#20 Dídac Lee: from nothing to serial founder of startups totalling $300M+ sales, leading FC Barcelona digitalization and co-founding a $1B+ fund of funds
Serial entrepreneur & investor. Co-Founder at Galdana Ventures (VC Fund of Funds, $1B AUM, 25%+ of global unicorns including Coinbase, SpaceX and Stripe). Ex Board & Head of Digital at FC Barcelona
Dídac is a Co-Founder of Galdana Ventures, top-performing Venture Capital Fund of Funds with $1B+ invested in some of the best VCs in the world (USA, China and Europe) with exposure to 2k+ companies and 25%+ of the unicorns across the globe, including Airbnb (IPOed apartment rental, $90B+ valuation), Ant Financial (fintech, $22B+ funding), Coinbase (IPOed crypto exchange, $46B+ valuation), SpaceX (spacetech, $74B valuation) and Stripe (fintech, $95B+ valuation).
Dídac is a former Board Member and Head of Digital at global top football club FC Barcelona ($4B+ valuation, €855M rev in 19/20 season, 370M followers) where he made an internationally recognized work leading the digitization of the club.
Previous to co-founding Galdana Ventures in 2015, Dídac has been an entrepreneur for over 20 years, founding several tech companies (among others: Inspirit, TradeInn, Fhios, Peninsula, Threepoints – Planeta, Safe365), today they account for 800+ employees and €300M+ in turnover annually. He is also well known in the start-up world as Business Angel. He invested in some of the top Spanish start-ups (Glovo, Paack and LingoKids, among others) and he currently serves as mentor and Board Member to many of them.
Throughout his career, he received remarkable honors for his work, among them was Doctor Honoris Causa from the 21st Century Business University (in 2018), Entrepreneur of the Year (PIMEC 2019), Best Business Angel (AEBAN 2019), Best European Mentor (Founder Institute, 2013 ) and Best Tech Entrepreneur (Cambridge University 2005).
Dídac is a proud Figuerenc (meaning from Figueres, a small town located 140km North-East of Barcelona). When he is not traveling between China and the Silicon Valley, he lives in Barcelona and Figueres; he loves practicing adventure sports like quad and buggy racing, scuba diving, and skateboarding.
His parents emigrated from Taiwan to Spain more than 50 years ago and he is fluent in 5 languages including Mandarin Chinese.
👤 Brief intro: Figuerenc with Chinese origins, tech enthusiast, uni dropout, entrepreneur, investor, executive at FC Barcelona
🥇 Win: choosing partners, being surrounded by extraordinary people
🚫 Fail and lesson: team member leaving, helping people evolve
🚀 Ideal founder: business vision, build and feed a team, capacity to get resources
💸 Ideal investor: depends on stage, emphatic, aligned with entrepreneur
📈 Markets: healthcare, future of transportation, sports tech, entertainment, gaming, virtual reality
👍 3 investors: awkward position, all investors that have raised a fund have my respect
Could you give us a brief intro about you and your origins?
I am born in Figueres but with clear Chinese roots as you can see. I’m a small town guy and very honored to be, I’m very rooted to my territory.
Since I was a kid, I’ve always been very curious about computers, probably influenced by watching so many Mazinger Z cartoons, and tech was my main passion. I’ve been programming since I was 10 years old, I got to university and just after 2 years I was expelled for not being good enough and sent to Sabadell - “where all great students were sent (irony, where they sent the bad ones). At Sabadell I realized I was wrong, one thing is to be an entrepreneurial developer and the other thing is to be an IT guy, I wanted to be an entrepreneur within the computer science realm, not an IT guy. Not only a cook but the restaurant owner too.
I dropped out of my studies and started a company in 1995 (when you guys had 1-2 years old!), one of the first internet projects in the country. I took the Intercom franchise for Girona province and on top of that, I started other companies. From that group, a total of 8 companies with 600+ employees have emerged and I’m a proud shareholder in all of them. During the last 25 years, I’ve been starting and creating new companies until they reach revenue stability, then I help find a CEO and I get out of the radar.
