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The Power Of Platform Roles at VCs For Portfolio Companies

Abhishek Lahoti

Highland Europe

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The Power Of Platform Roles at VCs For Portfolio Companies

Abhishek Lahoti


Highland Europe

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Abhishek Lahoti Highland Europe
Full transcript here

About Abhishek Lahoti

The BAE HQ welcomes Abhishek Lahoti, the Head of Platform at Highland Europe.

Abhishek leads Platform for Highland Europe, a growth stage Venture Capital firm based in Geneva and London. Abhishek’s focus is to build a strong network of advisors and experts to help the Highland Europe portfolio scale their rapidly growing businesses, with expertise in international expansion, CXO networking, market penetration, GTM best-practices, and more.

Abhishek Lahoti

Highland Europe

Show Notes

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Abhishek Lahoti Full Transcript

Abhishek Lahoti: [00:00:00] Came in for a coffee, stayed for an hour, 30 minutes into the conversation. It turned into almost an interview. And what attracted me to it is.

Amardeep Parmar: And we're live from the BAE HQ today. We have with us Abhishek, who's the head of platform at Highland Europe. They're a growth stage venture capital firm focused on Europe. So Abhishek has chosen today to speak about platform and why it's important in VC. If you're joining us for the first time, we're the BAE HQ and we're all about showcasing great British Asian talent across the startup and entrepreneurship world.

Amardeep Parmar: So, Abhishek, why did you pick this topic? Why is platform something you feel so strongly about?

Abhishek Lahoti: First of all, thank you for having me. Really great to just talk about this kind of stuff. It's been a while since I've had a platform like on a podcast to discuss it, but I, so I'm had a platform Island Europe and it's a unique role in the VC [00:01:00] industry that is both well known and not well known.

Abhishek Lahoti: I think everybody kind of owes somebody or is aware of some offering from a firm, but, but if you were to be pressed on what we do, it's fairly unknown. There was even some press recently of where, you know, these roles are unnecessary or something to that effect and cause quite a buzz across many firms who maybe didn't agree or thought it was a strange one.

Abhishek Lahoti: So, yeah, I wanted to just talk about it because it's, for me, it's a fascinating delve into, uh, new endeavors of how technology and how industry are evolving. And yeah that's, uh, that's just a cool thing to learn about, especially if you're one of those people out there wondering how you break into new industries and you're not totally sure what you could do for first a VC firm.

Abhishek Lahoti: And this is a good example of it. 

Amardeep Parmar: What does that platform role entail on a day to day basis? Well, I'm guessing you probably don't have a normal day today, but [00:02:00] what kind of responsibilities do you have? Yeah. 

Abhishek Lahoti: Yeah, I don't. It will vary depending on the firm and that's kind of the funny thing so if you're a salesperson at a Technology company selling to enterprise companies or to whomever kind of know what you're gonna do from one company to the next to the next and yes, things will change, but the 75 percent of your life is going to be your prospecting, your sales meetings, your demos, your negotiations.

Abhishek Lahoti: The platform role is very funny because it's not the same for every firm. So prior to this job, I worked at a different firm and the platform role was called portfolio growth. There was a team of up to 12 people at some point doing a various amount of things from Revenue operations guidance to talent to business development, um, business development was what I did.

Abhishek Lahoti: And that was much more finding customers for our portfolio companies, making inroads to C level executives across for me, the European landscape, but for our team, just [00:03:00] anybody in the global 2000. Where I'm at now at Highland Europe doing platform. I'm the 1st person in this role for the firm. And it's a really, really long list of things to try to do with a wide remit and a green field to do it.

Abhishek Lahoti: And I'll stop using various tech jargon soon. Uh, what, basically what I do is there's two key factors for all of our companies that they need help with, and that's the expert network. So how do I find really, really smart people? We've done really great things who can advise a first time founder, uh, and the CFO doing something for the first time, um, or somebody who's just got an open question on what the best path forward could be.

