Hannah Seal - Index Ventures


ūüéĶ¬†Future of work - with Hannah Seal partner at Index Ventures

Before joining Index, Hannah managed the consumer marketplace business for eBay in the UK, and set up the General Merchandise business for Ocado.

At Index, Hannah is passionate about helping visionary entrepreneurs from day one, and supporting them as their companies scale and grow. She is particularly energized by founders who have an unfair advantage in tackling daunting problems in technical or challenging markets.

Her investments for Index include Remote, a platform to enable distributed working; Multiverse

, the company bringing apprenticeships into the digital age; Fonoa , the automated tax platform; and Beauty Pie Ltd , the online cosmetics and beauty subscription service.

During this episode we discuss about her first day at Index, how she assesses founders for grit and perseverance, and the future of work.

Main takeaways:

ūü§ļ It's hard to build a business so founders need to be mission-driven

ūüíÉ Good leaders care about developing their people

ūüĎĀÔłŹ In the future, companies will treat their employees like customers

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‚̧ԳŹ Please enjoy this excellent conversion with Hannah Seal, partner at Index Ventures!

Transcript - not edited


people, founders, deep dive, remote, index, company, build, hiring, vc, job, questions, career, meet, grit, employees, skill, pretty, industry, mission


Hannah, Calin Fabri

Calin Fabri  00:20

Thanks a lot for taking the time. I would love us to start if you can just tell us the story when you decided to leave eBay and join Index Ventures.

Hannah  01:51

Sure. So I had decided it was time for me to leave eBay. And I'd got a job at a one of the sort of large tech startup scale ups at the time, which I was about to join. And just before I was about to join, a good friend of mine that works at another fund said, you know, have you ever considered going into Vc, you know, I think you'd really like it. I've been advising some tech startups on the side when I was at eBay. And while I was at Accardo, we were sort of building sort of a new business within Accardo. So I've had a bit of experience on the sort of, you know, startup sort of building stuff side of things. And she was like, you know, I think you'd really love it. Why don't you think about joining VC, and I was like, What's VC? That sounds kind of finance. See, I does a banking internships and was, you know, dead set against doing anything in finance for the rest of my life? And she's like, No, no, trust me, it's not what you think, why don't you go meet the people at index? You know, it's the best one in Europe. And the people are super nice. I think you'll get on with them. Let me introduce you. So she was the one actually that got me sort of interested in connected. And then I met the team. And I met our partner Martin first. And he seemed super nice, super interesting and super happy. I think there was this vibe in the office that was just like, everyone just seemed to love their job. So then gradually, I met more and more of the team. And I thought, Oh, my God, what an amazing opportunity to work with such new, interesting, curious, fun people in what sounds like a really interesting job. And I took the plunge and decided to join about six years ago.

Calin Fabri  03:34

Amazing what was the first year like in VC?

Hannah  03:37

as very, very steep learning curve. So as I said, I didn't even really know very much about VC at all. I wasn't one of those people that sort of dreamt of being a venture since they were a young child. So I had to sort of get up to speed pretty quickly on all aspects of the industry. But I think it's true that you know, that it said that this is sort of an apprenticeship type industry. And I had amazing mentors at index, particularly Yan hammer, who was the one that had hired me, and he sort of taught me the ropes, they shadowed him to every meeting, he sort of said, you know, first few months, don't worry about doing deals, just go and meet everyone in the ecosystem, meet the seed funds, meet the angels meet interesting startups, just get your name out there and start getting a feel for what this interest is like. So there were sort of no pressure at the beginning, it was very much sort of finding my feet. And then you know, after I think about five, six months, I found my first company that we invested in, and then you started to build a bit more confidence and experience and, and they felt much more sort of comfortable after that. But it was definitely a very, very steep learning curve initially.

