The question is: do banks even care (about Innovation) ?

Thinking out loud in the middle of my home town summer time…

You will not find a single financial institution saying “we don’t care about innovation” … It does not look right, not good to investors, and not very stimulating for your customers.
Without being too generalist, you innovate because you have something new to sell or build, or because you can do the same better, cheaper or faster.

Innovation means efficiency, more often than not. And unless you have very stupid customers or shareholders, efficiency means leaner cost structure, and very often it comes handy to no lay off people and keep doing the same with the double (conservative) of the resources needed.

Almost every banker will name regulation as the most compelling reason stopping innovation to happen, or at very least make that process very difficult.

This is half of the truth, if you hear me.
The other half is about …..
…. Technology readiness (and subsequent lack of agility).
You can build a full bank, in the cloud, in few months, with close to the same security and scalability standards of any other bank in the market. This “new” thing can also handle alternative currencies, multiple wallets, mobile payments, Personal Finance Management, and if they are honest enough, even services like forex AND remittances way cheaper than the actual bank rates (and for sure cheaper than Western Union).
Ask a “old world” bank to do the same, and the CIO will say: sure, but with a multimillion dollars budget and one of the IBMs of this world drinking too much champagne way before Xmas.

The question still remains: do banks even care ?

Banks are, like every business, a collection of human beings, that in average tends to put their own personal agenda on the forefront of the criteria influencing their decision. It s human.
We are at this generational break, where most of the highest ranked managers of the top 100 banks in the world will NOT see the real disruption coming.
All they see today is that some guys not wearing suites anymore, few very successfully, building businesses in the banking space, and in a new paradigm.
Say peer to peer and peer to SMS lending.
Take all the IWOCA, WONGA, ZOPA, LENDDO, AFLUENTA. AMP and even the microlending platforms of this planet, all together: I don’t know if anybody has done it yet (why bother, again) but I am pretty sure they are, all together, damaging a single digit fraction of the whole credit business, worldwide.
So many of the today decision makers will no longer be by the time all that will become a real disruption.

Too simplistic? Maybe, but this is my blog and there is freedom of expression right ;-)?

It takes a bright, charismatic, outspoken, self awareness energy to embrace the innovation and disruption side of the financial services. You know why?
Because compared to the way they are today, the ” disrupted, innovation-driven, new ” financial services would be
– cheaper
– inclusive (not cheaper for the rich)
– more efficient
– for the greater good

… and there is only ONE Professor Yunus, of the Grameen Bank, every HUNDREDS of today financial institutions CEOs.

Stay tuned, have been off for a while, lot of things have happened, need to spend some more time writing …


Fintech Bootcamp rocks… #sbtvc proudly rocking with them!

In the past 24 months the rise of Fintech incubators, all over the world, has taken an incredible speed.
Looks like I am not the only one thinking that the disruption will hit our beloved banks (and financial institutions in general) sooner rather then later.

I have been quite on my blog recently, whilst my life has gotten busier than ever before, but the two facts are unrelated.
The reason why I thought this one was a good moment to “talk” is the launch of Startup Bootcamp in its very first Fintech instance, out if St. Catherine docks in London.


There are four point of attention I d like to make:

- the concept is great: 30 startups, 3 years, equity at stake, great network of entrepreneurs, tailored mentoring, no bullshit
– the team is awesome, and worth to mention another great chapter for my former colleague Nektarios (congrats dude), in all modesty brought to the Innotribe team by yours truly and infected with the innovation virus(es) to a point of no return – literally!
– the partners, the sponsors and the coaches of this adventure have a lot to say in the Fintech space, and I am talking about MasterCard, Lloyd’s, Rabobank, and many more I m sure you will hear a lot about very soon
– SBT Venture Capital, my fund, is proud to be one of the partners (which is kind of the reason why I am blogging this piece, obviously)

I must say I am quite familiar with this matter, in the sense that I always thought that the opportunity to take part of a qualified deal flow, vetted by the community, in the early stage startup space, and in a “sandbox like” environment was a good thing to do (all these drivers are already underpinning the Innotribe Startup Challenge).