Then five years ago, when I already had 20 years of entrepreneurship experience on my back, together with 3 other partners we created Galdana Ventures, a fund of funds that currently manages $1B throughout USA, China and Europe.
Also, from a personal perspective, I’ve been investing as a business angel since some years ago. I was one of the first investors in Badi, Exxotica, Glovo, Housfy, Paack, and Lemotive. I’ve been lucky to have had learned from the entrepreneurs that allowed me to get into their companies and I’m really grateful for their trust. I love investing in startups and helping, is a way of returning back to society. After 20+ years doing your thing, being able to help others is everyday more important for me, and I only know how to start new companies so that is what I try to do.
During the last 10 years I’ve been an executive director at FC Barcelona, where I created the digital and content area and helped boost the business in China.
What would you say has been the biggest win in your life?
The biggest win has been choosing the right partners. When I was younger my mom said “You’ve been expelled from university, you don’t like finances, you don’t know about marketing, what the **** you do in a company?” Moms are honest and the question hurt back but it made me think - What do I really can do in a company?
A good entrepreneur is someone able to create a great team around, have a vision and get the resources to implement that vision.
Providing that, I’ve had luck, fortune, good success or a mix of all. But especially, a significant number of times I looked at my partners and thought “this is it"- I have been really fortunate to have them. I am not sure though it is pure luck because I searched for them, I convinced them, I cared about them. From Galdana to any other company where I am a shareholder, the biggest win has been surrounding myself of extraordinary talent that also are good persons. Tremendously grateful for it. If you have partners, try to have someone better than you with what they do and that are good people.
Related to the above, and your biggest failure?
The worst day of my life was when a person on my team, who was a superstar, told me he wanted to quit because wanted to start a company. To me, it was a big issue and an emotional blow. That was the worst day of my 25 years of experience building companies.
The hardest thing about it is not just him leaving but me not realizing this was coming. Someone from your team, who works hours and hours wants to become an entrepreneur and you did not realize it. You don’t help him evolve and then out of a sudden, he leaves you with nothing else to say.
I’ve had horrible days where I couldn’t figure out how I would pay salaries at the end of the month but the worst day was this one. I did not see it coming.
Lesson from it was that when you have someone on your team that wants to start a company, you have 2 options: you can choose either to be in the project or stay out. The learning cost me blood. However, sometime after that we got together again and nowadays he is the CEO of one of the companies I am close to and he took it from €1M to €280M.
What is your ideal founder profile?
The founder tasks consist in 3 parts:
Ability to create a team and develop it (hiring is not enough, everyone has to evolve and progress to be happy professionally)
Capacity to get the resources needed (the fundraising, partnerships and whatever is needed to create a company and grow)
These are key but you have to complement them with market focus, understanding clients’ needs and the problem they are solving. A common error to keep in mind is to focus only on product and forgetting about sales and distribution.
What is your ideal investor profile?
Not an easy answer for this one as it depends on a series of variables.
In Pre-Seed, Seed and Pre-Series A, the ideal investor is someone that can be a mentor to the entrepreneur because besides investing money has to act as a friend, father/mother, older brother… It has a huge personal factor.
As an example from my business angel experience, one time I convinced an entrepreneur to make a very important decision, to hire a CEO for his company and I had to explain it with true care, sharing how I did that myself with one of my companies, I empathized with him. The investor has to be a builder, has to be emphatic with the entrepreneur, sensible. It’s not easy as there are no clear rules and there is no manual for it. Experience is good sometimes but not every time.
In Post-Series A, the ideal investor is someone that is genuinely aligned with the entrepreneur. Someone that helps the company build and increase in value. What founders value the most is that investors empathize with them, you are not there only to achieve a multiple over the money invested but to help making real a hopeful vision.
What present and future markets are you most interested in?
We have been very lucky to have experienced a super interesting historical moment, I could talk about lots of opportunities but I am going to focus in 3.
First, I’m fascinated with everything related to health and how it improves. Seeing that the current developments will allow us to live longer and have a better quality of life is incredible.
Second, I’m also fascinated by the future of transportation. Drones that can move people around like Lillium (aero taxi), amazing to think about these futuristic views becoming a reality.