Calin Fabri  04:40

So what was the first company that you found? The

Hannah  04:43

first company I found was a company called B Murray, which is based here in London, but I actually met them in Paris. The advice I've been given from Yan was find an area that that you think is sort of interesting where there may be an opportunity and do a big deep dive in that area. So picked HR tech I did a deep dive and saw that there was an HR tech conference in Paris, I thought, hey, this sounds relevant. I have found myself in the like startup section of the conference. And I met Abacha from Bill Murray. And I thought it sounded cool. talking for a coffee and pretty impressed. So that was that and then was there back in London, we we spent more time with the team and ended up leaving their Series A,

Calin Fabri  05:24

I actually talked with Yan, and he gave you just like an exceptional review. But one of the things that stood out, he said that Hannah can look beyond the numbers, she can see the people and really empathise with them. So I was wondering, like, when you meet a company and you meet the founders, like how do you try to get to better understand them and their motivation? And how did that change in this six years now in your VC role?

Hannah  05:49

Yeah, so two things, I think, first, I really love getting to know founders on a personal level, you know, going out for a drink, or just having a more casual chat over zoom, and this in today's environment, and really just sort of understanding what motivates them what kind of person they are, what their sort of ambitions are, what their hobbies are, or their, you know, upbringing was like deserts really try and get a whole kind of picture for the person and sort of understand what motivates them. And if they're sort of, you know, cut out and ambitious enough to put a really big business. And I'd say, in terms of what's changed, I think, since starting at index and being here for a while, I've really got a better understanding of quite how difficult it is to build a successful company, it may look sort of glamorous and exciting from the outside, but my God, it's tough, there are always going to be really, really hard times challenges is never a linear journey. So I think that now as well as those sort of standard traits, like hustle and ambition and vision, and sort of typical things that people talk about with founders, I think one of the things I really look for is that like, grit and resilience, like that's not going to, you know, someone that's not gonna pack it in at the first hurdle, but it's, it's gonna ride out those speed bumps that has a mission, no matter how difficult things get is like, you know, focused on getting to this like endpoint of sort of building this a category defining company. So I think that sort of missionary type founder with grit, and resilience is probably what I look for more these days than just the raw sort of hustle.

Calin Fabri  07:27

Got to go at it. And how do you test for that? I mean, that's something that it's just very hard to test for. I mean, beyond the previous experience, that they can show their execution levels, like, what do you look for? Have you found the same questions work better to determine grit and perseverance,

Hannah  07:45

I think getting a sense of their backgrounds and what they've done in the past and what they've done at other companies or other companies they've started or that in their childhood, it can really give you a sense of sort of their personality type. But I think often what makes a founder like this is how they came to start the company. So I don't love it when it's, you know, founder feels a little bit like they're doing a sort of consulting project, like, where's the white space in the market being go out, I'll start a company there. But I really love working with founders that experience the problem themselves firsthand. And we're like, this is outrageous that there's nothing to solve this problem, I am gonna go to build this. And that's a pretty common thread with a lot of founders that I work with. So a think of sort of devil, Ivan and Phillip, who are the fanola founders, they were Uber, they couldn't find any solution to help them automate their tax obligations. And they recognise this is a huge problem with we're having this problem, other people are too and left be able to go and solve this problem. And it is a really difficult problem to solve. But they're determined to solve it, because they've seen firsthand how painful that is. And I think that often leads to some of the most sort of determined and mission driven founders

Calin Fabri  09:03

cluttered. And at index, you're also interested in the future of work and b2b software, if you would paint a picture of what does the future of work look like? And what problems are yet to be solved?