Abhishek Lahoti: Um, be surprised how often that comes up and how important it is. The other one is, is the talent network and working really closely with the executive recruitment teams across Europe and in the U S for that matter, and helping them match to the right companies for the right roles. So as [00:04:00] a company needs a new CFO, They can come to us.

Abhishek Lahoti: We can help them find the person in the network is either going to help them or fill that role. And those are the first two kind of more important things. After that, it is a very long tail of tons of stuff from helping with the events with our events professional from helping with the marketing that we're going to do and working with our PR firm.

Abhishek Lahoti: To organizing solutions that we use for DD and helping the investors just get better at investing. So here, platform is going to just be a, uh, an array of madness and it'll most likely become more evident as to what's best for us and what the open opportunities are and what is working well and what isn't.

Abhishek Lahoti: Um, but I've been here for three months, so this is my second role in VC and I can say that I've learned a lot in the first role and now I'm continuing to learn constantly. 

Amardeep Parmar: What attracted  you to this role? What made you want to go down the platform path? So you said before, your previous company is called something different, but obviously [00:05:00] you've chosen to come here and set up the platform section for Highland.

Amardeep Parmar: What attracted you to that?

Abhishek Lahoti: Well, I entered the VC industry entirely out of a recruiter. So I was, I had a cursory awareness of what platform was, because my, my role that I, uh, was in at Dropbox before I joined the BC industry was a business development role, specifically partnerships and trying to acquire as many new customers to Dropbox through whatever sort of business development discounts we could.

Abhishek Lahoti: The big thing I did there was like working with American Express, working with um, JCB working with MasterCard, working with Visa, working with whatever else and getting discounts. So if you're ever on AmericanExpress.com, if you have a card, you'll see a Dropbox discount. That was something that I worked on.

Abhishek Lahoti: Um, what we found too is that a lot of VCs came to us and they said, Hey, we want to get a discount for our portfolio companies. We're going to use Dropbox for collaboration. So I said, great, I'll work with you on that. That's just how I became aware of the role. [00:06:00] I got introduced to a recruiter through LinkedIn who was looking to fill this role at a different firm.

Abhishek Lahoti: Um, and then in talking to them and getting presented with opportunities, I ended up working in platform or portfolio growth at that company. It was called Sapphire Ventures. Um, spending some time there, learning the ropes, understanding the VC industry is. Totally different than even an operator, uh, at a company that's VC backed.

Abhishek Lahoti: So, so much of the jargon, so much of the efforts. So much of the focus is going to change. So it took me a while to just spin up on that. And then when this role came on, it was actually introduced via a British Asian connection, through friends of friends who said, Hey, Highland Europe is actually looking for someone to do the same kind of role.

Abhishek Lahoti: I was sort of with my bosses, Boston and Sapphire. And, uh, they just wanted some advice and some guidance because they were having some trouble with landing the right person. So, came in for a coffee. Stayed for an [00:07:00] hour, 30 minutes into the conversation, it turned into almost an interview. And what attracted me to it is the builder in me said, Hey, this is a really cool opportunity to put a stamp on how firm does their value add work.

Abhishek Lahoti: So these investors are great. These companies are amazing. Um, they're all doing things in a non scalable sort of, uh, word of mouth way. And I wanted to come in and add that institutional rigor that I had at bigger companies when I worked as an operator. Um, not that they couldn't do that themselves. And I firmly believe everybody at this particular company could easily do a lot of what I do, but an investor in today's industry wants to be an investor first and operator and an effortful, um, guider second.

Abhishek Lahoti: Not in a bad way, um, but much more because, uh, that's just what they're paid to do and what their efforts are. And so a person like me comes in to be able to take a lot of the ownership [00:08:00] of things that maybe they don't want to do. 

Amardeep Parmar: You hear a lot from different  founders who complain about their VCs not helping them or the VCs not doing enough and it's interesting

Amardeep Parmar: I think like you said, it's. It's always hard because everybody's in their own bubble. So they don't necessarily see that the investors are, they've got so many other things to do that maybe they don't have time to be the role that you're doing for them. But at the same time, that's a big part of the value add that you can have found this, right?

