Apple's former Europe boss has raised $88 million to invest in start-ups

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    Apple’s former Europe boss, Pascal Cagni, has raised a new €80 million ($88 million) fund to invest in start-ups through his venture firm, C4 Ventures. 

    Cagni, who was head of Apple in Europe from 2000 to 2012, said the fund will be used to back entrepreneurs who prove they can survive and excel in the age of the coronavirus. 

    While the virus has wrecked economies and destroyed company revenue streams, Cagni believes that some start-ups will thrive after the pandemic and he’s keen to capitalize on their success. 

    “We felt confident that we should, as planned, raise and deploy capital during this period,” Cagni, who has been described as an “ally” to President Emmanuel Macron, said on a video call with CNBC.

    Recruited by the late Steve Jobs, Cagni started working on C4 Ventures within months of leaving Apple, but the firm didn’t properly get going until 2014. Going from the iPhone maker to the world of venture capital wasn’t without its challenges: “After being brainwashed by Apple, I had to open my mind to the rest of the world,” Cagni said. 

    But C4 Ventures has now backed more than 30 companies operating across hardware, commerce, and digital media. Each investment is normally around 3 million euros ($3.4 million) but they can go up to 4 million euros. 

    Before investing in companies, Cagni said he likes to get to know the people running them. “I’m asking them … where do you come from? What drives you? You need to understand the history of the people.”

    Big wins for the former Apple exec include Nest, the smart thermostat company acquired by Google for $3.2 billion, and Graphcore, an AI chip start-up now valued at over $2 billion.

    His bets haven’t all worked out well though. “We have also failures,” said Cagni. “Anki is one of my big regrets.” 

    Anki was a consumer robotics company that went bust last year after raising around $200 million. 

    The card that Graphcore sells for $10,000.

    Graphcore

    When asked what makes C4 Ventures different to other tech investment firms, Cagni points to his head. “Look at my grey hair,” he said. “What is it I bring? It’s 30 years of experience.”

    “We built a real success story with Apple in Europe,” he added. “When I came we were the kids on the block not doing well. We were losing money.”

    Although he left Apple eight years ago, he claims to still have connections to some of Apple’s top leaders including Internet Software and Services SVP Eddy Cue, who he spoke to last week, and Worldwide Marketing SVP Phil Schiller, who he talks to from time to time. Start-ups in the portfolio shouldn’t expect an automatic introduction, however. “I may put you in contact with Apple, but it will be very, very rare, and I will never abuse that,” he said. 

    Cagni has brought on former Apple colleague Raphael Crouan as partner of business development at C4 Ventures. Crouan said Apple’s “amount of methodology” and “rigorous processes” are something that they’re able to draw on as they invest in start-ups. Meanwhile, Cagni pointed to Apple’s “attention to detail.” 

    London-based tech investors told CNBC that executive-level experience at big Silicon Valley tech firm can come in useful when backing new start-ups. 

    Hussein Kanji, a partner at Hoxton Ventures in London, said: “Rolodex and domain knowledge are the key ingredients; patience, wisdom and experience is the other core skill set to be effective.”

    Europe is full of venture capitalists vying for a slice of the hottest start-ups on the continent, and many of them have a lot more cash at their disposal than C4 Ventures.

    Index Ventures, Accel Partners, and Balderton Capital have raised billions to back promising young companies. Meanwhile, in Israel, global venture investing platform OurCrowd just announced a $100 million “Pandemic Innovation Fund” to target tech solutions for Covid-19 and future pandemics, remote working, virtual learning, and social distancing.