Seedcamp Partner Carlos Eduardo Espinal on starting up
Planting the seeds of success: Carlos Eduardo Espinal’s take
Here’s an enviable job title for anyone in the startup industry: partner at Seedcamp. Since the launch of Seedcamp 8 years ago, the investment and mentoring program based in the UK has invested in about 120 startups.
Meeting these startups and gauging potential is Carlos Eduardo Espinal, who has been a partner at Seedcamp for the last five years.
Born in Honduras, Carlos moved to the U.S. to further his education, studying engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, followed by Babson College for an MBA. After the MBA program, he moved to London, where his sister was living at the time.
“I moved there without anything and hoped for the best,” he says. “The funny thing with life is that you can only see in hindsight how things happened the way they happened.”
As luck would have it, Carlos had a friend in the UK, who gave him a lead at Doughty Hanson Technology Ventures, a company that invests in early stage companies.
“I was always interested in finance, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time for this opportunity,” he says.
From there, he learned the skills needed to build global businesses. This eventually led him to take on his role at Seedcamp. EHK chatted with him about startups, changes in career, and knowing when to throw in the towel.
You went from being an engineer to breaking into VC. What was the reason for the career change?
I always enjoyed technology and being on top of things. There’s a point in every engineer’s career however, where you realize that there will always be people who will be better at tech then you are. And at that moment, I realized I wanted to continue in technology. During my engineering days, I met a friend who was a VC, so I started going down that path of educating myself to transition myself from engineering to finance.
How did you get your first job in the UK?
That same friend I mentioned happened to move to the UK, and he introduced me to some people. Which led me into Venture. It was really about me being in the right place at the right time.
What do you enjoy about our work?
With time, you develop expertise and the know-how in figuring out if something is purely about the technology or the idea. I appreciate the subtleties that make a company successful or not. Like the positioning and the branding of a company. And I realize I really enjoy early stage funding.
What’s a way to buildup the startup scene in any city?
If you make it easy for people to come, they will. Just enable it. It’s not easy for everyone to travel and get to certain locations (in regards to) visas. If a city or country makes it easier, people will flood in. With the right initiatives, it’s possible to expedite people into the country.
Is there a character trait you can pinpoint that makes people successful?
People always say, “you have to hustle, you have to fail fast.” All those things are valid, but fundamentally, I think in an invisible way, what makes an impact is a person’s willingness and ability to connect with other people. It’s rare that you can succeed in a vacuum.
What about knowing when it’s time to quit or give up on your startup?
You need to be able to identify the biased signals that kick in and the reasoning for you to continue. The (sheer) perseverance of wanting to continue might keep you going. But many startups think they should continue and in fact they shouldn’t. The most important thing is to make sure you have the right positioning, or figure out if you need to pivot, do something new. This comes with setting realistic goals. For example, let’s say I want to be the best runner. But what does that mean? That’s not a realistic goal. You need to set a goal that’s achievable in the market. I’m 38. I’m not going to be the best basketball player, but I could be a coach.
What about bad endings, or breakups with founders in startups?
This happens more way often than you think. The splits that go badly are the ones don’t have any structure for separation. There should always be a structure for sorting out these types of situations. That’s why we always advise startups to go in with a well written out plan for this type of situation.
What are three startups that you’re excited about?
- Propertypartner.co: There’s a lot of work that needs to be done on democratizing real estate development
- Jobdoh.com: This startup is based in Hong Kong, and they’re really changing the employment market by maximizing the work force that exists. It’s making change on the micro scale.
- Transferwise.com: They move capital by beating the bank fees.
Seedcamp partner Carlos Eduardo Espinal will spend a week in Hong Kong from July 7, acting in his capacity as blueprint mentor to deliver a Seedcamp learning sprint to blueprint’s new accelerator startups who will begin their 6 month acceleration the same week.
This interview with Carlos Eduarado Espinal was conducted and condensed by Hannah Leung of EntrepreneurHK (EHK).