Bank should do this too.

There are three different kind of attitudes towards startups banks are generally applying:
– “who cares, in any case what damage can they make, a fraction of a percent of our business?” (The “Dums”)
– let s watch them and simply buy the most successful one (The “Arrogant”)
– stay close. Try them. Eventually, invest. Learn from their lean approach. Engage. Get inspired (the “Smartass”)

So, Bootcamp is for the latter.
You (financial institutions) can stay around without necessarily invest in it.
We are planning to.
See you at the London st Catherine docks.

Stay tuned


Xmas cities …

Brussels (and 100km around), London, Paris, Geneva, New York, Setubal, Lisbon, Singapore, Hong Kong, Toronto, Madrid, Zurich,Nice, Milan, Turin, Rome, Tampa, Quito, Amsterdam, Luxembourg, Moscow, San Francisco, Seattle, Belfast, Beijing,Vienna,Trento, New Delhi, Portland,Bucharest,Marseille, Monaco,Rio, Stockholm, Los Angeles and of course my home lands and the places where my family is…
In every one if these cities there are people I respect professionally and/or deeply care about, and/or love. You know who you are.
This is my 2013 way to wish you all the best for next year, and some quality time with the people you care about.

Stay tuned

WebWednesdays y la insostenible levedad del ser (una startup)

Nunca seré tan prolífico como mi amigo Chris Skinner, y – sinceramente – es una fortuna para mis lectores también… Pero hay algo que me gustaría compartir, y lo hago en español para dos razones:
– dentro de dos semanas, en Bogotá, hay #NeXTBankLatam y el sujeto encaja totalmente
– prepararme psicológicamente a utilizar el español, porque el Coaching y el Keynote serán en el idioma de Cervantes

Que son los Web Wednesdays¿

Unas reuniones muy chulas de startups en Hong Kong, organizadas por Napoleón, que también ha creado “the battle of the Apps” un nombre mucho más bonito para describir un Hackaton.

Hay denominadores comunes en todos estos eventos:
– la gente es más abierta a conocerse, pero todavía no se ha inventado una manera fácil, divertida, inmediata y eficaz de mezclar a la gente. He llegado sólo, son conocer a nadie, de humor cansado y asociable, y sólo he hablado con los speakers de la conferencia de ayer que me invitaron y llegaron al final del evento.
– ser “informal” parece obligatorio, los pocos banqueros con corbata (poquísimos, no banqueros, con corbata) se destacan como un burro volando – esta expresión me la acabo de inventar pero se que existe en otro contexto
– cómo en todas la comunidades, hay un poco de todo. El hecho de bañar el el mundo de las startups no garantiza una mayor densidad de celdas cerebrales
– hay una diferencia impresionante entre los que desarrollan, los que tienen ideas y los que saben vender ideas. Y si alguien hace las tres, o esta hablando en el Keynote o esta invirtiendo en startups ya

En general, es bastante fácil pasarlo bien, pero no porque es un evento de startups.
Lo pasas bien porque las probabilidades de hablar con alguien (o de escuchar a alguien) que tenga una historia que simule tu sed de aventura son más altas que en la mayoría de los eventos de negocio.

En otras palabras, los banqueros son lo más atrevidos, porque esté mundo es muy diferente de lo que ven todos los días pero también los que traen el mayor beneficio de estos eventos. Porque – potencialmente – pueden convertirse en chispas de innovación.


Es el motor de esos eventos.
Eventos donde no hay entrada, o si hay una es muy baja y tiene una cerveza incluida.
Ya sé, NextBank es una producción más importante, y se lo que quiere decir it granizar este tipo de eventos… Pero Fermín y Andrés tienen el mérito de desarrollar un ecosistema nuevo de innovación, como hicimos nosotros hace seis años con Innotribe, y me alegro mucho de contribuir a ese objetivo.

