- A group of former Apple executives is behind C4 Ventures, a European venture-capital fund with a track record of spotting unicorns.
- C4 Ventures is raising a second fund of €80 million ($90 million) to invest in startups that survive and adapt to the COVID-19 crisis.
- Founding partner Pascal Cagni, a former senior Apple exec, told Business Insider that the company was broadly looking at three themes: “stay at home,” “never again,” and “make this world great again.”
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A cabal of former Apple executives and employees is looking to invest in startups that can survive and thrive during the COVID-19 crisis.
C4 Ventures was set up by Pascal Cagni, a former longtime Apple executive, and just launched an €80 million ($90 million) second fund. The venture-capital firm operates from London and Paris and backs mostly European startups at the Series A level and acts as a coinvestor in later rounds.
Investors have committed €40 million ($45 million) to C4’s second fund so far, which has six startups in its portfolio already, including the UK homeware startup Trouva and the French bike-sharing service Zoov.
Cagni has recruited Raphael Crouan, the former business-development head at Apple who left in 2013, as a London business-development partner. There are five other former Apple staffers and executives on C4’s roster of full-time investors and roving operating partners.
Cagni was hired to Apple by then-CEO Steve Jobs and worked as the company’s general manager for Apple in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa for 12 years until 2012.
Around the time he left, Cagni began exploring startup investments, taking an angel-investment punt on Nest Labs, the smart-home startup founded by fellow ex-Apple exec Tony Fadell.
“Very quickly, we structured ourselves with an investment deck and committee,” Cagni said. “I put my own money and the money of my family and brought it into that fund, and we structured ourselves as a real firm.”
Cagni and C4 Ventures went on to invest in four other unicorn startups: the $1 billion 3D-printing startup Formlabs, the $2.25 billion transport startup Via, the $1 billion fraud-prevention company Riskified, and the $1.95 billion AI chip startup Graphcore.
Now the company wants to identify startups that can capitalize on a post-COVID-19 world.
The stay home, the never again, and making the world great again
“We have three ways of looking at it: the ‘stay home,’ the ‘never again,’ and the ‘make this world great again,'” Cagni said.
These are fairly broad filters, with Cagni giving the examples of agriculture startups, insurance startups, finance startups, and human-resources technology.
“We are not going to do biotech, but we believe we are legitimate to do medtech,” Cagni said.
Another area would be tools to help a remote workforce. “When you have a sales [workforce] that spends much more time at home, you need to do is monitor performance … and ensure personal development. Maybe this is a time where edtech will find its spot,” Cagni added. “We also believe cyber will be huge.”
The firm’s next investment, Cagni added, is in an unannounced startup that is helping retailers affected by COVID-19.
Bringing the Apple magic
Getting investment from C4 isn’t a route to an acquisition by or an introduction to Apple, Cagni said.
“We are absolutely not playing the Rolodex story. We’re very conscious of that,” he said. “We don’t want to be seen as a way to get to Apple. When we’re approached on that, I’m very reluctant and very often I make a point when I think something is good for Apple not to invest in the company.”
Cagni, who is also politically well-connected, is keen to emphasize that there’s more to life than Apple but acknowledges that entrepreneurs can take something of its DNA from C4 Ventures.
“I live and breathe with this — design is not how it looks but how it works,” he said. “We’ve been spammed with people coming with beautiful stuff, but when it comes to the UI, everything disappears.”
He added: “Then there’s the science art of go-to-market, which is about the positioning, not rushing to media or PR just to have noise. Go there when you have a real story and a real product, focus on the product, the product, the product.”