Pop Quiz, Monday with Chris Smith

The investment team at Playfair is outstanding – hard-working, insightful, smart, experienced – but what really inspires me is the way that we bring out the best in each other

The Pop Quiz, Monday is a fun little exam that we love to give to savvy business owners. The examination is not a surprise after all since the interviewee already knew about the questions in advance. However, we can always pretend and have fun with the scenario of a young entrepreneur sitting in class nervously biting on their pencil. They are ready to take a pop quiz on a chapter that they were supposed to read the night before. Instead, they played Metroid all night on their SNES (Oops, this was me in high school). The real purpose of the pop quiz is that this is a fun way to introduce business tips from real-world experiences that you can not learn in a classroom. We want to thank our entrepreneur for being a good sport and volunteering their time to answer a few questions to help our community grow from their knowledge.

I want to introduce you to our guest today who will be taking our Pop Quiz Monday.

Can you please tell everyone your name?
Chris Smith

Chris Smith
Photo credit: Chris Smith

What is your job role?

Tell us about your company?
Playfair Capital is a London based seed stage venture capital fund.

We invest in exceptional founding teams tackling big opportunities or problems matched by big ambitions.

We are UK focused but have invested elsewhere when we’ve seen a compelling opportunity. We are sector agnostic but love deep tech (AI, ML and computer vision), B2B SaaS and marketplaces. We typically write initial cheques of £400k but will invest smaller amounts at the pre-seed stage for the right team.

What do you love most about your job?
All of it!

Firstly, I get to spend time researching and understanding markets and the latest technologies to identify areas that make the most sense for venture capital investment. Trying to think about what might happen in the next 5-10 years is a fun intellectual challenge.

Second, I meet hundreds of inspiring entrepreneurs every month. Hearing their stories and seeing the opportunity from their point of view is incredibly stimulating. I certainly learn something from every interaction with a founder.

Third, I get to fund and build long-lasting relationships with a select group of founders and be a part of their journey. I find it very rewarding to help founders when they need it, whether that’s with contacts and introductions, strategic planning or just acting as a sounding board drawing on my own experiences.

What motivates you to get up every day and go to work?
The opportunity to meet with amazing founders and potentially get involved with their companies as well as finding ways to help our existing portfolio. I love that no one day is the same and that I am always learning something new.

How do your co-workers inspire you?
The investment team at Playfair is outstanding – hard-working, insightful, smart, experienced – but what really inspires me is the way that we bring out the best in each other; at our investment committee meetings (actually, every day) we have full and frank conversations that challenge each other to make data-driven and validated decisions and reach the best outcomes. Of course, they’ve also made a load of great investments too!

How do you have fun at work (team building, pranks, etc..)?
We all enjoy what we do so pretty much every day at work is fun. We often end up debating the latest company or market trend at one of the local street food markets! We also like to get together for a meal once in a while.

What are some of the challenges of your job?
Saying no to founders. I’m very conscious of the fact that founders have poured their lives into their business, but our model means that we have to be selective and we fund less than 1% of the companies that we see.

What are some lessons learned from a past project that you can share with us?
Probably the most relevant lesson for readers of this site relates to the challenges of scaling a business from the founding team to 50 then 100 staff. When this happens, it’s impossible for everybody in the team to have personal relationships with each other and communication can suffer. As the founder, it’s your job to make sure you clearly communicate your vision, strategy, and objectives so that everybody on your team is aligned. As LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner said, “When you are tired of saying it, people are starting to hear it.”

What advice would you give to someone who is starting in your industry?
There isn’t one obvious way into the venture capital business, and my career to date hasn’t been linear (founder of a telecoms business, a corporate lawyer, operations at a fast-growing telecoms business and a litigation funding provider, angel investor). I would, however, thoroughly recommend John Gannon’s Yet Another (ex-VC) Blog as a good starting point.

Thank you for taking our pop quiz today. You get an A+ for effort. You can learn more about our interviewee and their business by visiting them on the web:


Author: Ricky Singh, MBA

Editor of The Startup Growth.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.