Niko Bonatsos

Niko Bonatsos

‎Managing Director at General Catalyst

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON January 09, 2018

Discussion

Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
I'm Niko Bonatsos and I'm a managing director at General Catalyst based in San Francisco. My passion is working with first-time technology founders with strong product instincts, who treat every decision as a learning moment. I particularly enjoy investing early in consumer products and services that most people might perceive as crazy, funny, and controversial; those strong reactions tell me there is something disruptive going on.
Aditya Rahalkar
Aditya Rahalkar@adi_rahalkar · Business Operations at Atrium
What's the best piece of advice you received early in your career? How has it helped you improve personally and professionally?
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@adi_rahalkar "Go after the biggest market opportunities out there. In the unlikely case that you are successful, the prize will be huge." No matter what one does/works on... she or he will be working long hours for many years especially early on in their career. If the market opportunity is massive, they will get rewarded handsomely if they get it right.
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@adi_rahalkar This piece of advice helped me focus on the big picture. Go after the hardest and most ambitious opportunities. Get to spend time with ridiculously ambitious founders.
Nick Abouzeid
Nick Abouzeid@nickabouzeid · Words at Product Hunt ✌️
Hey Niko! How do you feel about the cryptomania that kicked off this summer? Do VCs and angels have a role in the ICO fundraising ecosystem?
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@nickabouzeid I feel great about seeing ambitious and talented founders getting into this new world. If one were to start a company back in 2008-12, she or he would probably be looking into building a mobile app (consumer route) or a SaaS cloud application (enterprise route). Today, crypto is the space... that holds a lot of promise and offers a new way for s/w to get delivered. This means that a. big tech companies will have to learn how to play the game too (have limited distribution advantage) and b. applications can be re-written.
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@nickabouzeid If the end goal is to build enduring companies, then yes, VCs and angels do have a role in the ICO fundraising ecosystem.
Nick Abouzeid
Nick Abouzeid@nickabouzeid · Words at Product Hunt ✌️
Another question for you: what nontechnical classes, activities, or projects do you think college students should take on to best position themselves for a career in tech?
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@nickabouzeid a. try whatever it takes to meet the most tech savvy and ambitious fellow students of theirs on campus, b. cold-email tech figures they think highly of, c. watch youtube videos with interviews and presentations of legendary tech folks and d. do some creative stuff (drama school, stand up comedy, whatever works for the individual).
Brendan Barbato
Brendan Barbato@brendan_barbato
Niko! When you make a deal how active/hands on are you as an investor? When helping start ups, what skills do founders you invest in often lack that you wish they knew?
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@brendan_barbato Hi Brendan! Thanks for the question. We are adaptive to the founders' needs. We learn from their style and chip in accordingly. Our founders are the protagonists, we are there to offer advice and help as needed. Most of the times the 6 areas that we offer help with are: 1. recruiting for the executive team 2. help with BD/finding customers 3. help with future financings 4. M&A help 5. debates on strategy 6. serving as a therapists (being a founder is a hard and lonely job).
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hi Nick, thanks for joining us today. What tips do you have for people trying to break into tech? Into VC?
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@ems_hodge Read tech blogs, check out product hunt, be on hacker news. Don't be afraid to cold email anybody from the world of tech and silicon valley (it does work!). Spend time with techies and see first hand if it is a good personality fit for them.
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@ems_hodge Regarding breaking into VC, it's easy. Just follow the algorithm below. -Meet VCs who are hiring partners/managers. -Try to be helpful to them (e.g. give them feedback for their portfolio companies, express your surprise for making a new investment in company X, send them new investment opportunities to take a look at, etc.) -Make a good impression over time. -When there is an opening, for sure, you will get an invitation to attend an interview.
Eleni Palmos
Eleni Palmos@gkbluestocking
@ems_hodge @bonatsos The COO at Time Inc. told a group of us (women in advertising, I am in adtech) that she is preoccupied with learning about tech she does not know and so follows Product Hunt each day. I signed up right away.
Βαλεντίνος Τζέκας
Βαλεντίνος Τζέκας@valentinos_tzekas · Founder & CEO of FightHoax.com
Hi Niko, thank you for taking the time to do this! I am pretty curious about the whole online misinformation issue that the tech giants and even the stock market face. Affecting the reputation, trust and ad income of various companies and their services. Do you believe in a business viable tech solution?
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@valentinos_tzekas biz viable solution for fighting fake news? Yes, there will be a number of potential solutions that in aggregate will have pretty good results. Very much like how spamming got to be sorted out. Or how in medicine various cancer types are now cured or have a strong prognosis. It will take time and it will for sure not be a silver bullet.
Amrith Shanbhag@amrith · Community at Product Hunt & Feathrd
Hey Niko! Thanks for doing this! What events or conferences have been particularly helpful or instrumental in your career?
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@amrith Hm... good question. I've always enjoyed and benefited immensely from attending YC demo days and the TC Disrupt series.
Jake Crump
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
Who are you most thankful for?
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@jakecrump 1. My mom and dad for bringing me into this wonderful world, 2. my wife for putting up with me every day and giving me a lot of encouragement and 3. my Partners at General Catalyst for sharing a lot of words of wisdom with me over the years and for the amazing platform they've built that lets us partner with ridiculously ambitious founders from all over the world today.
Benjamin Grabow
Benjamin Grabow@benjamin_grabow · Founder - Boomer Returns
