Interview with Matt Clifford, Co-Founder at Entrepreneur First: The World’s Leading Talent Investor

Entrepreneur First is the world’s leading talent investor. We invest time and money in the world’s most talented and ambitious individuals, helping them to find a co-founder, develop an idea, and start a technology company. So far, we’ve helped 2,000+ people create 300+ companies, worth a combined $2bn across our cohort programmes around the world – in London, Berlin, Paris, Singapore, Bangalore, Hong Kong and now in Toronto.
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How did you come up with the idea for the company?

My co-founder, Alice Bentinck, and I started with this idea that it really matters what the most ambitious people do with their lives. We felt that far too much human potential was being wasted in traditional careers, and jobs that constrained and restricted people.

This, coupled with a belief that the world is missing out on some of its best founders, is what led to us building Entrepreneur First. Since founding EF, we’ve become obsessed with helping the world’s most talented people maximise their impact – and we believe entrepreneurship offers the best opportunity to do just that. We’re at the early stages of the emergence of technology entrepreneurship as the ‘default career path’, and a large proportion of the world’s most ambitious individuals will be founders.

There’s been a great deal of analysis of how technology will disrupt life in the coming decades, and this means what the most ambitious people choose to do with their lives has a profound impact on society, the economy and culture. I believe that enabling the best talent to maximise their impact is one of the most important problems in the world, and we’re building an institution with Entrepreneur First that amplifies their efforts from the very beginning of their journey.


Tell us about the Entrepreneur First programme

Our cohort programmes run every six months in Europe and Asia, with between 50 and 100 people on each. The full-time programme comprises two stages: “Form” is where you find a co-founder and develop your idea. “Launch” is where you get your team funded and begin building your company. We look for people who can make a big impact in a tech startup from day one. The nature of what a tech startup does means that a lot of these people are going to have tech skills, but there are lots of other things that are important too.

Through our selection processes, we don’t just look for those with credible experience – we instead identify the potential an individual could have if paired with the right person, if given the right mentoring, if put into the right networks. A big task for a startup is gaining a very deep understanding of their customers’ needs. We’re very interested in people whose skills and experience help with that.

Successful non-technical applicants tend to have impressive domain expertise or lots of skill in the techniques needed to distribute what the startup is building to customers. We’re fortunate at EF to have what I believe is the world’s largest and most comprehensive dataset of what great founders look like before they become founders. That’s partly because we invest at scale — over 400 individual alumni and 140+ investments and counting — but mainly because we’re the only organisation (to my knowledge) that begins pre-company with the individual and collects data all the way through the team building, idea generation and growth processes.

As a result, we’ve learned a lot about what the best founders look like at the very beginning — before their company even exists – and continue to use that information to shape our programme.

What can we hope to see from Entrepreneur First in the future?

We’re facing challenging and uncertain times, but we also have no doubt that important companies will be built during this time. Some of the most iconic companies in the world were created during our last economic downturn, including Uber, WhatsApp, Slack, Venmo and Taobao. With these new constraints, comes a huge new opportunity – and need – for innovation. Entrepreneur First exists to remove many of the barriers that aspiring founders face, and we will continue to provide the next generation of entrepreneurs with as much help as possible.

As we’ve expanded globally, we’ve discovered that so much exceptional talent can be found outside major startup hubs, and realised the power of plugging such people into a global innovation ecosystem. We’ve also been surprised at how smoothly our approach – bringing talented and ambitious individuals together to build teams – has translated into a remote-first world, despite the lack of in-person interaction. We’ve adapted our programme to be remote-first, building in more support, structure, and contact-time, to ensure our founders are fully supported, and this will continue at every turn to fit with the current world situation