Press Release: Sompo Expands into Europe with an investment in Isomer Capital
In April, we welcomed new Principal, Michael Joyce, to the Isomer team.
In the second edition of Isomer Q&As, you can find out more about Michael’s experience and why he has chosen to join Isomer Capital. Welcome to the team, Michael!
How did you get into the world of venture capital? What attracted you to it?
From an early age, I was always fascinated by how things work. This love primarily came from my father who flew fighter jets in the military – he instilled a love of engineering and later, a love of investing. Under my father’s tutelage, I opened a brokerage account during my freshman year of high school. That quickly resulted in some painful losses, but many lessons learned.
From there, venture capital always seemed like a natural fit for me. The sector sits at the intersection of technology and investing – offering the opportunity to learn about emerging technologies while providing the capital to keep those innovations moving.
Why did you decide to work for Isomer? Why move from the US to the UK?
Joe (Managing Partner, Isomer) and I worked together at Cambridge Associates. It was a fantastic place to work as a young associate, with an amazing vantage point across the industry. Joe and I crossed paths researching global venture firms almost a decade ago. Joe left Cambridge before me, but we kept in touch. I moved to London with Cambridge in 2016 and continued to research venture managers on behalf of clients. Isomer was a manager that we looked at and one that I admired. When the opportunity came up to join the team, I couldn’t turn down.
I spent a lot of time going back and forth across the Atlantic as a child. My mother is from Suffolk, so the UK has always felt like a second home to me. Putting aside the familial attraction, the UK has always punched above its weight in engineering and hard sciences, making it an attractive place to come and work. There must be something special about the birthplace of Babbage, Lovelace, Turing, Berners Lee, and Geoffrey Hinton.
What will you be focused on at Isomer?
Isomer is a small, focused firm, so we all work closely and on what needs to get done. I split my time between investing and building out our data collection and analytical capabilities. We have exposure to hundreds of companies through our platform of funds, directs, and secondaries. The portfolio will continue to grow, so it’s vital that we use the data to stay on top of technology trends, country trends, breakout companies, co-investment opportunities, and general portfolio health. The data is there to help us make the best investment decisions and to generate good returns, insights and deal flow for our LPs.
What differences do you find between the US technology ecosystem and the European one?
I’ve been lucky enough to experience both ecosystems, one of the stark differences I noticed in the past while at Cambridge Associates was the backgrounds of GPs in Europe versus those in the US. GPs in Europe often had banking or other finance backgrounds as opposed to being former entrepreneurs. Happily, this is not the norm anymore as we see an increasing number of ex-founders becoming VCs. That’s a sign of an increasingly healthy ecosystem.
European funds are also starting to specialise like their American counterparts. For example, in Los Angeles or New York, it’s easy to find a VC that specialises in the vertical or sector you operate within. This specialisation is now being mirrored here in Europe.
I also find the fragmentation of the European VC ecosystem to be an irresistible challenge. Compared to the concentration of Silicon Valley – where you can fill up your entire calendar with meetings within walking distance for months – it’s a lot harder to hop around Europe to find the next UiPath or Spotify. Searching through a broad network with a structured approach shows there are big outcomes to be found all across Europe. The search makes the discovery all the more rewarding.
What do you like the most about the European Tech scene? What do you like the least?
I’ve found the diversity of viewpoints in the European ecosystem, particularly striking. In Silicon Valley, many people are working on similar problems which can lend itself both positively and negatively to groupthink and insulation from the broader world.
Whereas in Europe, there is a tremendous amount of interaction between people who grew up in different countries and cultures. I don’t think you would ever see a company like Transferwise founded in the US – very few Americans think about other currencies until they go on holiday. However, there’s some real symbiosis between the two markets. I enjoy being a part of the younger but equally dynamic ecosystem.
What technology/tech sub-sector are you most excited about for 2020?
There are so many! Computational biology is high on my list, as is quantum computing. Google’s recent, albeit somewhat controversial, breakthrough on quantum supremacy was exciting to watch. The amount of venture invested in quantum computing continues to rise, although you’re not going to see them show up in your home anytime soon.
Industrial automation and cryptographic enabled infrastructure are two additional sectors I’m keeping a close eye on. Swiss-based Polkadot is getting off the ground as is Blockstack over in New York. I’m expecting big things from both.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career to date?
I often found it challenging to encourage institutional investors to think beyond what has worked in the past. It’s uncomfortable for anyone to take career risk, especially in venture. There can be a herd mentality among some large institutional LPs often resulting in an all-or-nothing approach to VC managers. Historical performance data says that’s the wrong approach, but it’s hard to change long-held beliefs sometimes.
ESG in investing is an ongoing theme of importance to LPs, VCs and the wider ecosystem. What do you think needs to change in the world of tech to make it more diverse?
Some European VCs have been making great strides in this direction. It’s encouraging to see the extensive commitment to these principles in the ecosystem. I know Isomer takes them very seriously as PRI signatories.
While the European investment sector is by no means nascent, when compared with the US, there’s an opportunity to cement diversity in the values of VC funds right from the beginning. It is much easier to embed the right culture and decision making earlier rather than trying to change a mature sector. It’s great to see female-founded VCs and female partners on day one in Europe. Although, I think for an industry that prides itself on outlier opportunities, there is still a lot of work to be done to see outliers reflected in some teams.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I tend to become interested in different topics each year. This year it’s been physics, so I’ve been spending time on a few MOOCs. I read a lot of non-fiction, history mostly. I enjoy flight simulators and when I’ve had enough screen time, I hit the trails with my mountain bike.
And to finish off, what three words would you use to describe yourself?
A tough question! I’d say gracious, curious, and slightly-taller-than-average.