Tony Fadell, the engineer who helped invent the iPhone, founded Nest and now runs an investment company that supports more than 200 startups, and he has strong opinions and isn’t afraid to shout about them.
Here are two for starters: Europe will lead the climate technology revolution – and investing in the metaverse is a “harmful diversion of resources”.
Fadel says the world is going through a “dirty moment” as it grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, a “horrific and devastating war” in Ukraine and a looming environmental disaster.
But, always an optimist, Fadel says these daunting challenges also create extraordinary opportunities. A new generation of purposeful startups is working to come up with creative solutions to problems that will not only improve our planet, but may also turn into trillion-dollar businesses.
“Everything will change in the next 20 years,” he says. “Every product you use today will change.”
futuristic shape box
Fadell’s Future Shape investment and advisory fund, which writes checks between $250,000 and $25 million but declines to reveal the total size of its investment, is focused largely on climate-tech startups. It has already invested in alternative meat giant Impossible Foods and industrial diamond producer Diamond Foundry in the US, and is actively exploring investments in a cleaner environment, better crops and healthier seas in Europe as well.
Earlier this month, Paris-based FutureShip participated in the $73 million Series B series. Survey, The French carbon management platform, which Fadel claims is a world leader in its field. I have also invested in no thing, The smartphone manufacturer that aspires to rival Apple.
Other public European portfolio investments include Aectual, a Dutch carbon-neutral 3D printing company, and Aryballe, a French scent digitization startup.
👉 Read: Exploring innovative tech startups with iPod inventor Tony Fadel
“If you are a clean tech investor, the best place to go is here in Europe and that includes the UK,” he says. Europe has more advanced environmental regulation, more progressive companies and more progressive societies than most other parts of the world. “It’s great to be here.”
As a private fund, with no external LP partners, Fadell says Future Shape can move quickly and focus on the long-term. Its goal is to help “incredible scientists and engineers” take their ideas from the lab into real life. “We call ourselves money mentors,” he says, placing a lot of emphasis on helping entrepreneurs tell their stories in compelling ways.
As someone who worked closely with Steve Jobs, successfully played the startup game and is now an active venture capital investor, Fadel says he is constantly asked for advice. In response, he summarized what he learned in a book called Building: An Unconventional Guide to Making Things Worth Making, published next month.
“Every day at Future Shape I get a lot of the same questions. My selfish reason to write the book is that I don’t have to say the same things over and over again,” he laughs.
“Silicon Valley’s religion is reinventing and disrupting – blasting old ways of thinking and suggesting new ones. But some things you can’t blow up. Human nature doesn’t change”
“Build” is an innovative book, providing plenty of life advice like startup coaching. It covers the standard fare for how to match the product to the market, build the business and raise funds. But it also deals with the human side: how to overcome startup growth pitfalls, deal with assholes, and know when to quit. “In the end, two things are important: products and people,” Fadel wrote.
He admits that a lot of his advice is old school. “Silicon Valley’s religion is reinventing and disrupting — blasting old ways of thinking and proposing new ones. But some things you can’t blow up. Human nature doesn’t change, no matter what you build, where you live, your age, or whether you’re rich or no.
He also agrees, in our interview, that the best way to learn how to run a startup is to start running a startup. “There is no startup school. You have to get a PhD in it by doing it.” Failure may be an inevitable result of inexperience but it also provides the best learning experience. “It only fails if you don’t have another try. The first iPhone was a disaster. But we kept moving forward.”
What excites Fadel as an investor today is how business is becoming democratized as more entrepreneurs can access cheap technology tools, easy financing and global markets. “I think we can expand the world of entrepreneurs,” he says. What has also changed since the last clean tech boom and depression 10 to 15 years ago is that governments and consumers are now “crying out” for action on the environment. Carbon cap taxes can provide an economic incentive for green investment, too.
However, he is concerned that increased investment in the metaverse will absorb energy from climate technology. “The metaverse is a wrong choice. It is a diversion of resources. Either you are part of the problem or part of the solution. If you invest in the metaverse you are part of the problem,” he says.
Venture capital can make money hopping digital bits, but only by moving around physical atoms can we solve the climate crisis.
John Thornhill is Sifted’s managing editor and one of its founders. He is also the innovation editor for the Financial Times, and tweets from Tweet embed