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Wise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus on his next act as a venture capitalist

November 24, 2021, 4:34 PM UTC

Taavet Hinrikus has had a big year. In July, Wise—the money-transfer startup that he co-founded with fellow Estonian Kristo Käärmann in 2010—went public via a direct listing on the London Stock Exchange. The deal was both the U.K.’s first-ever direct listing and the largest tech listing in the history of the LSE, valuing Wise at around £8 billion ($11 billion) at the time. In turn, both Hinrikus and his co-founder became billionaires overnight.

It also marked the end of one chapter in Hinrikus’ life and career, and the beginning of a new one. In advance of the public listing in July, he announced that he would be stepping down as Wise’s chairman within the following year. (Käärmann will continue to serve as Wise’s CEO.) It is a move that, in Hinrukus’ words, represents the completion of a “full circle of entrepreneurship.”

“It was me and Kristo, the two of us with a dream, more than 10 years ago,” he told Fortune. “We went from that to what, in the grand scheme of things, very few succeed in: building that idea into a sustainable, profitable company.” Wise is now one of the leading fintech startups disrupting the realm of cross-border money movement with lower-cost, tech-enabled services—and having successfully built the business and taken it public, Hinrikus believes the time is now right to follow other pursuits. 

“I’ve realized the entrepreneurial dream,” he said. “I’d like to spend more time on other things.” (He adds that he will “stay involved” with Wise after leaving the board through “initiatives” that have yet to be formalized.)

“Other things,” most significantly, include a burgeoning, prolific career as a venture investor. Hinrikus already has investments in well over 100 startups to his name, and recently teamed with friend and fellow Estonian tech entrepreneur Sten Tamkivi on a new venture investing partnership. Together, the pair have a portfolio of around 150 investments, according to Hinrikus, and are looking to grow that footprint across a wide variety of industries and geographies.

Crucially, Hinrikus is keen to distinguish that “Taavet+Sten,” as it’s come to be known, is not a venture capital fund. For one, he and Tamkivi are not raising money from outside investors, opting instead to only deploy their own capital. This provides them with a great deal more flexibility—particularly in being able to invest with “a longer-term horizon” in the companies that they believe in. “Great companies sometimes take a long time—10-to-15-years—to build,” Hinrikus said. “I’m very patient in that sense, and happy to invest with a 10-year horizon to build something great.” 

The investment vehicle is also sector-agnostic. While Hinrikus is more than willing to invest in fintech startups (as evidenced by recent deals backing Hong-Kong-based XanPool and Indonesia-based BukuKas), he cited biotech and energy among the areas where he’s scouting for “companies that are looking to make a dent in the universe.”

“I’m sure there are tons of exciting ‘buy now, pay later’ companies that are being built and which will provide fantastic returns—but you know, it just doesn’t get me that excited,” he noted. “But if I look at a company that’s working on synthetic biology—which I don’t understand anything about—that’s really exciting and I’d love to learn more about it.” Even if he is short on biotech expertise, Hinrikus believes he can use his experience to help founders with the “company-building aspects” of growing a business, irrespective of the industry. (He’s already branched out by co-founding a new health-tech startup.)

Though he and Tamkivi have focused mostly on early-stage venture investments to date, Hinrikus said the loose, unconventional structure of their vehicle enables them to “do anything we like.” He added that the pair is prepared to cut checks anywhere from “a few hundred thousand [dollars] to maybe $10 million” for the right company. (Hinrikus, for his part, is armed with proceeds from selling some of his Wise stock.) “We can invest in other venture funds, we can invest in later-stage companies that we think have another 10 years of high-growth ahead—it doesn’t really matter when we get involved.”

They’re also keeping a close eye on their homeland, which has developed into an unlikely tech hotbed in recent decades. As a young software developer in Estonia, Hinrikus landed a job as Skype’s first employee—and he cited the video-chatting platform’s 2000s-era success as a catalyst for future generations of Estonian tech entrepreneurs and startups.

“Success stories accelerate ecosystems in a huge way,” he said. “In 2005, when Skype was sold [to eBay for $2.6 billion], that legitimized the whole startup sector. Engineers and employees made money as a result of the exit, and money started going back into the ecosystem. Maybe even more importantly, there were a lot of people who knew what was possible, and who were helping others to realize their dream.” 

Today, the northern European nation of only 1.3 million people lays claim to seven homegrown tech unicorns—quite likely the best per-capita rate of any country in the world. Hinrikus is doing his part to support young Estonian companies with their own dreams of a $1 billion valuation; he noted that Estonian firms represented around 10% of his own personal venture portfolio, while he and Tamkivi led a 7.4 million euro ($8.3 million) funding round for Estonian e-bike startup Ampler earlier this month. The pair have also contributed to endeavors including the launch of a new coding school in the small Estonian town of Jõhvi that accepted 200 students in its inaugural class this fall.

“It took me a decade to build one company,” Hinrikus said. “In the next decade, I’d love to help 100 or 1,000 of them grow to massive scale.”

PROGRAMMING NOTE: The inimitable Lucinda Shen will be back helming Term Sheet next week; please send all deals her way (lucinda.shen@fortune.com). Until then, wishing a wonderful Thanksgiving break to you and yours.

