Q&A with Florian Chilla, investment manager, Randstad Innovation Fund; principal and co-founder, Taptrove Ventures
Paul Jacquin, a managing partner for Randstad Innovation Fund (RIF), a corporate venture capital (CVC) vehicle for Netherlands-based human resources firm Randstad, and co-founding partner of Taptrove Ventures, a work technology-focused venture fund that counts Randstad as a limited partner (LP), said: “Over the last five years, Florian has succeeded in creating a name for himself: in the team, but more importantly with entrepreneurs and startups alike.
“His emphatic approach combined with his subject-matter expertise – software-as-a-service, artificial intelligence, platforms – makes him a credible and trusted partner. His love of technology – he is a geek! – mixes with a creative side.
“He definitely counts as one of the most successful new generation investors. Building on his entrepreneurial period, his experience as a large corporate investor – Randstad – rounded up his first years in the world of work.”
1. First, just give us a quick overview of who you work for, what you do, and how long you’ve been doing it.
I joined RIF in 2015 as an investment analyst and currently work as an investment manager, managing the existing portfolio. RIF is part of Randstad – the largest human resources (HR) company in the world – and with a small team of five, we have made 20 investments. My work revolves around supporting our portfolio companies in their strategic challenges, helping them hitting their goals, while also working towards successful outcomes for the fund. More recently, I am part of the founding team of Taptrove Ventures – a VC dedicated to worktech startups, in which Randstad will become one of the LPs.
2. What attracted you to CVC?
It was the combination of having to deal with entrepreneurs, helping them in reaching their goals as well as being closely involved with strategic discussions of a large multinational. As a result, the nature of the job is extremely dynamic. When done well, the outcome can have a significant positive impact on all stakeholders involved. Moreover, being part of a CVC allows you to focus on innovation within a specific industry. Digging deep into its dynamics is not only fulfilling, it is (often) linked with a broader geographic coverage leading to being amidst a lot of different cultures.
3. What have been your greatest successes at your unit?
The last year and a half have been an active period for a lot of (C)VC units. At RIF, we have done six exits, three new investments and a number of successful follows-ons. Looking more holistically, I believe that we – as a team – have successfully built a reputation of being a credible investor, resulting in high-quality deal flow.
Personally, I continue to learn how to effectively add value to our portfolio: both in 1-on-1 linkups and in formal board meetings. A nice example of this has been Montage. After we have invested in them (on financial terms), a very fruitful partnership was built between Randstad and the portfolio company. Being closely involved with both the investment and exit in the company and the initial collaboration with Randstad, it has been a great learning experience.
In the meantime, we have exited the company successfully and I can safely say that all stakeholders look back at the investment as a great success: both financially as strategically.
4. What have been your biggest challenges?
The balancing and time-management that is involved with CVC is definitely high on the list. On one hand you want to share your knowledge within the overarching mother company. However, given the size of the team, you need to be strict in how you spend your time and efforts. Moreover, it is important to acknowledge the fact that you gain your unique perspective by spending time outside: talking to entrepreneurs and observing how startups develop. In a way, finding ways to share and push knowledge effectively in a scalable way can be difficult and is an ongoing effort.
5. What is your main professional ambition for the future?
The multi-faceted nature of CVC suits me well. I would love to continue to develop myself in this field, while also broadening my scope. As such, getting insights into the operations of an independent (C)VC could help me gain those new perspectives.
6. What do you think all CVCs could do better to make it a stronger industry?
In general, CVC has grown into a very important investor group for emerging companies. However, there are tons of different CVC flavours and for both entrepreneurs and financial VCs, it can be hard to qualify the investment arms upfront.
Some CVCs can be more transparent in discussing the way they are organised. Show quickly what the internal definitions of success is, how are investment decisions made, who is in the investment committee, if commercial terms are included in the term sheet, how are Chinese walls are ensured, what is the background of the CVC team members, how does the CVC look at partnering with competitors, is the fund backed out of the balance sheet of the group, and so on. This creates clear expectations from the start and a better understanding of CVC as an investor segment.
7. What are some of your corporate parent’s technology needs and corporate strategy amid the pandemic, as well as your CVC unit’s pain points?
Returning to the workplace and reshaping a new future of work is key to ensuring the health and wellbeing of workers and a strong economic recovery – especially during the covid-19 pandemic.
Randstad co-initiating the Safely Back to Work alliance in March 2020, which has successfully expanded its reach and is now being led by the global industry association, the World Employment Confederation.
Finding the best ways to continue to work together is – especially for a company in the HR space – of utmost importance. In connection to the RIF portfolio, Randstad has offered HR technology on a large scale, really in an effort to support their clients. For the portfolio companies, being able to offer their services as rapidly deployed, free and cost-minimised solutions helped them in getting through this challenging time.
And finally – we have done extensive research on how the new way of working is impacted by covid. That research, fueled by public reports but also insights gained from the startup ecosystem – has been highly appreciated: both by Randstad as the portfolio companies.
8. And, finally, for colour, what did you do prior to CVC or in your spare time?
I have an MS in mechanical engineering and an MS in econometrics. Previously, I co-founded a traveltech company predicting flight price behaviour. Furthermore, I love to travel and try to capture the atmosphere with photography. And you can always wake me up for vintage espresso machines and their resulting coffees – not sure I will drink them at that time, though.