Hey Niko! I've worked for a couple General Catalyst Portfolio Companies (Backupify and Datto) and have been to your offices in Harvard Square. I know eCommerce has played a significant part in GC's portfolio (with companies like Jet). If you dabble if this area, what are some of the elements of eCommerce that you think are ready for change and innovation?
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@benjamin_grabow We do love investing in ecommerce. Sometimes, a bit too much :). Every retailer and cpg company is scared of Amazon. Anything you can do to help them out, they'd listen. If it makes sense, they'd move quick to partner or even buy your startup. There are a ton of opportunities to still build new direct-to-consumer brands. Distribution is trickier than before and VC isn't always the best funding option, but we continue to be enthused to come across differentiated new brands.
Benjamin Grabow
Benjamin Grabow@benjamin_grabow · Founder - Boomer Returns
@bonatsos Very interesting point. When you're in an industry with a whale like Amazon looming over your shoulder, what approach should you take when VCs or Angels ask you how you're going to compete or differentiate?
Ratingstack
Ratingstack@ratingstack · Founder, Crossjabber
Is there a chance VCs will follow the ICO trend and approach of investing in early stage startups with nothing more than ideas? VCs seem to follow trends. They appear to be doing lots of late series funding, seemingly correlating with SoftBank's activity.
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@ratingstack Founders set the trends. VCs (most of the time) follow smart and ridiculously ambitious founders. That's how it normally works.
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@ratingstack VCs do invest in founders that just have an idea frequently. A lot of seed investing is like that ("people bet"). Also, a ton of the early stage enterprise investing is like that too ("we left a an academy tech company to build something that everybody wants, but we couldn't build at our employer for many reasons").
Ratingstack
Ratingstack@ratingstack · Founder, Crossjabber
@bonatsos thanks a lot for the responses
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Niko! Welcome. Many VC's have been a bit jaded on consumer tech lately. What's your take on this and which industries are you most excited about over the next 12 months?
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@rrhoover Investing in the next big thing in the consumer world is a very much of a stochastic and not deterministic process. At times when there is no dominant emerging platform and distribution is hard, it is trickier for young upstarts to get started and build a long-term competitive advantage. It's even harder, when the competition from the large academy companies is very strong... because they are agile now. That said, I am actually excited about consumer opportunities right now.
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@rrhoover Spending a lot of time looking for early stage consumer opportunities in AR/VR and the brave new world of crypto.
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@rrhoover Also, there can always be a new mobile phenomenon that gets surfaced and captures the world's imagination. We shouldn't forget that there are now billions of people with access to the appstores. I am always dying to meet with founders when it feels like Christmas day every day for them (aka raining downloads). It's not happening as often as it was the case 4-5 years ago... but it still happens once a month.
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@rrhoover Lastly, there is more to do in online vertical marketplaces and the media world.
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@rrhoover Could be the best of times now... could be the worst of times now... till the next dominant platform (or platforms emerge). Whoever, takes a contrarian point of view & gets it right, will be handsomely rewarded. If anything, there is less competition from other investors as you noted.
Jacqueline von Tesmar
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
What trends or technologies are you excited by?
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@jacqvon AR/VR, crypto, new human computer interfaces.
Jacob Wallenberg
Jacob Wallenberg@jrwallenberg
Hey Niko, thanks for taking the time today What’s one piece of advice you find yourself often giving to founders, particularly early stage? (If the advice would be to go after larger markets, as could be inferred from your previous answer to Aditya, what would be the second piece of advice you’d share 🙂)
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@jrwallenberg When you start a company, you do so because you have some specific insights and hypotheses about a problem/market. As one makes progress, talks to customers and launches a product, she or he gets really busy.
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@jrwallenberg Very often, I am surprised with the fact that she/he doesn't go back to revisit the initial set of hypotheses and insights. I always encourage founders to keep this in mind. In other words, one is learning as they go and the market conditions change... what one thought was the case 6-9 months ago, may no longer be the case today.
Jacob Wallenberg
Jacob Wallenberg@jrwallenberg
@bonatsos Thanks, hadn't heard that phrased that way before. Cheers!
Ashish
Ashish@ashish_fagna · Entrepreneur.
Do you think "chatbots for businesses" is an idea you would be interested to look at ?
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@ashish_fagna could be. We invested in Octane.ai and several more :).
Deep Barot
Deep Barot@deep_barot
If you were to pick on an interesting space to go after or work on right now what would it be?
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@deep_barot AR or crypto.
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@deep_barot to honor my Greek roots too: I'd also look into bringing maritime shipping into the digital world...
Ashish
Ashish@ashish_fagna · Entrepreneur.
What is your take on strict H1B norms ? do you think it will affect the tech startup eco system ?
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@ashish_fagna The tech world and the knowledge based economy need to hire as many talented and skilled individuals as they can possibly come across. U.S. immigration is going through faces and making things harder for this elite talent. This is unfortunate. That said, if someone is armed with patience and follows the rules, sooner or later they figure it out. I know very few people who wanted to work in tech/startups and ended up failing because their immigration status couldn't be figured out.
Niko Bonatsos
Niko Bonatsos@bonatsos · Managing Director @ General Catalyst
@ashish_fagna Also, if the U.S. doesn't want to continue to welcome startup founders and techies, other countries will. Talent is universal and will flow towards the opportunities no matter what.