approach of always syndicating with top-tier US and UK VCs. 3VC only invests in the G/S/A and CEE region, countries where the big names in VC are less active than for example in the UK. So we aim at bridging the gap by joining forces with top-tier Anglo-American funds and provide founders we partner with optimal support with a global network.
In addition, we do very few investments a year, which allows us to have more capacity to support the teams we partner with. No matter if everything is developing great or if a portfolio company is facing big challenges, founders can count on us standing by.
4. What is the most exciting sector in the startup space at the moment?
In Europe there is a lot of hype around everything that is related to e-commerce and grocery delivery at the moment as well as topics enabling remote work.
Personally I think quantum computing is extremely exciting and there is a lot of potential in Europe to incubate global quantum computing leaders. The sector is at a very infant stage and a lot of disruption will happen in the next decade that we cannot even think of today.
5. What is the start-up ecosystem like in Central Europe and how do you as a small firm operate?
The CEE start-up ecosystem is developing fast with some big success stories like UIpath fueling the growth of the ecosystem. Nevertheless, the number of local investors is small compared to other regions, and thus the CEE startup ecosystem is also short of capital. Furthermore, CEE has quite a number of countries and the ecosystem is quite fragmented, e.g. there is one ecosystem in Poland and one ecosystem in Romania but these two ecosystems are relatively isolated from each other.
We try to be very well connected with as many local players as possible, from Universities over Angel Networks to incubators and VCs. Our aim is to build relationships with founders from CEE before another Western VC fund has even heard about them.
6. What is your investment strategy when investing in startups? (How do you choose the good from the bad)
We always try to identify future category leaders. Of course there are a number of aspects to consider when trying to identify such a potential, but in a nutshell the team is extremely important and we try to spend time with them to build a relationship (during CoViD it’s tricky but also doable with zoom/meets/etc), we deep dive into the technology to make sure there is a competitive advantage and we always speak to (potential) customers to understand the problem the startup is trying to solve better.
7. What is the most common issue startups have when they pitch for funding and how can they resolve it?
In my opinion founders often spend to little time on the problem itself and solely focus on the solution they provide. When the problem is big enough and the solution might not solve the problem perfectly, the team can still pivot the solution in a way to keep tackling the problem. However, if it is an amazing solution for a very little problem or a problem that is not a real pain point, the team can’t do anything about it. That is a “solution in search of a problem”. So when pitching it is important to also spend sufficient time on the problem the team is trying to solve.
8. What advice would you give to those who want to go into Venture Capital?
Before applying to a VC role make sure to spend a lot of time reading about startups, following the latest startup trends and developments and figure out for yourself what excites you about certain startups. I think there is no VC interview without being asked what startup excites you the most and why, as at the end of the day the VC job is a lot about identifying startups that are exciting for very good and rational reasons. When you identify a founding team you believe the fund should work with, then it is your job to tell the others in the team why this startup is exciting.
We would like to thank Gerald for taking the time to speak with us.