Eric Benhamou is the Founder and General Partner of Benhamou Global Ventures (BGV), a venture capital firm based in Silicon Valley. He’s a business leader with 40 years of experience and a wealth of knowledge about corporate management and investing in early-stage startups. Eric is also a lead investor of Blendid and member of our Board of Directors.
Considering his extensive experience running and advising businesses, we knew Eric would have great insight into how companies — and particularly startups — can survive the choppy waters of the COVID-19 pandemic. We connected with Eric to discuss his approach to investing and how the pandemic will impact the venture capital industry. We also talked about why he thinks Blendid is uniquely positioned to thrive in the post–COVID-19 world of foodtech.
Watch the full conversation between Eric Benhamou and Covahne Michaels, Blendid’s VP of Marketing. You can also read a condensed version of the conversation below.
Before you founded BGV, you spent decades leading companies at all stages of growth. What lessons from your leadership experience do you pass along to young founders?
Young founders, particularly today, must get a lot of things right in order to get a business off the ground. You have to assemble a team and build a product. You also need a clear understanding of the market and to make sure you’re solving a truly compelling problem.
A key lesson I share with young founders is that you cannot afford to be wrong about the fundamental trends of the market: market size, timing, or inflection. Founders can recover from many mistakes (such as product design, packaging, and pricing) — but they cannot recover from fundamentally misreading the market structure or timing.
Can you tell us about BGV’s approach to investing?
BGV is a thesis-driven firm. We don’t invest in a space purely based on instinct or because we like the entrepreneur, though that’s not to say we don’t pay attention to the entrepreneur. BGV invests primarily because we have formed views and convictions about what the market inflection and technology trends will look like in a few years’ time. These views help us build a portfolio of companies who are aligned with our thesis.
You’ve chosen to be a very active investor in many of your investment companies, including ours. How can that approach help the companies in BGV’s portfolio prevail during difficult times?
We want to be as helpful as possible to our CEOs and make sure they don’t repeat mistakes we’ve made when we were running companies. The situation today is somewhat unprecedented, but it’s common for economic shocks to occur every few years. Right now, many teams have to make significant adjustments. We want to be side by side with our founders to help them with these choices.
Young companies are particularly vulnerable to big market downturns. They must be nimble and make rapid adjustments to their spend, their positioning, and their go-to-market approach. CEOs and founders need to be able to count on involved investors who deeply understand their business, who can serve as consultants and inject creative ideas into the process. That’s the role our investment team chooses to hold.
Will or has COVID-19 changed your approach to investing? If so, what industries do you believe will see the most growth in the near future?
We were already a staunch believer in the digital transformation wave across enterprises and across industries. Post–COVID-19, we believe a few trends will accelerate even faster than we initially believed. Those include intelligent automation, contactless solutions, ease of consumption, and working from home.
Currently we’re in the process of rethinking work in a very fundamental way. A lot of us have had to learn how to work from home out of necessity. Many of the practices we’ve developed in the last three or four months are likely to stick. When we’re past the biological aspect of the current crisis, people will go back to the office, but we expect the concept of working to radically change.
Contactless solutions is another trend in our investment thesis that has seen demand skyrocket because of the pandemic. Everything we used to do in large groups — be it on factory floors, in warehouses, or at restaurants — is completely changing. We’re starting to place great value on contactless solutions of all kinds. We believe contactless automation will affect many aspects of daily life, from how you manage logistics in a warehouse or operate a restaurant to how you rethink physical trade shows and conferences.
We’ve seen increased interest in food robotics companies with contactless production or delivery. However, you saw a growth opportunity in this space years ago. What led you to invest in this space, and why did you invest in Blendid?
We formed the view that the food and beverage industry was going to be among the most deeply disrupted industry verticals. This was due to the confluence of several factors including advances in artificial intelligence and robotics. We’ve also seen a rise in health and nutritional standards from a new generation of consumers.
We looked for teams of entrepreneurs who were riding these trends and had the capabilities to deliver. The challenge is that a solution to these trends requires the mastery of many different skills: robotics, software, mechanical engineering, fluid mechanics, an understanding of foods and dietetics, and so on. It’s rare to find all of these skills present in a single team.
When I reconnected with Vipin (Jain, CEO and Co-Founder of Blendid), he had just begun working on his first prototype. I became convinced that he was one of the few who could deliver a solution with the appropriate balance of new technologies and customizable, nutritional food. The changes in today’s market due to COVID-19 have only reinforced our investment conviction in Blendid.
Do you believe Blendid is well-positioned to succeed in a post–COVID-19 world?
Blendid has an extremely relevant value proposition — even more so today than six months ago. It combines the expected disruptive economic benefits of AI and robotics with the unique advantage of being a completely contactless food preparation solution. Blendid addresses a concern that is top of mind not just for consumers but also for people within and adjacent to the food industry who must be concerned with providing a new generation of food solutions.
Do you have any final thoughts about how business leaders can navigate the challenges of the moment?
The period in which we’re living is quite unusual, and we’re adapting to doing many things from home. However, by working from home we sacrifice one key component of business: creativity. Most creative activities take place when we share the same physical space and are able to spontaneously generate ideas. It’s very difficult to have a creative brainstorm session through a video meeting.
Founders and management teams of young startups have to figure out how to maintain that creative space and hold true brainstorming sessions. We may invent a way to do this remotely, but we’re not there yet. I encourage all of our entrepreneurs to schedule time for creativity, and I would extend that message to all business leaders. It’s important that you maintain space for creative execution and thinking about future ideas as well as improvements to existing ideas.
Thanks for your time, Eric. Always a pleasure speaking with you.
Thanks Covahne. Pleasure to speak with you.