#43 Emmet King: The Stoic Investor

updated on 07 April 2022

Founders need to be magnets for attracting talent, capital, and customers.

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We knew Emmet was someone out of the ordinary as soon as we dialed in. He spoke to us with a calm and firm voice, giving us the impression that he had his thoughts well put together. Clarity describes Emmet, and anyone who spends more than a minute with him will notice. 

Emmet is one of the founding partners at J12, an early-stage venture capital firm investing in groundbreaking technology companies, including Airmee, Memmo and Treyd. Before starting his own venture capital fund, Emmet founded NOWO with his two roommates from the Stockholm School of Economics to transform the way people save up. Emmet also enjoys having a cold one in the sun, as a true Brit at heart. Before the startup bug bit him, he aspired to play in the Premier League as a professional footballer. 

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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What did you dream of when you were a kid?

My first love was playing football. It was constantly on my mind, and I spent every day of my youth between the training ground and the playing field. I really gave it my all to make it, and my dream was to become a professional football player. 

Emmet's childhood football team 
Emmet's childhood football team 

How were your upbringings? 

I grew up an hour southwest of London. It was a tiny village in the countryside, and I loved it. I have been very fortunate to grow up in a stable, loving family environment, with two very supportive parents and three siblings. They provided me with a strong foundation for self-belief to experiment, fail, and try again. 

During my mid-teens, my dream of becoming a football player moved more towards fantasy land than reality. Luckily, I had options from a theoretical point of view, and my main interest was psychology. I had a genuine interest in the way people think and what drives certain behaviours. I also enjoyed the business aspect of things, so I decided to study Economics at the University of Birmingham. 

Where did your passion for entrepreneurship stem from? 

It would have been a hell of a story if I was one of those born entrepreneurs selling cookies and lemonades at the weekends as a kid. Unfortunately, I wasn't. I fell into the entrepreneurial rabbit hole while studying at the Stockholm School of Economics. It was as simple as spending countless late nights together with two roommates over beers brainstorming about tons of different ideas. Stockholm also had a plethora of technology startups inspiring us to dream big and to keep working on our ideas in between classes or in the evenings. 

After graduating you started your own company. Why such a decision? 

We had no other choice as we quickly realized that nobody wanted to employ us (laughs). We wanted to learn the hard and fast way. We built things, launched products, raised capital, and saw an idea grow and evolve. It had a lot to do with grit and persistence - two critical characteristics that everyone needs to succeed genuinely in life.

The dream team
The dream team

Entrepreneurship taught me that nothing in life works in a straight line. It never happens how you first envisioned it.  

You were the chief product officer at your startup. How was that experience? 

The role of product strategist lives in the intersection of commercial and technology. I entered this world with little experience, so I learned a lot, including the technical part. I was not the typical product person with years of computer experience under my belt, but rather someone who deeply cared about customer perspectives. Instead of being incredibly good at one thing, whether it is tech or business, I decided to be good enough in both and found my edge this way. 

How did you find your way into the world of venture capital? 

During the early days of building our company, we got in touch with a notable angel investor Lars Lindgren. He had the idea of creating an alumni angel fund connected to the Stockholm School of Economics. It felt like a no-brainer to jump on this boat. We had recently graduated but knew a ton of extraordinary founders from our university working on cutting-edge technology. Together with 25 entrepreneurs, we formed an angel syndicate called DHS Venture Partners

DHS Angel group in action
DHS Angel group in action

It was a fantastic experience to have had the chance to experience both sides of the table, as an investor and as a startup operator. It was our entry key into the industry. After a couple of years, we felt like we had proved ourselves and were ready to form a more “institutionalised” investment vehicle. 

Then you founded J12. What is the founding story, and the vision of the fund? 

This is a funny story, as our name originates from the street where we lived together, Johannesgatan 12 - our student apartment (laughs). Our vision is to invest in groundbreaking founders building category-defining companies. In the next few years, we also believe that we will see a new wave of impact-driven companies. Supporting these founders wakes me up in the morning and drives our fund forward.

The J12 founding team 
The J12 founding team 

What do you look for when evaluating companies?  

We often invest in companies that are pre-revenue and pre-product. At this stage, it's evident that the founding team plays the most crucial part in our evaluation. We love founders with unique market insights about exciting industries. They don't need to have years of experience in the sector but a clear vision of where the world is going. I look for founders that have a strong sense of conviction that at the same time are flexible enough to change their path based on data, customer feedback and advice. The key is to have a strong opinion that is loosely held. 

Founders need to be magnets for attracting talent, capital, and customers.

If you could change one thing in your journey, what would it be? 

My philosophy to life is to spend as little time as possible pondering about the past. I believe it is a waste of time, and I rather spend all my energy focusing on the present moment. I learned a lot from the past, yet these reflections do not necessarily change anything. I am privileged to be in the position I am today, and I am excited about all the opportunities ahead of me. 

Having said that, there is one thing I would have done differently. I would have travelled more during my younger days, as the older you get, the harder it is to leave for a couple of months. Make sure to take full advantage of that! 

When was the time you felt the most vulnerable?

It must have been during the time raising our fund for J12. It took a long time, and we had many sleepless nights as we were "all in" on this endeavour. However, I never doubted our ambition. My advice to everyone facing significant challenges is to stick in it and get it done, and in most cases, it will work out. 

What would you do if you only had 30 days to live?

I hope I don't oversleep because I would be wasting precious time (laughs). I would spend some time with family and friends. I would also voice things that I don't express often enough. I would find a huge concert or festival and enjoy the energy and euphoria of the crowd. Lastly, I would travel in nature and observe the incredible beauty of our planet. 

Emmet enjoying an 80s themed party 
Emmet enjoying an 80s themed party 

Do you have an inspiring figure? 

Arsene Wenger. He's a legend. 

One book? 

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius 

What would be your one-billion-dollar idea if you were to start a company today?

I would spend all my energy on plant-based food and create better protein alternatives. Taste is the most critical factor, and there is a massive opportunity for new companies to make sure protein alternatives taste as good as meat, fish and various egg and dairy products. I am a vegan, so that’s also why I have a burning interest in this industry. I am very excited about the future of plant-based alternatives. 

Inspiring story Emmet, thank you very much.

Emmet meditates during his holiday in Mexico
Emmet meditates during his holiday in Mexico

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