Colombia va a ser una sorpresa, he empezado a hablar con algunos de lo actores locales, y la verdad es que el tejido de las startups es bastante más desarrollado de lo que pensaba… Can’t wait¡

Como en español sonaría muy estúpido, lo digo en inglés …

Stay tuned


#SBT Venture Capital #Sberbank #walkthetalk … Live from Hong Kong

I m about to go on stage at the Finance Innovation forum 2013, my first talk post-Innotribe era.
Interesting enough, until September this year I dealt with innovation from a very neutral platform, helping financial organizations to work with startups, apprehend innovation processes, build new products, and now I am standing behind one of the largest financial institutions worldwide, Sberbank, who decided to walk the innovation talk and launch a Fintech fund.


Sberbank is not the only bank in the world investing in startups.
It IS though the FIRST financial institution launching a vertical captive fund investing in Fintech startups.

So if you know put yourself in my shoes,you realize how disruptive this change is.

I literally jumped on the other side of the equation.

And – when you look at it – there is no more logical decision for a bank to take.
Many banks have an innovation department (yet not the majority, though). But without the freedom to invest, without the independence of action they need, and most importantly without managing it as a business.

Let me use one of my favorite expressions: I will not hide myself behind my finger.
There are challenges in marrying young dynamic startups to a 350 thousands people organization.
The enthusiasm, the willingness to progress fast, the freshness and sometimes the naiveness and the fragility of the startup has to cope with the sales cycle of the bank, its legacy, its policies and politics.

But is the right way to go, and the reason why I joined.

The intention is truly to walk the talk, in an unexplored field.
Why unexplored?
Again, because investing in Fintech startups for a bank seems to be the natural thing to do to reinvent itself. Yet, as all pioneers, we forge the way, learning the hard way. And I am here to write this story, together with Mircea and the team.

The team…. Let me wrote the BIO of the guys I worked with so far in three lines with my colorized expressions:

Mircea Mihaescu, my Partner in crime: the gray bald hair of the team, young hearted Rumanian Canadian, former entrepreneur, IBMer, with the balls to change his life once again to bring Innovation into Sberbank three years ago. Smart, determinate, reliable, and with the curiosity of a child.

Tony Fish, advisor to the fund: the multiple exits entrepreneur with the brightest mind, and a marvelous humility and openness that drives him to share and discover rather than show off and keep knowledge for himself (as many money-made guys do). A living book on best practices on innovation and startups, and a true good person.

Andrew Martin, the only one with hair in the team, even if white. I consider him the coach of SBT, he is behind our financials and legal negotiations, very hard to spot something he has not seen yet, but – most importantly – someone who always work with a smile on his face. A great person I am discovering day after day. His favorite sentence “I have seen it before”… And he actually has!


I can t wait to announce our next investments, and more on this journey.

Stay tuned


My Venture Capital week at Sibos Dubai


Not easy to wrap up my first Sibos in my new job, but I will try while (sitting in my Emirates flight back ) I am still awake (I suspect the typical siesta post Sibos party will hit me in no time).

First of all: Innotribe rocked.


I only attended the startup challenge (kind of obviously) and a couple of sessions, but the vibes were clearly there.
The team worked probably 20 hours per day on average for the entire week, and it was hard not to feel guilty for not helping or being with them. The last session, the campfire started with my forever friend Innes playing guitar (yes, playing guitar in a “camp” shaped session) was too hard to attend for me. enough emotions this week.

I was on a very interesting panel, unsuspectedly VERY popular, talking about collaboration and information sharing (and connected companies, and disruption from startups, etc etc). Allevo did a great job in putting this together.
My first panel in my new role. (Pic follows)


So I moved on.