Amardeep Parmar: I said as Highland, right? And especially when it comes to say, very hot routes where every VC wants to part of this company is a way for you guys to differentiate yourselves, right? And how have you found that in conversations? Do you find that when you're talking to people who have just joined the portfolio for the first time, for example, how is that relationship with you?

Amardeep Parmar: Do you find that they really are happy to have you and do they understand the relationship well?

Abhishek Lahoti: I mean, it's a flip a coin. So whether or not they've had somebody in the earlier stages, we're growth stage. So we're series B onwards. Chances are, if you've invested with somebody, [00:09:00] um, and you, or someone had invested in you rather, and they had a platform team.

Abhishek Lahoti: You might have interacted with someone like me. The offering of platform is going to shift quite differently across the stages. You don't get a lot of people in my level of investing. That do a lot of like the CEO coaching all the time or helping understand basic company setup stuff or organizing the first ever hires of really key functional roles that all sort of happens before you get to me when you're at me, you're, you're solving more complicated and tricky problems and you're looking for that fractional, um, success factor that

Abhishek Lahoti: next leader, the CISO, not the CIO, the VP of FPNA, not just a CFO. And so now your company is starting to expand. And a lot of these founders have also been [00:10:00] heads down in this stuff for so long, um, that they will take kind of any help they can get in that way. So they're quite excited when they have the opportunity to talk to someone like me and I can just say, tell me what your problems are.

Abhishek Lahoti: Tell me what you're looking forward to. Hey, you're releasing a new product. Do you want to talk to a product expert who can just make sure that everything is aligned the way you want to do that from a PM perspective, from an engineering perspective, from a resources perspective? Um, I think if people say that their investors aren't doing a lot for them, um, I would caution that and saying, the first thing is the money that they give you is a lot.

Abhishek Lahoti: Um, it might not feel a lot ‘cause we're in a very like. There's a lot of VC firms and a lot of money, quote unquote, but that money is not a small thing because it's not their money. Uh, it's their LPs money and their fiduciary committee. And on the hook to those LPs is not a small thing that you can kind of like have wanton abandon with abandonment with.

Abhishek Lahoti: Um, so I caution everybody saying, well, my investors don't do a lot. The investors are, [00:11:00] are effectively spending someone else's money on you and made a big bet, but to, um, we don't get a chance to just do things for our companies proactively, because we might know what they need, but we also really need to talk to you and understand

Abhishek Lahoti: what it is that you're looking for, how you feel about what's coming up, what your plans are in the next year. And none of us are mind readers. And I think it's really important to know that every good relationship, not even in investing, but personally speaking has a strong communication underlying, you know, I, I, um, I'm a new father and I met my wife in 2020.

Abhishek Lahoti: So you've had this really whirlwind experience where we met in January, 2020, we're engaged in February, 2021. We had our first child in November, 2022. So the only way we could have survived the way we have is, is by a constant communication, um, [00:12:00] openness to that discussion, asking what each other needs.

Abhishek Lahoti: ‘Cause we didn't have years of getting to know each other before bringing a new, a new life into this world. Um, and that, that goes into business as well. It's, I never spend a day heads down locked in a room. Typing away, figuring out things without asking, is this the right direction? Is this what you need?

Abhishek Lahoti: You know, you and I met because one of my companies needs a little bit of guidance. I didn't just say to them, here's your person go off and have fun. I, I went back and forth. We discussed how are these profiles? Do they fit what you're looking for? Do you think it'd be a valuable discussion and then have those conversations?

Abhishek Lahoti: It's more resource intensive and it takes longer to get the thing done. But I would also argue that we're not in that hyper, hyper, hyper growth at all costs mentality anymore and thoughtful, meaningful changes and efforts are way more valuable to everybody. Um, and I think we've learned our lesson a little bit from a 2021, 2022 [00:13:00] perspective.

