A Date with Destin: Q&A With Accel’s New Europe Tech VC Partner

As originally posted on the Wall Street Journal. You can connect Fred and Accel on Twitter.

Fred Destin

Fred Destin

Fred Destin has had a big 24 hours. The tech investor said Wednesday he would jump firms, from Atlas Venture in the U.S. to Accel Partners’ London office. On Thursday morning, one of his leading investments for Atlas, UK-property listing site Zoopla, announced it would go public.

Destin said he first put £500,000 into Zoopla in 2007. After working for Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, he joined Atlas in 2004, where he invested in startups such as French social video site Dailymotion and ticket site Seatwave. He has been a mentor at startup programs Seedcamp and Techstars and writes about the venture-capital market on his personal blog. He was Atlas’ London-based partner until the firm closed the office in 2010 and brought him to Cambridge, Mass.

WSJD caught up with Destin, who won’t officially move to London with his family until September. Here is an edited version of our conversation.

How are you preparing to come back to Europe and get back up to speed on the scene?

The only way in which you prepare is to go meet tens or hundreds of people. I’m planning to hit London and Berlin hard. That’s my strategy: Coffee shops and entrepreneurs.

What areas are you planning to focus on?

My personal bias has always been more on the early-stage side, and I’m likely to stay that way, even though I think it’s great that we can support companies at any stage of development. For the rest, I’m sorry to provide a non-answer, but I find that VCs are generally not that insightful about trends. It’s going to take me six to nine months to develop a really good thesis.

If I’m an entrepreneur, how can I get some of your money?

I always end up investing in people who come in through recommendations. It is a great filter. How do people impress me? They impress me by trying to take unreasonable risks and thinking differently about big markets. I have a really strong love of people who are involved in product and tech, even more so than business.

People say there’s not enough money in London to fuel growing companies. Is that true?

The level of ambition is there. The level of technology and product expertise is there. The talent is there, universities are there, the ecosystem is maturing, and the level of ambition is maturing. I think the funding market is a little bit sub-critical mass. I just don’t think there are enough funding options. I’m really waiting for these next generation of funds to come up. But at the moment it’s a little bit thin for entrepreneurs when they have to choose where to get funding from.

So many startups today rely on personal information and data, trying to build a customer profile or trying to cater to individual consumers. Do you think the recent European court ruling saying Google must scrub certain search results will have an effect?

I’m concerned that the European Union continues to make decisions that are not credible from a technology standpoint.  Privacy has become an absolutely hot button, and it also creates an opportunity to create great startups to provide people with privacy and protection. I’m hoping we will see some exciting startups that help you regain control of your data. I just don’t think we’re going to do this through legislation. I think you’re seeing a classic case in Europe, where you lead with regulations. If you want to protect people’s online reputation, you could ask the publishers to hold off on stories where they mention people. Who’s next? Google, then it’s Twitter, then it’s anybody who is a news aggregator.

What can Europe do to help startups?

Movement of people and services is where we started. But now what about companies that could be created with a common legal framework and a common stock option framework? Instead of legislating on the shape of bananas, wouldn’t it be more helpful if they continued with the core goals, which are to make the European market more seamless?

What are you most looking forward to?

Paris’ cafes. A cynical sense of humor. Visiting Berlin’s clubs. Restaurants in London. The whole lifestyle of Europe I miss.


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