I realized that Sibos is a crossways of different networks, if you know how to navigate amongst them.
The networks I am looking for, now, involve entrepreneurs, start-ups, cities and governments, innovative vendors and obviously other venture capital firms.
There are different forms of being in a VC business, and the one I preach for aims at fostering growth, create sustainable businesses, not speculate on capital iteration based on companies flipping.

Anthemis group organized an AMAZING dinner at floor 123 of the iconic Burg Khalifa. That dinner alone is a post by itself, will follow soon.
Let me still a pic from Scott Bales here:


All of a sudden, the start-up challenge took a totally different angle for me.
Being able to help these entrepreneurs to find the right scale path to the business, seeking opportunities to get them closer to Sberbank products and services team, and of course vet their companies with a VC hat is another game (a fascinating one).
Congrats KlickEx and Waratek, soon a more detailed blog on this too!

Another great discussion that took place in Dubai was about creating start-up ecosystems to help the economic development of the city.
Dubai ran out of oil 35 years ago. Yet, they managed to be one of the wealthiest cities in the world.
I would love to find a model where we can build vertical startup hubs focused in creating job opportunities and access to values creation to the people who dare.

You know why?

To answer this question, let me refer to one of the sessions I attended this year at Innotribe.
John Chavens.
Measuring health, stress, hearth condition through physical devices.
New paradigm.
Ultimately … Looking to measure happiness.

So WHY I want to help to create this Eco-systems?
Because the energy that flows when people are free to express their true self, in an environment that boost their creativity, is viral. Simply, makes that geography a better place.

It feels good. I feel damn good.

stay tuned


It is time to share what my next life will look like …

I am sitting in a plane with a beautiful September sunrise, and all of a sudden my iPhone decides to play some music at me, more exactly the songs I used to listen in my 20ies, and even more exactly a song called “Incontro”… Talking about the freedom you feel when you are young, when you have no means but plenty of hope and energy, and (the song saying) when you are all grown up, your life is settled around you, you would give a lot to make love (like old times) in the back of your car, or at a movie, to grasp even for a little moment what you understand NOW being the salt of life… emotions.

My next plans are not about retire and listening to old Italian songs, but the reason for this intro is the transition the song provoked in my mind… I am about to begin another cycle, where I change EVERYTHING.

Few people know already: I have resigned from SWIFT, after 12 years of great adventures in Sales, Comms and Innovation.

My next challenge is a 100 M USD Venture Fund, called SBT VENTURE CAPITAL ( that I join as a General Partner.
We will invest mainly in Series A startups, in need of 1-10 M USD, within the fin-tech industry. In other words, not only we keep partnering with the Innotribe Startup Challenge, but I hope I will have the opportunity to stay in touch with many of the brilliant minds I have met during these 5 fabulous Innotribe years.

This is a question my kids might ask, in 10 years from now, if ever they will read these lines: what is your job about? (The only conversation I had about this with my 9YO son, I turned to be someone who s traveling the world to take pictures then selling them on Facebook).

The General Partner of a venture fund has the overall mission to make sure the fund gives back the invested money and some sizable profit to the limited partners who put the money into the fund itself. In this case, Sberbank – by far the largest Russian bank and one of the biggest banking players in the world – is the sole limited partner of the fund.
The GP job is about screening, build the deal flow (the portfolio of startups), make sure each company is vetted (financially, in their business model, and legally) and most importantly helping the companies in the fund’s portfolio with sales introductions, network, strategic insights, and some white hair in their board ( not applicable to me ).

I will start at Sibos, in Dubai, where the Startup Challenge Finale might bring good investment opportunity for us.
I will be based where the business brings me…. “where are you based?” Is an overrated question anyway.

Why do I change EVERYTHING? That s the title of my next post ;-)

I will change now my, LinkedIn, twitter and Facebook profile.
For the ones who want to reach me, my mobile phone number stays the same, and if you take my first name and sbtventurecapital (.com) you can figure my email address. LinkedIn works too.

stay tuned, more news in a short while