Analytics, opinions, research
Fiorenzo Manganiello and Nessim Sariel-Gaon are two young men on a mission.
A mission to prove to the world that investing in tomorrow’s technologies today is a young person’s game and that the “Millennial Way” of venture capitalism is the way of the future.
Given that there are so many first-time investors and entrepreneurs today who are millennials themselves, LIAN Group (whose oldest member on the payroll is Manganiello, at 29) prides itself in not only knowing its market but acting on that knowledge and executing some of the sector’s most notable trades.
And LIAN Group is not just a concept; the firm has built a superb reputation in a short amount of time with notable investments in AgriTech with the company Indigo, digital pharmacy’s Alto, and the blockchain digital wallet Curv.
Mr. Manganiello and Gaon, thank you for taking your time to answer some questions and share your knowledge with us. We’re hoping to “steal” some tips from you and LIAN Group where you have already proven your success with recent investments.
To get started, can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got into disruptive technologies and came to understand the blockchain?
Fiorenzo Manganiello: “I guess I built up my name as a professor of blockchain at the Geneva Business School, yet despite being coined as one of Europe’s prominent experts in blockchain, it is not a title that sits well with me.
I am more comfortable with terms such as banker, financier, or venture capitalist, as this is more relevant to the work I do every day.”
Nessim Sariel-Gaon: “I co-founded LIAN Group with Fiorenzo in 2017 armed with Masters’ degrees from HEC Paris and UC Berkeley as well as experience with Goldman Sachs in London.
We launched LIAN Group intending to create a private equity firm focused on investing in disruptive technologies. In under four years, LIAN has deployed nearly $300 million into tech companies globally. It’s safe to say that those aims have already been realized by our team.”
You’ve seen the blockchain space being developed right in front of your eyes and you have a broader perspective on this. How do you see an entrepreneur building a decentralized product today? Is it riskier or more difficult than building a traditional startup, especially during a global pandemic?
FM: “To be completely honest, we see business as a journey full of discovery - like when you’re on a treasure hunt. The idea is that while business plans and forecasts are useful – as we have seen in this pandemic – sometimes it is difficult to plan. The millennial culture can adapt to this better, we were born in a rich media environment, playing games such as Pokémon’s and with that, a discovery mindset.
Conversely, our journey in 2020 and the beginning of 2021 has expanded and become even richer. During the pandemic, we discovered many treasures and opportunities. These recent treasures include two recently announced joint blockchain investment ventures with Bitfury to expand two data centers– one in Norway and the other in Canada – for $35 million and $12 million, respectively.”
There is so much more beyond Bitcoin. There is DeFi (decentralized finance), which is shaping up the future of finance. Do you see DeFi overtaking traditional finance? Do you see this transition as a rapid one or a slow process where the two worlds will coexist?
NGS: “Some countries are starting to consider DeFi adoption, but it is not an easy process especially with regulation and how DeFi can work with real tangible assets in order to reduce volatility, which we see daily in coins such as Bitcoin. DeFi can live in harmony with traditional currencies, but it will take some time.”
Do you see blockchain as a niche technology? Are the ones getting in today pioneers or are we already past that?
NSG: “There will be a number of failures over the next few years, yet there will be some very niche solutions which will achieve mass adoption. This is the Google effect and we will soon forget the failures. Simply creating yet another coin or token without a solid business model will almost certainly lead to failure. However, there are some models based on blockchain which will undoubtedly be the leaders of the future.”
Our readers can already tell they’re in the right place. There’s so much valuable information here. Thank you so much for your insights! Now I think it’s time to reveal where they can join you and other technology enthusiasts, and how LIAN Group fits into all this. LIAN Group is a private equity firm that successfully managed to bridge the gap between investors and entrepreneurs, but what more can you tell us?
FM: “Founded in 2017, we now have offices in Geneva, Milan, Dubai, and London in addition to our headquarters in Luxembourg.
LIAN Group is set on transforming the culture and face of VC investments by seamlessly bridging the gap between investors and entrepreneurs by implementing an innovative private equity investment model that aligns interests between all stakeholders.”
NSG: “Our in-depth expertise in the technology fields of finance, agriculture, logistics, pharmaceuticals, and blockchain in addition to the commercial and residential real estate, hospitality, leisure, and travel sectors has allowed us to identify, value, and provide opportunities in several niche sectors.”
Indeed, the pair has been recognised by both their peers and some of the biggest names in the sector, which has led to being shortlisted and nominated for Forbes 30 under 30 in Europe this year. Antoine Dresch, Co-Founder & Managing Partner of Korelya Capital, had said about them: “The courage, audacity and willingness to invest in those businesses of the future I am sure will prove (that LIAN) were visionary in their investment decisions. (LIAN) represent a new breed of young investors more sophisticated and innovative into their investment thinking.”
What has been your secret to success that has made LIAN Group not only resilient and robust during the global pandemic but positively thrive?
NSG: “Our company has a high level of creativity, innovation, and curiosity. For example, we run a monthly innovation meeting where everyone should bring to the table their craziest idea. Last month we had one about a chatbot that allows us to automatically screen and evaluate companies.
We are positive risk-takers, yet we learn by taking controlled risks. This might not be a quality, but I really believe that what we have achieved so far is partly due to our willingness to try, even if it looks impossible. We are also extremely flexible with no investment constraints, and this quality allows us to invest broadly and without limitation.”
What are the challenges that lie ahead in a post-pandemic world?
NSG: “We would probably say that continuing to build trust and engage in relationships and communication with our investors will be a key factor in a post-Covid world. Investor experience and engagement pre- and post-investment for us is a crucial business factor.”
How will you do it?
FM: “For this, we are building a new digital infrastructure that would allow us to keep track and update investors in real-time while monitoring their portfolio companies.”
NSG: “LIAN has not been overly reliant on travel and face-to-face contact, so the remote working model was already in play prior to 2020. Remote work for us is something we are used to. In fact, some of our team members in Milan were already working full-time from their homes before the pandemic.
Face-to-face interactions are more important for incubators and early-stage investors, as companies are building teams and need to scale up so they might need a higher level of emotional connection. But for us, while face-to-face interactions are fundamental, we have also been used to close transactions via digital methods and without physically meeting our counterparties. The VCs that are not able to execute transactions remotely will lose plenty of opportunities.”
It sounds like quite a ride! You are definitely enjoying it, as you stated in a previous interview: "A successful business must be all connecting, it has to be enjoyable, and it has to be diverse. Then you can best utilize your innovative instincts." Your past experience is interesting, but the world is changing rapidly. Where should one start today as an entrepreneur with the ambition of building a decentralized future?
FM: “I can only speak for us in that the LIAN Group has demonstrated that by being young, agile and innovative, we can create opportunities to invest in attractive disruptive technologies like never before. Marrying our innovation, strong convictions, and fearless attitude toward our projects and being able to back those up to our investors in a very structured, logical manner have made LIAN Group the VC company model of the future.”
NSG: “We try to make investments feel very natural. We breathe technology and we never stop hunting for projects to back or partners to do business with.”
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