Siraj Khaliq is an Adviser and former Atomico-backed founder himself. He focuses on Frontier Technologies (companies built upon engineering or scientific breakthroughs), including AI and computer vision, novel semiconductors, quantum computing and synthetic biology.
When I was perhaps 14 years old, Time Magazine named Bill Gates person of the year. Seeing the boyish, nerdy Gates on the cover - an image I related to - had a major impact on me. Here was another guy who was more obsessed with bits and bytes than bricks and mortar (or sports!) and he was rebuilding the world digitally. This motivated me to build my own startup (successful but at a scale far less spectacular!), and now that I'm an investor, my belief in the power of entrepreneurs to change the world has only strengthened. Accordingly, I love working with founders who aren't just incrementally improving on the status quo, but pursuing a transformational approach. This sometimes involves hardware or complex operational aspects. Some investors shy away from these risks but I find the challenges therein stimulating, and often very much worth backing.
It's never too early to start.
I taught myself programming in C when I was 13 (and my high school had a "computer club" but not much else by way of teaching), and wrote and sold my first piece of software, a database for medical research, at age 15.
Atomico invested in my first company.
I co-founded The Climate Corporation in 2006, which pioneered the use of machine learning to help farmers make better decisions in the face of growing climate uncertainty. Now a subsidiary of Bayer, it still sits at the forefront of digital agriculture – a field that will play a key role in delivering the yield boosts needed to feed humanity in the decades ahead.
Founders, find a great co-founder.
My co-founder and I couldn’t have successfully created Climate Corp without each other. As a VC, I sometimes see single founders who think they can do it all themselves. There are enough challenges in those early days that trying to do it all alone shouldn't be one of them. Do yourself a favour and find one or two great co-founders.
Earlier in my career...
Prior to Atomico and Climate, I was an early engineering hire at Google. We were young and idealistic, believing that tech would inevitably change the world for the better. One of my proudest accomplishments there was helping build and launch Google Books (from scratch). My Masters & Bachelors degrees are both in Computer Science, from Stanford and Cambridge respectively.
A lot of founders are too rigid, and think they have to stick to their original idea or vision, come what may. But the search for product-market fit means you have to be flexible - to pay attention and adapt. As an investor talking to founders, I try to make sure that grit and determination don't come at the cost of this flexibility.
I sit on the boards of PsiQuantum, Graphcore, Scandit, FabricNano, CloudNC and arculus.
And I was closely involved in Atomico’s investments into Beekeeper, Bitmovin, Healx, Kheiron, Upside Foods and Spacemaker.
The best day to start is today.
We’ll always find reasons not to take a risk. We generally don’t like being uncomfortable, but that’s where change happens. Many potential entrepreneurs wait too long, sometimes looking for perfect information. In today's world, of course, if you wait too long, you may end up waiting forever.