If there’s one sentence that summarises the past year for me it’s this: everything happens for a reason, and mostly for the best!
My key lesson of the year, cliché as it may sound, is, once again, that our ability to turn a negative into a positive in a split second, to drive instant and radical change in our lives when something doesn’t go our way, is potentially one of the most powerful forces in life and a key determinant of success and happiness.
A lot has happened in 2015, including moving my base from predominantly New York back to London in September, opening up offices in Berlin and New York, becoming a British citizen, appearing on BBC World news to talk about the sharing economy, hiring some amazing people to grow our team at PeoplePerHour, and having had the luck to travel to some incredible places and meet some truly great people.
2015 reminded me that short of our health and time with our loved ones, one’s best investment is in new experiences. They really enrich our lives so much more than anything we could possibly buy. My best ones for the year were: skiing in St Moritz where I started off the year, visiting Art Basel in Miami, (definitely going back!), skiing in Deer Valley (my first time skiing in the west coast of the U.S.) and staying in the super-cute Salt Lake City which I totally loved, visiting Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and the gorgeous Malibu in L.A. (where I managed to find myself – involuntarily- dining at a cute Greek restaurant called Tony’s), followed by San Francisco and Silicon Valley for a tech. power-shot, a rainy yet magical Costa Rica, Montauk, the beautiful Greek islands of Skiathos and Mykonos, Ibiza in Spain, the breath-taking island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean, attending Summit @ Sea on the world’s 8th largest cruise ship with a group of some of the most prominent and inspiring tech entrepreneurs on the planet, attending SXSW in Austin Texas for the 4th time in a row, attending European Young Leaders 2015 forum in Dublin, celebrating my b-day in Vegas and watching what was supposed to be the fight of the century between Manny Pacquiao & Floyd Mayweather, watching Klitschko – the worlds Boxing heavyweight champion- fight in Madison Square gardens, and ending the year with a fabulous family Skiing trip to Val Thorens in France.
Things that almost happened and thankfully didn’t: I came a stone’s throw from extended my stay in NYC for another year. On the 1st September I was due to move to a new apartment which I totally fell in love with, whose lease fell through in the final hour. My gut instantly told me it was a sign that my time was up and I literally planned my relocation back to London within hours and left a few days later. I shipped my apartments contents to Athens where I had decided – and again came a stone throw’s away – to buy a place to take advantage of the plunge in real estate prices. That too fell through, or rather I walked away, when the owners – in typical Greek fashion- kept moving the goal post and made signing a deal near impossible. Looking back it was a blessing in disguise, for more reasons than one. Again, a negative turned to a positive.
Mean time 2015 marked the first year I’ve made some personal angel investments, including companies like Home61 – a company based out of Miami that’s disrupting the buying and selling of real estate using a hybrid of technology plus in-house agent model, RacargaPay a mobile payments company in Latin America, and I invested in my dear friends’ Fabrice Grinda and Jose Marin’s second fund. Fabrice & Jose have been two of my earliest investors and supporters in PeoplePerHour so to be able to invest back in them years later gave me immense gratification. As well as hopefully a nice return J
My goals for 2016 can be summarised in one word: refocus. After a year of radical change, I look forward to cementing the core of both my work and life back in Europe and particularly in London, which now more than ever feels like home. Work-wise, at PeoplePerHour we are doubling down our investment and focus on the market that has been our birthplace and still our stronghold, the UK, starting off with a TV commercial which aired for the first time this week. I’m looking to do more angel investments as I still believe that it’s Day1 in the tech sector albeit with frothy prices at the top of the food-chain in particular, which will no doubt see an adjustment. I plan to keep travelling (perhaps a little less), meeting new interesting people, and keep having fun. Life is too short not too!
I’ve stopped wasting my time with properties in Athens or NYC and will probably look to double down again in the London property market which to date has proved a very lucrative investment for me. Much like in tech, prices are frothy but, once again much like in tech, I believe in the macro fundamentals for both. London is constantly becoming more lucrative a destination for students, top talent, offshore wealth and tourism all of which remain an underpinning driver of real estate prices. Mean time, in central London in particular, supply is limited as most owners are not short-term investors and even in the downturn would hold on to their properties, because they could! Until that macro reverses, bar short term volatility or the occurrence of geopolitical disasters (which unfortunately is very plausible in 2016), in the longer term prices will continue going up, aside perhaps with the very top tier of the market which by definition has a smaller pool of buyers and is thus prone to larger fluctuations.
I believe the same holds for tech. Contrary to the VC model of chasing after the handful of ‘unicorns’ I actually believe they are the ones that pose the largest risk in today tech market and could trigger a big bust. Too many dollars are chasing too few a deal pushing price up for those deals in particular but also inevitably trickling downhill in the food chain. Adding to that, these valuations almost inevitably start encouraging irrational behaviour, as I argued in a previous posy ‘Valuation Vs. Value’, whereby the people running them start believing they are invincible and that the laws of gravity do not apply to them. Those tend to be the best predictors of a looming burst. Unfortunately, as we have seen in the most recent financial crisis, it really only takes one of those ’big boys’ to start a domino effect. Nobody is ‘too big to fail’ as Sorkin eloquently argued in his book
My hope is entrenched in what I call the ‘anti-shit’ sandwich. In other words: sandwiched in-between these unicorns at the top (one slice of loaf), and the losers at the bottom (the other slice), are the companies that don’t become billion dollar companies overnight but deliver consistent, sustainable growth the good old-fashioned way. ‘Slow and steady’ is how pretty much most companies and brands we interact with have been built. With persistency, close attention to customer satisfaction, profitable unit economics, consistent innovation and a real sense of purpose. Building a unicorn is not a purpose. It’s a probabilistic outcome with the shelf-life of a yoghurt.
Which brings me to my final goal for 2016. To ‘keep it real! With the frothiness in tech valuations of companies at the top of the pyramid, especially with looming questions over the viability of some of their business models – despite their growth, or perhaps because of it! (as a friend of mine once told me, “creating a billion dollar business overnight is dead simple: just sell $10 bills for $8! You’ll find there’s a big market for that!”), the geo-political instability we face and changes in the global balance of power, continued cheap money in the wake of still very low interest rates which look to remain low in the pre election period, plus an ever-accelerating dose of greed (you know that when an increasing number of your friends or acquaintances overnight leave real jobs to jump on whatever bandwagon is passing, this time of course being a techy one), it wont take much for a tsunami to bring it all down.
Those who keep it real, will stand the best chances of withstanding it. If any.