Abhishek Lahoti: That there's no way that we'll survive as an industry in technology and in VC and everything. If we consistently overreach the whole time, sorry, long answer to a short question. 

Amardeep Parmar: No, no, it's really interesting. And before you came into VC, you would what companies would need potentially, and what they might be asking for.

Amardeep Parmar: And now you've been in this role, and I just said so much about communication, understanding what businesses need. Is there anything that maybe surprised you about what say companies at the growth stage need? Or they're looking for that maybe you wouldn't have thought that or you didn't realize how important it was.

Abhishek Lahoti: Yeah, yeah, fully. I think you'd be surprised at how vulnerable a CEO can be. And this is a person whose company is valued in the hundreds of millions who's got in the parlance of the average individual. They are quote unquote, they've made it in a way, you know, but they know they haven't. [00:14:00] And if you take a second to think about it, you know, they haven't either because

Abhishek Lahoti: evaluations are a sticky thing in some ways, but then they can all of a sudden slip away. Um, I was, I was never really shocked by what someone asked me, but I was perhaps an imposter syndrome a little bit, which is a natural thing, especially as like a child of immigrants growing up in a, where I'm from in the U S is not very diverse.

Abhishek Lahoti: There's a lot of imposter syndrome. If I go and do the work and I put a lot of effort in to learn exactly what I need to learn. To tell you, to teach you, to guide you on a decision you're going to make. Or I find that that great person that I know is killer. I'm still very worried about the approval. And I think they're the same way.

Abhishek Lahoti: And so I was very fascinated. They listened to me at first, but then I realized that the two of us were, um, and this is the founder, but included investor and whomever else here, we're all sort of feeling around in the dark. We got a sense of what the room looks like, but we haven't yet [00:15:00] found the light switch that has eliminated everything for us.

Abhishek Lahoti: And that's really what a lot of our relationships are. It's how can you help me shed some light on this very murky, super specific, perhaps I'm one of five people in the world who ever have had to experience this before. 

Amardeep Parmar: Hey everyone, I hope you're enjoying this episode so far. The BAE HQ has a podcast, but we're so much more than that.

Amardeep Parmar: So if you want to find out about all the events we've got going on, all the different ways you can meet each other, as well as resources to help you build the business of your dreams. Then check out the link in the show notes, sign up to our newsletter, where you get a weekly roundup, which we like to call the BAE Letter, that will keep you in the loop.

Amardeep Parmar: If you want to help us out, the best thing you can possibly do is sign up to our newsletter and share it with your friends. So that's enough from me now, let's get back to the show. 

Amardeep Parmar: I think what's interesting there too is like the partnership element of that, because so much that based on trust, right?

Amardeep Parmar: Because as just said, if a CEO to be vulnerable and say, look, I dunno what I'm doing here, or I [00:16:00] don't know this specific area and I'm worried that's gonna cause these problems, then if they're worried about their investor pulling out on the investor, oh actually this person's capable from your role, you can build that trust with them.

Amardeep Parmar: And I think that's a really important part of that role too. So how have you been able to do that? How have you been able to build the trust of the CEOs? To know that it's okay for them to admit they need help and that you're willing and able to do that.

Abhishek Lahoti: I think our investors are the ones who have the most credit there because they build that trust before the deal happens.

Abhishek Lahoti: Because it's, it's really easy to view what an investment looks like from a transactional perspective. I am paying you a bunch of money and you're going to go build a great company and I get to be part of your success. What's really happening is, a sales transaction is occurring. So the investor is saying, I want to give you a bunch of money, but I want to also own a part of this [00:17:00] thing that is your baby, if you will.

Abhishek Lahoti: And that takes a lot of trust. Ultimately, no good entrepreneur sort of willy nilly sells their shares. And says, I don't really care who takes this money, um, this, this equity rather, and I will take all their money. And those who do that probably find themselves struggling with a really confusing cap table and a lot of influence that they don't want.

