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Money2020 US: Serena Williams and JP Morgan on picking a tech winner

Money2020 US: Serena Williams and JP Morgan on picking a tech winner

The Money20/20 US headline act brought together none other than the GOAT Serena Williams and JP Morgan’s head of payments, Takis Georgakopolous, to dissect the latest and greatest trends across payments, and how to pick a winning venture investment.

Georgakopolous dove into the conversation by outlining three key trends we’re currently seeing take shape across the payments landscape:

  1. The way people are shopping; moving from a passive to a participatory approach through digital mediums and an embedded finance experience
  2. Emergence of smart devices: apps interacting with smart devices or interacting with each other
  3. Blurring of the lines between the online and offline world: this is reaching new levels between the Metaverse, Web3 and other ways to interact with services that are interoperable

“It’s all about how we are bridging experiences,” he observed.

Moderator Scarlett Sieber, chief strategy and growth officer for Money20/20 segued into how Williams is addressing this focus of “bridging experiences” through her venture capital work. No stranger to the tech world, Williams launched Serena Ventures in 2014 and makes early investment in firms from a range of tech sectors.

“I see ahead of the curve and invest in pre-seed and seed companies, which means we see everything which is talked about way before anyone else sees it. I particularly like online shopping and marketplaces - taking out the middle man to go direct to the consumer.”

Closing on their first fund raise of $111 million earlier this year, Williams commented that while she is “fully on with Serena Ventures, it’s my baby,” working with institutional investors has presented an extremely different risk profile and compliance process.

Williams explained that the fund’s approach to investing in more innovative technologies like crypto or web3 had to be taken into account when working with certain banks and their compliance obligations.

“We had to leave some institutional money out because some banks haven’t ‘solved’ for this yet and aren’t moving fast - unlike JPMorgan.”

Williams went on to explain Serena Ventures involvement in fintech, noting that the fund set aside 15% of the fund to investments outside of the US.

“I particularly like that in Africa, because there are tonnes of micropayments and focus on building infrastructure, it’s so exciting to see how fast that’s being built. We invested in a couple of companies that are doing that exact thing in Africa for faster payments.”

On investment in emerging markets, Georgakopolous said: “When you go to places like Africa, you don’t have to go through the 55 steps that the US or Europe require, nor do you get stuck in sub-optimal solutions because people are used to them. You can start from scratch, everyone has phone and the phone becomes the payment method. It becomes instant payment and verification methods. We saw it in China with WeChat and Alibaba and we see it in Africa in exactly the same way. For me that’s a very, very, exciting evolution of payments. It means that in the future, companies like ourselves will be much more easily able to support payments in those parts of the world.”

The conversation continued to broach CBDC, cross-border payments, operational risk, and company culture.

On culture, both Williams and Georgakopolous emphasised the need to choose talent carefully and with close attention to the perspectives and experiences of founding members.

Georgakopolous noted that adversity comes back to motivation: “It's a really big challenge not only in this industry across tech is when the going gets tough, that's when people give up.”

Williams stated: “It's 100% about the founders when it comes to seed and pre-seed. One thing that we look at is to make sure that they are looking for a product that's really needed in the market. That's the first thing. Then, what is their passion for it? Are they doing it because it's this giant whitespace? Are they doing it because they have some sort of story to it? I found out that 90% of the time when they have more of a story to it, there's more of a connection more of a personal experience. These founders a are really are really willing to work harder and longer.”

She added that along with motivation and adversity as key attributes, Williams places a great deal of importance on diversity of gender and ethnicity.

“Those are some of the things that we look at when we're investing because we're investing so early. The valuations are so small that it's a huge risk, and I like to win! When you invest that early, you might get one winner out of twenty. For me, I'm like no, I really love all these companies! They all are like someone that I believe in. That's why we pick them that's why we work with them.”

Finextra is on the ground at Money20/20, reporting on the event’s biggest updates and announcements. You can keep up to date with our coverage on Finextra’s Live@ page here.

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