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‘I believe that 2021 is going to be a year of growth’

Innovation and positivity are crucial in a crisis, according to venture capitalist Eze Vidra EMBA2010

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It didn’t take a pandemic for Ezequiel (Eze) Vidra to want to help people. As a managing partner at early-stage European venture capital fund Remagine, based in Tel Aviv and London, Vidra pushes his founders to think about how their innovations can be useful in a bigger-picture way. Over the last few months, that approach has proved prescient.

One startup in Remagine’s portfolio, for example, uses artificial intelligence to create videos of realistic-looking (but computer-generated) people. With this technology, it has turned the text of the World Health Organisation’s FAQ about Covid-19 into short, easily digestible videos. AI can easily generate the videos in multiple languages to reach a broad audience and without the need for a human camera crew – crucial in these socially distanced times.

Vidra says the videos are important because, as a format for conveying information, text tends to be relatively difficult for people to digest. “Retention is much higher with video,” he explains. “We are programmed to listen to faces. When we see two eyes and a mouth and a nose, that’s something that the human brain understands much better than text.”

"I think a lot of entrepreneurs are stressed, especially early-stage entrepreneurs, because access to funding became much harder."

But his response to the pandemic goes far beyond what his startups are doing. In mid-March, as the scope of the outbreak was widening daily, he used his popular blog to gather a list of companies offering free or deeply discounted services in the crisis. Within 48 hours the list had 100 entries and it didn’t take long for it to top 300. The list includes “anything from large companies to scale-ups to early-stage startups,” Vidra says.

“When the pandemic started, I felt like a lot of people froze,” he continues. “People started laying off employees, businesses started shutting down.” He wanted to draw attention to something more optimistic. With his site, which has been ranked among the top 50 venture capital blogs, he had a platform to do it.

Spreading welcome news

The free or discounted products include premium live-streamed language courses for children; postcards made from pictures on a smartphone to be sent to isolated friends or family members; and a formal work-from-home policy for startups that suddenly needed one. So far, the list has attracted about 25,000 views. Some companies “may be taking advantage of it to do a cool marketing trick”, Vidra acknowledges with a grin. “But on balance, it’s about startups genuinely trying to help out.”

The list inspired him to think about other ways he could help, especially when it comes to those who have lost their jobs. “Airbnb just laid off 1,900 people, which is about 25% of their workforce. They went and created a website – they call it a talent directory – that showcases each one of the people who got laid off to help them find a new home or a new job,” Vidra says.

He thought his blog could do something in the same vein. “I helped give a voice to similar initiatives in Israel, the UK and the US, and put together a sort of alternative job board for people who got laid off or people who might be looking to hire at the moment.” The early response has been encouraging: “It’s just a drop in the sea, but it’s part of many little things that can help in this hard time.”

Vidra and his Remagine colleagues have also been looking for ways to help company founders (even ones they aren’t currently investing in), holding virtual office hours to answer questions and offer advice. “I think a lot of entrepreneurs are stressed, especially early-stage entrepreneurs, because access to funding became much harder. They can’t have meetings in person, and with a lot of funds it’s very difficult to invest in companies over Zoom,” Vidra says.

“Entrepreneurs have questions – What should I do at this time? How should I change my value proposition? Or just need general feedback about their strategy or their sector.”

"It's an exciting time to start companies, because there's going to be lots of opportunities and new businesses will be built after this."

The office hours have attracted plenty of interest and have been a good experience for Remagine, too. The meetings aren’t about raising funds, he says, “and that reduced a lot of the anxiety that sometimes comes with speaking to investors. It’s just, ‘Let’s have a conversation about something that is difficult for you right now, that perhaps we can help with’.” The office hours are “another tiny but very useful effort” to make life easier for people.

As for how the crisis has affected the startup world, not everything has changed. “When it comes to working from home, entrepreneurs and VCs are well adjusted to that. Entrepreneurs are self-driven in most cases and work very hard,” Vidra says. And many “appreciate the fact that they don’t travel, they don’t have to commute to the office. While it’s not easy to balance work with childcare, the plus is that they can now spend their commuting time with their families.”

On the other hand, “there’s working from home and there’s working from home with kids, and it’s been an adjustment to be able to do the two things.” Vidra himself is the father of two – but even for people without children, “being at home means the workdays all blur into one … you don’t know if it’s Monday or Tuesday, it’s just like another day.” And working from home can lead some entrepreneurs to work too much – even by their standards. At times, Vidra says, he’s noticed that entrepreneurs’ “mental state was deteriorating a little bit. And I recommend, get out, even if it’s to get a bit of fresh air. You can’t just be in your flat and not go out completely.”

Reasons to be hopeful

Vidra’s globe-spanning career has long been connected to startups. During his undergraduate years in Israel, he was selected for a prestigious entrepreneurship programme. That led to an internship at international consultancy Gerson Lehrman Group, where he worked his way up to programme manager, then product manager. Next, he joined Ask.com in San Francisco, where he learned how the company’s creative and business sides went hand-in-hand. While working there, his wife was accepted by the London School of Economics, which took the couple across the ocean and brought Vidra to London Business School. During his degree he was hired by AOL to run its search business in Europe. And then, after graduation, Google came calling.

Over more than five years at the search engine giant, Vidra held several jobs, one of which brought him back to his entrepreneurial roots. He describes his position as founding head of Google Campus, the company’s first physical hub for startups, as “a dream come true”. The campus was a building filled with startups, with different types of activity on every floor, a co-working area, and “a cafe for entrepreneurs that had a thousand applications for space before we even opened the doors”.

Later, he became the head of Google for Entrepreneurs (now Google for Startups) in Europe, then the first general partner for Google Ventures outside the US. But, even with a Google stint on his CV, Vidra says launching Remagine has been one of the highlights of his career. If you succeed with “the Google name behind you”, he says, “you don’t know if it’s you or if it’s Google”. That’s why starting his own VC firm has felt “particularly sweet”. But, he adds, “now it’s just down to me and my partner. We got a ticket to the dance. Now we have to dance.”

Looking to the future, Vidra sees plenty of hardships ahead, but also reasons to be hopeful. “I think 2020 is going to be a very challenging year for companies and startups. Companies that perhaps have some money left today – we’ll see how they are doing fundraising in the next few quarters.”

He is quick to add: “I believe that 2021 is going to be a year of growth. And some of this growth will get accelerated because of Covid-19, which we’re already seeing – telemedicine, remote work, everything cloud. So it’s an exciting time to start companies, because there’s going to be lots of opportunities and new businesses will be built after this. And, as everyone knows, some of the best companies were built in recession.”

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