Last August Dan Cobley left one of the most sought after jobs in European tech — running Google in the UK.
Cobley was managing director of Google UK for three-and-a-half years, reporting directly to Google’s European head, Matt Brittin.
But he jacked it all in to start up a new venture capital investment fund that builds financial technology, or fintech, companies — Brightbridge Ventures.
“I was coming up to my two-and-a-half-year itch,” Cobley told me over lunch recently. “You want to keep learning, you want to keep stretching yourself, you want to keep doing something different. All of the next progression jobs were back in California and my children are at a critical age in school where going to California wasn’t the right thing.”
As well as blockades on his career path, Cobley was also missing his earlier days at Google. He says: “The bit of my Google job that I loved the most was working with founder/entrepreneurs who still had control of the business and, therefore, had the nimbleness and the authority to really take fast action on stuff.”
Cobley joined Google in 2006 to run its marketing team in the UK. But back then Google didn’t bother much with marketing, preferring product launches, and Cobley and a few others had the opportunity to effectively build the search giant’s global marketing operation — a bit like a startup within Google.
He remembers: “I came from a 60 person marketing team to a 6 person marketing team. It was very nascent.”
Cobley’s role as MD of Google UK had less of the energy and pace as the early days. Cobley says: “I’d meet with a big FTSE company as a Google exec, and I’d give them advice. Then I’d meet with them three months later and they’d say ‘yes we’ve established a committee to evaluate that.'”
“Whereas you’d meet with an entrepreneur/owner of a business and they’d email you the next day and say, ‘we’ve put that live, thanks for the tip.’ It’s just that massive difference in culture.”
Cobley decided that diving back into the world of startups was “what’s going to make me happy.” He chose fintech because of his expertise in both technology and finance — before Google he ran European marketing for credit card company CapitalOne.
“I explored a number of options and I actually went to some old friends of mine and they said, ‘wow we’ve never thought you’d leave Google, but if you’re going to leave Google you’ve got to come work with us,'” Cobley says.
Those friends worked for Bleinheim Chalcot, “a hybrid between a family office, an incubator and a venture fund.” The company spots gaps in the market where technology could do a better job than current operators. They then either start companies to do the job or back startups that are already it.
Cobley now runs Bleinheim Chalcot’s fintech arm Brightbridge Ventures with business partner Mark Onyett, another CapitalOne alum.
Cobley has helped launch two new companies since joining — ClearScore, a startup that gives people free credit ratings, and BusinessFinanceCompared.com, a kind of MoneySupermarket.com for company financing that lets businesses compare different funding options. A third business is currently in the works, but Cobley won’t say what it is.
Brightbridge isn’t a traditional VC fund, which might take a hands-off approach to its investments, Cobley says. “It’s not ‘10% [equity stake], arms length and then we’ll check in at a quarterly board meeting,'” he says. “It’s very much every couple of days in with the business. I spend a day a week with a business I’m involved in. We’re very much part of the extended management team.”
So it’s back to the startup advice days that Cobley was missing.
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