Third, personally a topic that fascinates me is sports-tech and other types of entertainment experiences, from technology that enhances your sports performance to help bringing a better experience to the audience - EA sports, videogames, virtual reality. The future of entertainment is really interesting!
Could you share with us 3 startups you like and why?
In early-stage I like:
Gamestry. Top team and I really like their approach to entertainment through gaming.
Urban Roosters. Great platform for freestyle rap battles competitions, terrific project.
Companies in a more growth phase that I like could be:
PingDuoDuo. A Chinese company that is doing a phenomenal job bringing the agricultural world close to the end consumer. It started as social commerce where you could buy in group and they help farmers from deep China get their products sold. Spectacular job. They have a large valuation but they also help thousands of families.
Lilium. Based in Europe. Like a sci-fi movie and I really hope I could use it one day.
SpaceX. USA spacetech. Not for the rockets they send to space but rather for the spin-off they just did with Starlink. Aerospace is something interesting and Startlink will improve lives of many people, for instance allowing high-quality internet to be everywhere in the world economically.
Could you share with us 3 investors you like and why?
You put me in an awkward position, I’m going to pass on this one. Every person who has started a fund, either small or big, has my respect. I don’t know anybody in this investment world that is not smart or not admirable.
Fifteen years ago a VC was someone that had money and that was it. Nowadays, the game has pushed players to be better in order to compete and an increasing number of investors are more brilliant everyday.
What are the 3 books you feel everyone should read and why?
“La buena suerte” by Alex Rovira & Fernando Trias de Bes. It changed my life. It helped me understand why there are people with good luck and people with bad luck. You can read it if you are 10 years or older, very easy to understand.
The Art of Start: The Time-Tested, Battled-Hardened Guide Anyone Starting Anything” by Guy Kawasaki. It shows you how to pitch, not only fundraising but for anything in life, at home, with clients, etc.
“Los Secretos de Silicon Valley” by Scott Kupor. I had the privilege and honor to write the prologue and help with the translation from English to Spanish. It explains how the VC world works, the insights of a VC firm and the perspective from the other side of the table, the entrepeneur’s angle. When you understand the motivations across the room, you can do a great job.
Startups, investments, sports ... Could you walk us through how did you leverage your early learnings as a founder to succeed in two great but quite often opaque endeavours, co-founding the well known VC fund of funds Galdana Ventures (€900M AUM) and leading groundbreaking innovation in one of the best football clubs in the world, FC Barcelona ($4B+ valuation, €855M rev in 19/20 season)?
If I had to answer with just one word, I’d say resilience.
The things you describe in your questions are not easy, you encounter very big barriers when it is time to achieve them.
For instance, at Barça (FC Barcelona) I spent more time trying to do than doing, these corporate type of dynamics just work with different timings and styles - in a corporate you say A and you need 2 years to do A. On the other hand, in a startup you say A and you do A as fast as you can. So at the end through situations like this, you learn to be really resilient, super persistent and to not demoralize. Most of the time it is not going to work in the 1st, 2nd nor 3rd try, but you have to keep going.
Regarding Galdana, when we started to get money to invest around the globe it got quite complex. Everyone asking “who are you? where are you coming from? who do you know?” and you not really having any special connection / godfather that can do it for you... it was difficult. Knocking and knocking on doors, 500+ meetings between USA, China and Europe just to have a few successes. I can tell you, it has not being because me being super intelligent, I am not. I am pretty normal but I surrounded myself with great people and as Americans say, I hustled my way up. They do not accept you? So what. Come back again and again and again, with a smile, without giving up, and after lots and lots of tries it will eventually get better.
At the end, in my opinion, the secret is being authentic. What you see is what there is. I am from a small town and proud of it. I am not trying to seem what I am not, I am not trying to sell who I am not. I am the same guy with everyone and I believe that from authenticity you build trust. If I do not know I do not know, I don’t have to fake anything.
It is unfortunate to see that in today’s world what is fashionable is to impress by any means, I think clarity and transparency are more important. Maybe this comes from being raised in Figueres - when you live in a small town / village, if you act wrongly you get caught quickly!
Big thanks Dídac for sharing your views with us !
Big thanks to you, reader, for your time and interest !
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