Hannah  09:16

Sure. So I think a few things. So firstly, I think the future of work will be flexible, not just remote, but you know, work from anywhere, asynchronous, whether you're an hour's work two jobs, if you want, you know, it's going to be the employees that decide how they work more so than the employers, which is a great thing and this sort of, sort of maybe 10% of the way there with the the growth of remote work, but I think there's a huge amount more to come on that front. And the other side, I think it may be related to this to that part a little bit as the companies will have to and will start caring more about their employees. I remember when we first invested in B Murray, maybe five years ago now, their sort of tagline was treat your candidates like customers and That was seen as sort of like revolutionary at the time, you know. But now it's just a standard. And I think it's now going to be, you know, treat your employees like customers. And that's just going to become the norm and companies are going to be, as we see already fighting for the best talent and are increasingly going to have to, you know, work harder to keep employees happy. And then the third area where we think the world of work will change is around rescaling, the world and tech are moving so fast that people will continue, I think, to learn and to rescale. And to get more qualifications or get more skills throughout their Korean education isn't going to end at school or at university, but it will be the sort of lifelong learning journey that will sort of never stop, which I think is super exciting. And that's an area where I think there's going to be huge businesses that will be well,

Calin Fabri  10:50

do you remember the first meeting with Europe from remote? Did you look into the thesis? Did you do the deep dive in the future of work, you kind of saw the opportunity there that you will have different type of employees in different countries. And that's just a hassle. And this is how you found job or it was the other way around.

Hannah  11:07

So two sides of this, I'd actually done I think in 2018, it was a big, deep dive into payroll, huge market hadn't been a huge amount of innovation did this massive, Deep Dive. And the conclusion, I remember was like the first page and this slide I put together was like multi country payroll is the holy grail. That's what we need. And then I sort of put that deep dive away in my drawer. And then the next year, I was introduced to your job. And he, you know, it was there and his amazing remote work setup that he has in his house. And he was like, Hey, I'm gonna build a global payroll company. And this is why and he took me through, you know, their experience at GitLab, which was, there's been a few success stories from remote companies. But GitLab is one of the most high profile rated multibillion dollar company fully removed from day one. And he saw firsthand that quite what an absolute nightmare it was hiring, and managing all of these employees all over the world, setting up entities or contracting booklet with local providers, Legacy players, they know the complexity of the benefits and compliance that they have to deal with. So he was like mission driven, was going to solve this. And just had such a crispness and clarity of vision. And was such an evangelist for remote work, that it was just almost impossible not to back him. So we and this was pre COVID. Right? So this is 2019. Before sort of remote work was the hottest buzzword. There were only a few big companies at the time that were hiring remotely. But I remember as we were sort of diligence in stripe had just announced that they were going to build out a remote engineering team. And there were a few other tech companies that were sort of mainly in office, but they weren't sort of thinking about having these remote teams. So I think we recognised at that point that this was a trend that was going to persist, but then obviously COVID accelerated that quite dramatically. So we were very fortunate to back them at the time that we did.

Calin Fabri  13:04

And if you connect that word, your assessment of grit and perseverance, so very crisp, thinker, missionary, he has a mission, he had this problem before at GitLab. How did you test his grit and perseverance, as you mentioned, to build the big companies is quite hard. How do you test that one? And then maybe, how do you help him now actually, to build a great company,

Hannah  13:26

I think a lot of the perseverance comes from the fact that he's so mission driven, you know, he so strongly believes in remote work. And the importance of the mission, which is great talent is everywhere, employers should be able to hire the best person for the job, regardless of where in the world that they're based. So a lot of that grit and perseverance comes from this, like, such deep belief that this is the way that the world should work. And he's gonna make that happen. So that was, for us, really, the key thing like this is a really, really difficult business to build, you know, global from day one almost. So building entities in every different market. It's hugely, hugely complex. So you really need a founder in this space that's dedicated to the mission.

Calin Fabri  14:13

Got it? And how do you help him to become even better, and to build the global company?

Hannah  14:18

You know, I think we went pretty well together, you overnight and we have a great relationship, a lot of what we do is sort of index is helping him with hiring. This is amongst the fastest growing companies in our portfolio. So hiring is obviously on the top of his priority list. So a lot of what we do is is really helped him to scale up that team and ensure that you know, the business can continue to grow at this pace. So I would also just being a sounding board, and helping him to sort of think through strategic questions or the direction or challenges, you know, we're really sort of a team and a partnership and just having sort of open honest discussions. That's really how we work best together.

