Photo: Photo by Flickr user ukaop
Saul Klein is a very interesting guy, and he’s in the news because Lovefilm, the “Netflix of Europe” which we named one of the 10 biggest startups in Europe, just got acquired by Amazon at a reported $312 million valuation.That would be a big enough accomplishment for anyone, but Klein was also an early executive at Skype, and is now a VC at Index Ventures, by all accounts the top VC firm in Europe (and very active in the US too). And he founded not one, not two, but three early stage investment funds.
What’s his story?
Klein was born his Johannesburg. His uncle co-founded Getty Images, and his father Robin, a partner in one of his funds, is a serial entrepreneur.
Klein went to school in the UK, and graduated from Cambridge with an MA in literature. He started out as a journalist but quickly moved to business.
Early on in the internet revolution, Klein got his start at startup Firefly Networks in Silicon Valley in 1995, and then moved to Seattle in 1998 when the company got acquired by Microsoft.
That had an impact on Klein's worldview, he said in an FT profile. At the time, Microsoft was at its apex, and you really felt you could accomplish anything working there. He also wants to bring the Silicon Valley mindset to Europe.
This was 1999, a time when plenty of other people started investing in tech.
The fund is still active and has 42 announced portfolio companies.
Last.fm is a cool and popular social network around music that allows you to share the music you've been listening to. What most people don't realise is that the company was started in London and Klein was an early backer.
In 2002, Klein started a company called Video Island, with the goal of becoming the Netflix of Europe. Problem was, plenty of other companies had the idea of becoming the Netflix of Europe.
So Video Island merged with two other companies to become Lovefilm International, and he stayed as CEO until 2005.
He became VP of marketing and then VP of e-commerce at Skype until its acquisition by eBay.
Index Ventures, with offices in London and Geneva, is widely regarded as the best VC firm in Europe. They invested in companies like Skype, MySQL (acquired for $1 billion by SUN) and BetFair ($2.3 billion IPO).
Klein joined up as a Partner in 2006 after eBay acquired Skype.
OpenCoffee started out as a simple enough concept: startup folks hang out once a week for coffee in the same place. In fact, it's still the same simple concept. The difference now? OpenCoffee is now in 130 cities and counting.
SeedCamp is a startup accelerator program based in London and akin to Y Combinator.
SeedCamp is now expanding all over Europe and even the world, with SeedCamp Johannesburg and Singapore.
Surprisingly enough, Index Seed is the name of Index Ventures' seed fund. The fund is an allocation for 20 seed deals over 24 months, and is done in partnership with TAG, Klein's old fund. Klein's father Robin joined Index as a Venture Partner to lead the seed effort, while TAG stays active.
For you keeping score at home, this is the third seed fund Klein has started.
Glasses Direct is only active in the UK right now, but it's a pretty impressive company. It got started by students and generated over £1m in revenue while they were still in school. Its bricks and mortar competitors sued to shut it down (welcome to Europe!). And it's had revenue growth of 2000% in the past 5 years.
MyHeritage, which is Israel, is also a pretty big company. For some reason, genealogy is absolutely huge online. Ancestry.com is publicly traded with a $1.5bn market cap.
MyHeritage was started by an Israeli entrepreneur with passion who quit his job and spent all his life savings running a site which no one wanted to fund. Meanwhile Silicon Valley titan David Sacks started competing site Geni.com and immediately raised $10 million. MyHeritage grew faster though, raised money from Index Ventures on the way, and now Sacks has moved on, founding social networking startup Yammer.
Why? Because Israel has more NASDAQ-traded companies per capita than any other country on Earth, and more than Western Europe. It's the proverbial 'startup nation.'