Niko Bonatsos is one of the fast-risers in the world of Venture Capital. Bonatsos is a Managing Director with General Catalyst, where in his short career he's sourced investments such as RealtyShares, ClassDojo, and most notably Snapchat.
Bonatsos invests in early stage companies, which means he has to have nerves of steel. I had the chance to sit down with him recently to talk about what he looks for in founders, and what areas of investment he's pursuing.
Tell our readers a bit about your background.
Niko Bonatsos: I'm an early stage venture capitalist, and I'm in the business of partnering with ridiculously ambitious founders to build category defining companies.
Our firm has about $4 billion under management and we invest in consumer and enterprise IT companies. Prior to joining the VC world, I was a perpetually curious mind who lived, studied, and worked in a bunch of countries like Japan, the UK, and Greece (where I come from). I'm currently based in the Bay Area.
What area or areas are you most excited about investing in right now?
NB: I'm very interested in investing in the urbanization technology. The urbanization technology space or urban tech - as some people call it - is all about helping make the quality of life in cities amazing, and help cities run efficiently.
More and more people are moving into cities because jobs, prosperity, and wealth are concentrated there. Space within cities is going to have to be used more efficiently - and exciting technologies like drones and automated cars are pretty much a given at this point. Cities are going to have to become more efficient and urban tech will enable that.
If you pause to think about it - Airbnb is the largest hotel company in the world and they own no hotels, Amazon is the largest retail company in the world and they own no stores, Uber is the biggest taxicab company in the world and they own no taxis. More companies like this will emerge as urban tech booms.
What does an investable founder look like?
Every successful founder I've met is a learning animal - they treat every decision as a learning opportunity. Furthering that point, successful founders have a ton of curiosity to uncover the truth. They strive to become the expert on their domain - they challenge themselves to know more about their business than any Fortune 500 CEO in their space.
Second thing is being "mission driven" and authentic. You want someone who can handle the ups and down and use the mission of the company to steer the ship during tough times.
Last, you want someone who will live and breathe the business 24/7. Someone who is truly passionate about solving the business problem they set out to fix.
Are we currently in a "down cycle" in startups?
In tech it seems like sentiments can change depending on the week, or the month. If you ask me right at this moment, I think the fundraising market seems to be healthy.
If you look in the history of the valley, these are seven-eight year long cycles. There will at some point be a correction, but ultimately, I'm long in the tech, and I'm clearly betting my career on it.