Calin Fabri  14:58

Got it, got it and And now we change gears and go to the third part, which is like shorten personal questions. You're part of a small percentage of women in VC. What is it? Like? Is it better than six years ago when you just thought it?

Hannah  15:13

It's absolutely better than it was six years ago, for sure. And, you know, we're not where we want to be as an industry. I think that's pretty clear. But the progress I've seen in the last six years has been phenomenal. I look at index internally, and I think in Europe, about like, 80% of the people that we've hired over the past few years have been women. So that's phenomenal. And that's where it needs to start, you know, so that these people can couldn't grow into the leadership in this industry. So there's definite progress being made, but obviously still still work to be done.

Calin Fabri  15:47

What was the most challenging period in your career? And how did you overcome it?

Hannah  15:51

Gosh, I studied economics at university and always thought I wanted to go into politics and be like Chancellor of the Exchequer one day, and I was sort of pretty naive, I think, in many ways, then I graduated, and I was like, gosh, what do I do now. So went into consulting, as most people who don't know, don't know what they want to do do, thinking that this, this would be as some sort of great career, and I absolutely hate every second of it. It was just so ill suited to my personality and my skill set and everything, and it was really miserable. You know, I think that was a really challenging time. And, you know, questioning, you know, do I stick with it, you know, because it's, you know, a stable career. And, you know, there's always pressure for the parents to get a state, you need to have a stable career and a profession. But ultimately, after nearly two years, I realised that this was not going to make me happy long term. And I sort of looked above me at the people that were there and didn't see any sort of role models or any sort of inspiration for me to stay there. So I left and went to Accardo, where I was incredibly happy and absolutely loved my time there and much better suited to me. So that was pretty challenging. In hindsight, I think I probably did learn some great skills like Excel modelling, and some grit and resilience and, you know, work ethic and various other skills and made some great friends there. But it was definitely, definitely not well suited to me.

Calin Fabri  17:14

Got it, to recall, again, give you a stellar review, as mentioned in one of the things that actually he said that you can empathise well, with founders, is this something that you always had? Or is it something that you realise that it's a good to have skill in relationships and also in job and you try to hone it?

Hannah  17:33

Well, firstly, that's very kind of young. I think I've always just been interested in people. You know, I love talking to people, I wouldn't say I'm an extrovert at all, actually, I'm quite introverted. But I do love having sort of one on one, and a deeper connections with people and really getting to know them. And I'm a really naturally curious person, which I think is probably part of the reason why this job suits me well, but I really just love getting to know people. And I think that helps you know, when it's genuine. When you really do care about the questions, you're asking people and you want to know the answers and you want to build that relationship. I think that that always really helps.

Calin Fabri  18:09

Got it? What is the best and worst advice you have received?

Hannah  18:12

So best advice is probably pretty simple, be kind and be useful, which is how I try and live my life and what I try and instil in my kids. It's basic, but I think it's actually a pretty good way to live. worst advice. Probably don't quit. Actually, I think knowing when to quit is really important. And if you're super unhappy doing something pretty good sign you may, you may want to quit. Yeah. Don't always listen, when people say you know, never give up. No one likes a quitter. I think actually, there's good reason to give up on something.

Calin Fabri  18:46

Love it be kind and be useful and know when to quit. What is your favourite song?

Hannah  18:51

For like, oh, to say whatever the first answer. My wedding was a cheesy, wonderful world by Louis Armstrong. I love that. So

Calin Fabri  18:59

Oh, that's wonderful. Maybe I can just take a couple of seconds and just put it in the intro. Great. What do you think makes a good leader?