Abhishek Lahoti: Um, so that thoughtful perspective is really important. It's, it's from the, the, you know, day one of this thing. If you read, it's really interesting book called the power law. Which, uh, it sort of outlines the history of venture capital from the early semiconductor days till even into like uber and stuff like that, um, you'll notice that there is a lot of that trust that occurs at the investor level.

Abhishek Lahoti: When they come to me, they know the firm. They trust the firm. They like the firm. Um, the trust that I built in them is one of, an open ear, [00:18:00] another open ear. That's not on their board. That's not perhaps somebody who has, um, any sort of like perceived power of influence because I'm the value add person.

Abhishek Lahoti: So I'm not going to be sitting in on a board meeting with them necessarily. Um, what they can get from me is a sort of wide network and array, but it's not an automatic transaction of trust. You know, they, I do have to earn that. And I earned that really truly by just being kind of an open, honest and, and a collaborative person.

Abhishek Lahoti: And just takes time with all the senior level exec, uh, relationships I had at the global 2000 in my previous role too. It was that too. It took like 6 months of regular conversations and just talking about stuff about sharing some insights that we had about gleaning information from what they were saying to try to help them solve problems without any sort of vested interest in the solution to earn a bit of [00:19:00] trust.

Abhishek Lahoti: And even then trust is a very funny thing because it's much like British weather can go away really fast and you have to maintain it, you have to nurture it in that way. And, um, I do find that our founders, at least Highland Europe really, really trust the firm to help, um, and really like their investors.

Abhishek Lahoti: And so my job is way easier that way, because I'm coming from a really, really great culture of investors which is which is great for me and I'm cheating the game a little bit that way. 

Amardeep Parmar: What do you enjoy most about working in platform and also what you're the future?

Abhishek Lahoti: What am I most excited about? I would, I would say that the thing I like about platform is that it's such a new endeavor.

Abhishek Lahoti: There's not a lot of technology or solutions or creative ideas that have been really, truly ballot tested and we have this massive group of VC platform people that we all interact and we're all throwing really interesting ideas and I found that with the freedom of a head [00:20:00] of platform role that I have, I'm starting to now interact with them a lot more and glean more ideas and work with them closely and come up with solutions that harkens back to my solutions architect days when I can take a customer problem and navigate our products such that the problem made sense

Abhishek Lahoti: within the confines of what we were selling. So I'm really excited by the fact that like, I get a chance to flex on new technology and make it work for me. I also really like the, um, the industry's acceptance of this kind of role. I didn't know that, you know, Sequoia had some layoffs in their talent division.

Abhishek Lahoti: If you read into the tea leaves of it, I think the people were perhaps just too generalist and they needed more specialist talent people. Um, I don't believe that we have, uh, I honestly don't believe that we have any sort of issues regarding, uh, where VC platform sits and whether or not we'll be of a valuable asset in VC.

Abhishek Lahoti: I think people writing articles about whether or not we're useful or not, um, for [00:21:00] click baity, for the click baiting nature of it. I think you're kind of missing the greater point here, which is as every industry grows. You know, back in the day, the tech industry was always engineers, tons of engineers, maybe like a professional CEO.

Abhishek Lahoti: And now you have marketing, social media, you have the product managers, you have the product engineers, you have secure, like where are these massive companies that when you start to hire for specific roles, you're like, that's so specific that five years ago with that role would never have been necessary at this company.

Abhishek Lahoti: And VC industry is the same. And yeah, we, we grew pretty big, I think in the last couple of years as an industry. Um, and there will be some consolidation. There always is with these types of things, but this is innovation. And I'm fascinated to see in five years, what that further innovation will look like.

Abhishek Lahoti: And if it's not platform, it's going to be something else. Like we're going to have, you know, VC industries with crazy good data engineers that are just crunching massive amounts of data to do great models that do some AI efforts to help solve whether or not our companies need this, this, or this in the next [00:22:00] five years, like that's going to be some of the fascinating stuff, I think.

