Pete Townsend is the Managing Director of the Launchpool Web3 Techstars Accelerator.
Pete Townsend is an early-stage startup advisor and investor, non-executive director, startup mentor and podcaster. He has 25-years’ global experience at the startup and enterprise-level with companies such as BNP Paribas, Fidelity Investments, Coinbase, and 25+ startups across Ireland, the UK, and USA.
Easy answer - it’s the founding team. When you peel back all of the wonderment and tech-romanticism of crypto, DeFi, NFTs and blockchain, it’s the founding team that will make all the difference between a one-hit wonder and a $1bn+ exit. The strong bonds of teamwork between the founders, their deep first-hand experience with the problem they’re solving, their razor-sharp understanding of the customer and clear sense of urgency to get their product to market, are all essentials. To borrow from Jason Calacanis, I like to ask why you, why now, and what’s your unfair advantage?
More specifically on the crypto and blockchain space, I’m looking for startups that understand that crypto, DeFi, NFTs and blockchain are all just building blocks of the next frontier, which is where money meets the metaverse. There are some fantastically innovative applications of these building blocks in the digital asset space right now, but you need to keep adapting to where this ever-changing market will take us.
A few years back, my wife and I were climbing the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand. Our guide Dan was furiously chopping away with his ice axe to lead us up and across the glacier. I asked Dan why he didn’t just go the same way he did yesterday, and he looked at me with a big sweaty face and said, “The glacier is always changing, melting and refreezing, and it’s always on the move. It’s never the same from one day to the next.”
To me, that’s Web3. Those that can adapt and forge a new path on any given day will be the most successful.
First, startups are like sea swimming in Ireland. The thrill is all about the leap off the pier, but that just lasts for a second or two. When you hit the water and then come back up for air, it stings like hell. If you start hyperventilating, you’ll drown. If you calm down, catch your breath, and start swimming for a few minutes, you warm up. You find yourself in a new and entirely strange environment, but if you can just keep your head above water, it’s invigorating. When the tide changes quickly and starts flowing against you, you’ve got to swim hard to get back to shore, but you will get there.
Second, surround yourself with people you can trust, and call on them when you’re unsure about the route to take. I’ve been in situations as an entrepreneur where I’ve had so much passion and conviction for my vision, that I trusted the wrong people against my own best instincts at a critical point. While the wrong relationships can set you back years the right relationships can accelerate things for you beyond all expectations. This is why the best entrepreneurs tend to surround themselves with people they can trust, who share in your vision for the world and can challenge you.
Third, put things in perspective. When your CTO quits right before a big product release, all five of your team’s laptops die at the same time, and a critical tech partner goes under - all in one day - step back, take a breath and remind yourself that this is just one day on a long journey. There are far bigger problems in the world, and you’re well capable of solving your own.
My favorite thing about the Irish startup scene is how the Irish culture as a whole has influenced the closeness of the ecosystem. In Ireland, there’s no such thing as six degrees of separation - it’s more like two degrees. If you need an intro to someone, just ask the person next to you, as they’ll probably know them. However tongue-in-cheek that may seem, there is an element of truth to it, so be open with those you meet, show an interest in what they’re doing, and you never know where the conversation might lead.
Also the concentration of some of the leading tech players globally, e.g: Google, Facebook, Stripe, and PayPal, along with the big financial players like Mastercard and Fidelity Investments who have made big investments in the digital asset space, really impacts the closeness of the Irish ecosystem. There’s just something about having a high concentration of startup talent building businesses within the same geography as these global players that makes for unique opportunities for collaboration. No one will hand you a life-changing partnership deal on a silver platter, but if you engage with the community, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the opportunities.
What stood out for me the first time I came across Launchpool was their mantra of ‘Egalitarian Investing’. They focus on leveling the playing field for all project stakeholders and believe that ‘investment funds and communities should work side by side on projects, on the same terms, towards the same goals’. In short, Launchpool’s modus operandi really resonated with my own core principles in business.
Beyond their own core values, Launchpool’s associated venture fund, the Alphabit Fund, was one of the first investment funds to provide professional investors with access to the digital asset market. Alphabit was one of the earliest investors in a founder that I’ve got a ton of respect for (Archax’s Graham Rodford), and I know they have an appreciation for the same qualities I look for in founders and their businesses. Also, Launchpool’s global network of deep relationships means that their objective of connecting varied stakeholders in the crypto industry, including funds, communities, marketers and experts, while incentivising all in the process, is less of a Herculean task than it seems!
That’s another easy one - Ben Horowitz from a16z. I read his book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” when I was taking the leap five years ago, and it gave me so much insight into the grit and relentless passion you need to succeed as a startup. There is no playbook, and it’s different every time. With some old-school hip-hop in the background (he and I are both fans), I’d love to just pick his brain on how he sees the world changing with this always-moving new frontier of money that I've been running towards for the past 5 years!