Rey Mashayekhi
@reym12
rey.mashayekhi@fortune.com

Jessica Mathews curated the IPO section of this newsletter.

VENTURE DEALS

- Benitago Group, a New York-based startup that creates and acquires e-commerce brands, raised $325 million in Series A funding. CoVenture led the round and was joined by investor HSBC.

- NoBroker, a Bangalore, India-based property listings platform, raised $210 million in Series E funding at a $1 billion valuation. Tiger Global, General Atlantic, and Moore Strategic Ventures co-led the round.

- Leocare, a Paris-based insurance platform, raised $116 million in Series B funding. Eight Roads led the round and was joined by existing investors Felix Capital, Daphni, and Ventech.

- Payhawk, a London-based financial management platform for businesses, raised $112 million in Series B funding at a $570 million valuation. Greenoaks led the round and was joined by existing investors QED Investors, Eleven Ventures, and Earlybird Digital East.

- AutoFlight, a Shanghai-based startup developing electric autonomous aircraft, raised $100 million in Series A funding. Team Global led the round.

- Peek, a San Francisco-based travel and tourism booking marketplace, raised $80 million in Series C funding. WestCap led the round and was joined by investors Goldman Sachs Asset Management, 3L, Cathay Innovation, I2BF Global Ventures, Manta Ray, and Apeiron.

- Podimo, a Copenhagen-based podcast subscription service, raised $78 million in Series B funding. 83North and Highland Europe led the round and were joined by existing investors Chr. Augustinus, Heartcore, Saban Ventures, Headline, and Possible Ventures.

- Bitrise, a Budapest-based mobile app development platform, raised $60 million in Series C funding. Insight Partners led the round and was joined by existing investors Partech, Open Ocean, Zobito, Fiedler Capital, and Y Combinator.

- TruePay, a Sao Paulo-based B2B “buy now, pay later” platform, raised $32 million in Series A funding. Addition led the round and was joined by existing investors Global Founders Capital and ONEVC.

- Arc, a Los Angeles-based manufacturer of electric boats, raised $30 million in Series A funding. Greg Reichow led the round and was joined by existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Lowercarbon Capital, and Abstract Ventures.

- Crowdcube, an Exeter, U.K.-based crowdfunding platform for startups, raised $13.5 million in funding. Circle led the round and was joined by existing investors Balderton Capital and Molten Ventures.

- Whatslly, a Tel Aviv, Israel-based conversational sales platform enabling companies to connect with customers via instant messaging channels, raised $11 million in seed funding. Zeev Ventures led the round and was joined by investors Sergio Fogel, Base Partners, and GTMfund.

PRIVATE EQUITY

- BlackRock led a 700 million euro ($787 million) investment in Ionity, a Munich-based electric vehicle charging station network. Ionity shareholders BMW, Ford, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen also participated in the investment.

- Bridgepoint Group invested $75 million in Plug In Digital, a Montpellier, France-based video game publisher and distributor.

- K1 Investment Management led a $350 million investment in simPRO, a Brisbane, Australia-based provider of project management software for field services. Level Equity also participated in the investment.

EXITS

- Booking Holdings (NASDAQ: BKNG) has agreed to acquire Etraveli Group, an Uppsala, Sweden-based flight booking provider, from CVC Capital Partners for 1.63 billion euros ($1.83 billion).

OTHER

- Hanwha Solutions (KRX: 009830) led $150 million in financing for Lancium Technologies, a Houston-based company focused on decarbonized energy solutions. Other financial backers in the deal included Novawulf and SBI Holdings.

- Enthusiast Gaming (NASDAQ: EGLX) has acquired U.GG, an Austin, Texas-based e-sports training platform, in a deal valued at up to $57 million.

F+FS

- ChrysCapital, an India-based private equity firm, is seeking to raise $1.26 billion for its ninth fund.

- Spain-based Seaya Ventures and France-based Cathay Innovation have jointly launched a $125 million venture fund focused on Latin America-based startups.

- Blume Ventures, an India-based venture capital firm, raised $105 million for its fourth fund.

IPOS

-Star Health and Allied Insurance, an Indian health insurance company, is seeking a $7 billion valuation in its IPO, according to Reuters.

-Wuxi Diagnostic Investment, a Chinese diagnostics service platform, is weighing an IPO in Hong Kong that could raise around $400 million, per Bloomberg.

-KLDiscovery, a McLean, Va.-based information governance and data recovery provider, filed for an IPO. The company posted $290 million in revenue in 2020 and a comprehensive loss of $45 million. The Carlyle Group, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, Revolution Growth, and Linden Capital Partners back the firm.

-Nuvo Group, an Israeli remote healthcare solution for pregnancies, filed for an IPO in the U.S. The company reported a total comprehensive loss of $11 million in 2020. Retail funds from Frankfurter Aktienfonds für Stiftungen invest in the company.

-Wuhan Asia Heart Hospital, a Chinese tertiary cardiology hospital, is weighing an IPO in Hong Kong, according to Bloomberg.

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