Hannah  19:07

I think aside from this sort of, you know, ambition, vision, that sort of thing. I think good leaders surround themselves with great people and care about these people's success and their development and show that and they're, you know, ambitious not just for themselves, but for the organisation and for their people and really, you know, put that time and effort into into developing people I think is a really sort of important and underrated skill and great leaders

Calin Fabri  19:33

care about other people's success. I absolutely agree. Your favourite book ever and best book you read in the last six months.

Hannah  19:40

So I don't really read nonfiction. I have really short attention span and I have very little patience like business books, most of which I think could be summarised in a blog post which I know is quite an unpopular point of view, but I read for enjoyment and to switch off so I love fiction. Do this is my favourite bit too but So I've really enjoyed. I read educated by Tara Westover quite recently, which was an amazing book. And another feature which which is great was where the crawdads sing, which is also lovely but can't remember who wrote it. But maybe more timely today when it actually isn't nonfiction book is read notice by Bill Browder which is a fascinating look into Russia and agree read.

Calin Fabri  20:24

Have you read Isaac Asimov, anything by Isaac Asimov?

Hannah  20:27

I have not Do you recommend it? Yes, absolutely.

Calin Fabri  20:29

It's the best you can start with robots vision. It's one of the best fiction books out there, I think.

Hannah  20:35

Okay, I've got an Easter holiday coming up. So Barry, what's Bayesian writing it down? Yeah,

Calin Fabri  20:41

then you can go for the last question. But I think Isaac Asimov has written I think around 200 books. He's a polymath. He studied biochemistry. So everything that he writes in fiction is actually something that could be possible in the future. So you'd be amazed actually, about the things that he wrote 50 years ago, five, zero, I think it can also work as an inspiration, you know, for the next investment opportunity.

Hannah  21:05

Great, I will take that on board, adding it to my reading list.

Calin Fabri  21:08

Awesome, most thoughtful investor and or intrapreneur that you have met and admire.

Hannah  21:13

So I'll pick investors, because all entrepreneurs are inspiring. on the investor side, maybe a couple. Yeah. And obviously, you know, he's aside from being an unbelievable investor. You know, he's done Aktien, and Robin Hood, and so many other great companies. He's also an incredible mentor. And I think as we alluded to earlier around what makes a great leader, he really cares about developing people. And he really spends the time on it. And he's been amazing, not just to me, but to so many people in index and really helped to develop so many great careers. And he's also a really fun person. Great to hang out with. And the other one is Neil Reimer who's actually the founder of index, he always says, you know, our job isn't to think about what could go wrong, but it's to think about what could go right. And I constantly think about that. And it's really stuck with me. And I think it's a great way as an investor to think about deals. And so that's pretty inspiring to me. And he's also just a phenomenal person.

Calin Fabri  22:08

Shout out to Yan and Neil. So if Hannah from now would meet Hannah from six years ago, what would you tell her?

Hannah  22:15

Enjoy your sleep before you've got kids? You never get back? Maybe career wise, just to relax and be yourself and enjoy it. Enjoy the journey. Because I think too often people are obsessed with like the next step and the next step and getting there. And once you're your partner, then what do you want to go you know, something more, something more, and actually, it should be enjoyable as well. The whole journey and, and it has been the truth is like this is a an unbelievable career and opportunity that we have here. So yeah, enjoy the ride and chill out about

Calin Fabri  22:48

enjoy the ride. Love it. And the last question, your advice for women in VC,

Hannah  22:55

I think be yourself. I think there's often a perception in male dominated industries that you've sort of got to act like the guys or you know, put on a front to sort of fit in and I really don't feel like venture is actually an industry like that, or where you need to be like that to succeed. And I think there's so many different personalities in this industry. And I mean, I think even if I look at index, everyone is so different has their own investing style, their own personality style, their own way of working with founders, there's no need to sort of be a different version of yourself or try and be what you think people want you to be just Just be yourself and, and that's fine. And that will be the fastest route to success.

Calin Fabri  23:33

yourself. Amazing. Thanks a lot for taking the time. It was a pleasure.

Hannah  23:38

Thank you. It's been fun.