In conjunction with the raise of $1B to continue to invest in tech companies globally, Nino Marakovic – CEO and Managing Director, responsible for the overall investment strategy, execution, operations and performance of Sapphire Ventures – answered our questions about the firm’s activity and its next steps.
Nino, who was born in Croatia and is an Austrian citizen, has participated in investments in more than 100 private companies and held several board seats. He was a former partner of Draper Fisher Jurvetson and IVF Ventures. Prior to the venture capital industry, he worked as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Robertson Stephens.
FinSMEs: Let’s speak about the new fund. What’s the overall target you want to reach through it?
Nino: The fund lays the groundwork for us to continue growing, expanding, and working with the most innovative companies in the world.
FinSMEs: Which is the investment focus of the fund?
Nino: The fund will go toward both a growth fund that invests directly in expansion-stage tech companies, as well as toward investments as a limited partner in early-stage venture funds.
FinSMEs: How does Sapphire bring added value to backed companies beyond capital?
Nino: We are unlike other VCs because of its enterprise access, connections, and expertise – our portfolio companies not only receive capital from a deep-pocketed, proven and well-connected VC, but also have access to the enterprise ecosystem benefits gained from Sapphire’s relationship with SAP. Though we are fully independent, our relationship with SAP connects our portfolio companies to a broad global network of Fortune enterprises. What’s more, we draw on the enterprise experience of our team and our broader network — collectively, Sapphire’s partners have over 100 years of enterprise IT experience. Our culture is also very important to us — we’ve worked very hard to build a team of people that are enjoyable to work with, and we look for that in the companies we invest in as well.
FinSMEs: As a limited partner in vc funds, what are you interested in in terms of geographies and sectors?
Nino: Our investment activity reflects our global aspirations and nature. We have a focus on EMEA, with an emphasis on Israel and the UK. In terms of sectors, we remain focused on the most innovative companies we can find, mainly in the enterprise space.
Our deep history and continued relationship with SAP means that we’re uniquely positioned and well-versed in enterprise companies, so we focus the majority of our investments on enterprise technology. Our motto at Sapphire is do everything “to the power of enterprise,” so any trend that seeks to add to that power is something I see value in.
FinSMEs: Which tech trends do you personally believe in? What do you see as particularly hot?
Nino: For our direct growth investing business, our primary focus has been, and will continue to be, innovative, fast-growing companies in the enterprise technology space. We feel that’s where big market opportunities lie, and focusing on enterprise IT also plays to our strengths and expertise as an investor. Sectors that are particularly exciting to us today include artificial intelligence and machine learning; cloud computing; SaaS; big data and analytics; health tech and fintech.
We also believe we have a lot to offer next-generation consumer-facing companies, so we plan to continue looking for big investment opportunities there. Past investments in consumer-facing companies include LinkedIn, Fitbit, Payscale, JustDial and Control4.
FinSMEs: Nino, you are considered an outstanding venture capitalist. Given your experience, What do young tech entrepreneurs need in order to succeed?
Nino: Building an industry-leading business requires more than just a great idea. Entrepreneurs need to marry that idea with grit and a smart, talented management team that can bring the product, and ultimately the business, to scale.
At Sapphire, we’re very committed to our culture – we spend a lot of time making sure that the people we work with both inside of our organization and in the entrepreneurial community share our values – that they are ambitious, dedicated to winning, have a high degree of integrity, and are incredibly passionate about building a great team. When we invest, it’s not just about a company’s product and addressable market, but also about the people behind it.