Amardeep Parmar: So thanks so much for coming on today. I wish I could, like, learn a lot about platform and hopefully Alice has learned a lot too. So I'm going to do a quick five questions now. So the first one is who are three British Asians working in the space you'd love to shout out? You think you're doing incredible work.

Abhishek Lahoti: Yeah, absolutely. Um the I'm going to cheat a little bit. So sorry in advance. Um, the first one is the gentleman who introduced me to Highland Europe. His name's Gopi. He is a good friend of mine. He's, um, an IR guy in the industry, worked at Balderton, worked at Notion. Super great looking, um, to do really great things.

Abhishek Lahoti: So, um, thanks to him. The other one is Gudge, who is one of our partners here, who actually was the person I was introduced to, um, who helped me slide into this particularly great role. Um, so both of those guys, that's kind of a cheat because they're kind of one relationship. That's super important to me.

Abhishek Lahoti: Um, the other one is a really, really great investor named Danica. She's at Cherry ventures. Uh, we went to college together. [00:23:00] She's a sounding and cool and really fascinating as, um, an investor and she is doing great things. So, um, just to shout out to her, cause I really appreciate all the work she does. And the last one is the proper actual cheat.

Abhishek Lahoti: ‘Cause it's the fourth, but it's like a half person is my daughter. Uh, Lakshmi, she's a tiny little brand new British Asian. Um, and I'm fascinated to see what she brings to the world. And she's doing a lot of really fascinating things like teething and dancing the first time. So, uh, yeah, that's, that's my, uh, my four, unfortunately, British Asians.

Amardeep Parmar: Next question is if people want to learn more about you, more about Highland, where should they go to? 

Abhishek Lahoti: Yeah, of course. Um, our website's the best place HighlandEurope. com. Um, we, we post a lot of really interesting things there. There's a profile of me done by our PR firm, which is great. That just outlines a little bit.

Abhishek Lahoti: Um, I'm also just kind of an avid like writer about this new fatherhood thing that I have and um, so check out LinkedIn. Um, my LinkedIn posts are silly [00:24:00] and, um, useless, but fun for me to write. Um, and then Highland Europe. Yeah. Just check out our website. Check out our LinkedIn where we have some really great companies that have come into the portfolio recently.

Abhishek Lahoti: Shout out to Nothing Tech who provided these great headphones, one of our newest portfolio companies. Um, and, and yeah, I'm always happy to connect with people if they wanted to chat more. 

Amardeep Parmar: If people listening right now might be able to help you or help Highland in some way, what  could they do to help you?

Abhishek Lahoti: Yeah, if you're a really good, I mean, really good experienced expert in something, if you've done some, forgive the Californian parlance, some gnarly stuff that has taught you an immense amount of um, information about how to solve crazy problems like come to me. I want to put you in front of people. Um, I want you to talk to our founders.

Abhishek Lahoti: If you guys have some great relationship and you've helped them further on and become an advisor and all like happy days for all of us. Um, if you're a stellar C level [00:25:00] person in the industry, a SaaS industry or consumer industry, whatever, come my way. If you're looking for another thing, um, we do some really great talent and stuff.

Abhishek Lahoti: Um, and then also if you're, um, doing anything like this, if you're helping VC firms, you're helping startups in a way. I met this really great guy at a pub once who just, um, he does that VCBD thing, but he does it as his own company. It's just great to talk to him. ‘Cause I, we shared a lot of war stories and then, you know, he's a really, really fascinating, scaling individual that I was like, okay,

Abhishek Lahoti: this is a fun person to have met. So I'm very open to meeting a lot of people. Um, I used to host a podcast where literally that was all I did is just meet random people and ask some strange questions. So, uh, that's a bit of my MO. 

Amardeep Parmar: So thank you again so much for coming on. Have you got any final words to the audience?

Abhishek Lahoti: Absolutely not. I appreciate the time. It's been really great. I think I've talked too much, so apologies. I hope that my tones were not too, uh, sleep inducing to everybody. And, uh, yeah, looking forward to, to [00:26:00] being part of the greater ecosystem.

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