Lars Rasmussen, co-founder of Google Maps and angel investor in Canva as well as EBAN Congress 2023 keynote speaker, recently sat down with EBAN for an interview ahead of his appearance as a speaker at the upcoming EBAN Congress in Thessaloniki.
“Difficult times create strong people and strong people create great startups”
The Danish software engineer, entrepreneur, and angel investor discussed his background as an entrepreneur and investor and how he and his brother were inspired to create Google Maps. He shared how they were both laid off during the dotcom bubble burst and decided to pursue one of his brother’s many startup ideas: to improve online mapping with bigger, prettier, and faster maps. The two of them built the platform with no money while living in a room in a shared house and maxing out their credit cards. However, they were introduced to Google, which eventually acquired their company and turned their prototype into Google Maps.
His next venture, Google Wave, attempted to modernise email by making it more collaborative and efficient but was discontinued in 2012. Rasmussen spoke about the challenges of being an entrepreneur, including the highs and lows of launching something that becomes a blow-away success and the lows of failing in public. Lars also compares the experience as an entrepreneur to being on a roller coaster ride.
“When you’re trying to be an entrepreneur, it is a roller coaster, right? But when you’re an angel investor, you are riding ten roller coasters in parallel.”
As an angel investor, he invests in many different start-ups, so his mental state is generally more stable than that of a founder who is fully committed to one company. He mentions that the pandemic has affected some of his investments, with some start-ups struggling to survive while others have seen accelerated growth. Overall, he finds angel investing to be a more stable and less intense career than being a founder, and he enjoys giving back to the entrepreneurial ecosystem by supporting the next generation of start-ups.
As to his experience with Canva, his most successful angel investment to this day, Lars recalls he invested in Canva only after working with them for a year and being impressed with their vision, their tenacity, and their potential to be a $40 billion startup – in short that they had what it took! He also liked the vision because of his personal relationship with design and his brother’s design skills that had helped Google Maps become successful. Despite Canva having faced many challenges, Lars knew the founders were determined and believed they could execute their vision. Unlike Zoom or Peloton, which experienced explosive growth during the pandemic only to see a decline after it ended, Canva’s growth trajectory has been consistent and sustainable. Even as the pandemic recedes and the economy faces challenges, Canva’s growth has not been impacted and continues to thrive.
“I’m 100% convinced that five years out, Greece will be one of Europe’s most important startup centres, if not the world.”
The #EBANCongress speaker talks about the significant growth in the Greek innovation ecosystem since 2012, which is due to hundreds of startups, active local VCs, and government support with new laws and tax incentives. He believes that if this growth continues, Greece will become one of the most important startup centres in Europe, if not the world, in the next five years. Lars mentions that half of their investments now are in Greek startups; he and his wife are trying to help keep this growth going. He also highlights the need to push marketing efforts to promote Greece’s tech ecosystem to the world, citing that the product is way above the market. Lars mentions the unique position of Greece for growth, and he attributes it partly to the crisis, saying that difficult times create strong people who create great startups. Lars also talks about the government’s efforts to improve the ecosystem, such as the digital ministry’s effort to digitise the bureaucracy of Greece and the new visa laws being debated that will make it easier for techies, entrepreneurs, and investors to come to Greece. Additionally, the government allocated a big block of abandoned factories in Piraeus to turn into an innovation district, a central gathering point for all the startups with cheap office space, a funky modern industrial vibe, and a place for continual events. Lars also talks about the advantage of living and working in Greece, such as the islands and the great work-life balance.
According to Lars, his investments focus on sectors where it can add value, such as healthcare, fertility, and education. The team of the invested companies is a crucial factor, and the team members must have tenacity and an unwillingness to give up. The company also looks for visionary women entrepreneurs, and investments that have at least one woman founder have proven to have better unrealized gains.
Lars advises entrepreneurs considering starting a business to try and talk themselves out of it. They should only become an entrepreneur if they feel they can’t help themselves and are unable to stop thinking about the idea. Lars also advises entrepreneurs to be aware of their competitors and to not underestimate their capabilities. Lastly, Lars stresses the importance of a work-life balance, mentioning that it is essential to do work that you love, and to create a work schedule that allows for leisure time.
You can watch the full interview below
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