25 Apr 2017

The decisive moment

As humans we progress incrementally — through constant advances in technology, science, commerce and many other endeavours. We build bit-by-bit on what has gone before, gradually improving our world.

But there are also genuine breakthrough moments, seismic shifts that change the way we think and define what the future will look like.

To be privy to these moments, and even involved in making them happen, is a true honour.

As a founder they are what you strive for and the memory that most endures.

I remember using our Skype command line interface prototype for the first time. It was unrecognizable from the slick product that millions of people know today. But still, it enabled me to make a phone call over the internet, clear-as-a-bell.

That change was not just incremental progress, like lowering the cost of international calls. It was truly transformative — enabling anyone to call anywhere for free.

Something completely new had come into existence in that moment, and it could not be undone.

I had that same feeling recently, this time as a proud investor, when I saw the Lilium jet successfully lift from the tarmac and take to skies for the first time.

I knew that I was witnessing an extraordinary advancement in technology, driven by four passionate and mission-driven entrepreneurs from the Technical University Munich (TUM).

They had achieved what many believed impossible in our lifetime. The beginning of the end of an age where cars are our primary mode of transport and devastating environmental damage, part of the running cost.

A century of oil dependence, increasing congestion and choking vehicle emissions are coming to an end.

Like Skype in those early days, the prototype product may not look as polished as it will in time. But the principle has been decisively established. We are moving into a future where mass commuter air transport becomes affordable, on-demand and zero-emission.

A world where anyone can use autonomous, electrical, vertical takeoff and landing aircraft to get around, reducing the number of vehicle injuries and deaths on our roads and saving the many more who suffer the ill effects of pollution.

It is the same need that we recognised in our investment into ofo, the world’s leading dockless bicycle sharing startup. There too, the challenge is the same. With the global population expected to reach 9.7bn by 2050, and the rate of urbanisation increasing, it is incumbent on us to tackle the twin problems of congestion and pollution.

It is a calling that all of us should answer, but especially entrepreneurs and inventors.

They are the ultimate agents of positive, transformational change across every aspect of our society and economy. They have the capacity to succeed in ways that no one thought possible, at a rate of acceleration we never dreamed of.

As an investor, my vision is to back the most ambitious founders. Those people who want to build the next company that changes a fundamental component of our economy and society. The founders who want to use technology to rewire the world to make it better for as many people as possible.

In Daniel, Matthias, Sebastian and Patrick, the four co-founders of Lilium, I have found all of these things and it is an incredible privilege to be part of their journey.

But there is no limit to our ingenuity and creativity as a people. We continue to seek other talented visionaries wherever they might be. Together we will create more of those world-changing moments.

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