A Q&A with Anil Hansjee, the former investment bank software engineer who became Google’s main M&A man in EMEA

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Anil Hansjee

Anil Hansjee has had quite a career. Having started out as a programmer at Swiss Bank Corp, now Union Bank of Switzerland, he moved into a risk-product role at Chemical/Chase (now JPMorgan) before making an unusual move into corporate finance. From there, he moved to the buyside and venture capital, and from there he moved to Google, where he was EMEA head of corporate development (M&A) for nearly five years between 2006 and 2011.

Anil left Google last June and is now focused on advisory, angel investing, and raising a seed fund. We asked him about his career. This is what he told us.

Q: Having spent a chunk of time leading corporate development for Google in EMEA, what kinds of skills would you say people need if they want to follow in your footsteps?

Well, Google will always have a bias for people who have a software engineering background or have developed and worked with information technology products.  I was a software engineer in a bank for the first seven years of my career and in my case that really helped.

At other technology companies, you may not need a programming background if you want to move into corporate development, but you will need a strong understanding of the technology industry and sources of innovation from technology. At Google, it will help if you’ve done something entrepreneurial too.  In my case, I was helped by a background in computer science, start-ups, M&A and investing.

Q: For a company like Google, is that technical knowledge more important than deal experience and modelling skills?

If you want to work in M&A somewhere like Google, the big differentiator is always going to be a deep understanding of how a technology can transform an existing business or create a new one. That’s more important looking at a synergy line and modelling that out. At an early stage especially, a large technology company will be interested in developing an ecosystem around its platform offer. Many early acquisitions are therefore focused on buying in product and talent, and you need to understand precisely how these will impact the existing platform.

It’s also worth considering that at somewhere like Google, your clients internally will be the company’s community of engineers.  Before you recommend any acquisition or investment, you need to understand your client base. We hired people into the corporate development team who had that understanding but didn’t necessarily have transaction experience – the view was that we could train people up in transactions by gaining experience, but less easily in product and industry knowledge.

Q:  How did you manage to make the move out of programming and into M&A initially? Surely that was a little unusual?

Yes! That was a more dramatic shift than any other in my career. I used business school as a pivot. I did a part time Masters in Finance at the London Business School and continued working as a programmer at Chase - now JPMorgan. While I was studying, I found some interesting projects at the bank that were initiated by the front office. That gave me exposure to other areas of the bank and meant that once I’d graduated I was able to build the relationships that enabled me to join the associate programme in New York City.

Q:  How difficult was it to gain exposure to those front office projects when you were studying? Weren’t there any issues with your manager wanting to keep you in his team?

It wasn’t impossible. You do need the right kind of relationship with your manager. I pitched it that it would reflect well upon my manager and his team if he was developing candidates who were progressing into revenue generating roles. He agreed with that – you need a manager who can see things from a holistic, company-wide, perspective rather than one who is just looking at what’s happening in his area of the business.

Q: And then, plenty of M&A bankers would like to work on the buyside in private equity or venture capital, so how did you achieve that?

I did a lot of networking.

I didn’t go directly from M&A at Google into IDG Ventures (a VC firm), I first spent a year and a half at Bear Stearns where I worked on M&A and equity capital raising and I moved into ITD Ventures after that.

In retrospect, it was the worst time to make any kind of career move – especially from a financial services or technology perspective. It was just after 9/11 2001 and it took me a while to engineer the right role.

Fortunately, the work I did at Bear Stearns involved a lot of capital raising, so I used the network I’d made through that to get introduced to some of my clients who were working in private equity and venture capital. Eventually I got a lead with IDG Ventures , who’d made an investment with a fund I’d been talking to.

In reality, it was another really difficult career move! Those kinds of jobs are rare and really depend upon personal relationships. It takes a lot of time to network your way in. Today, you can join some of the bigger funds as an analyst or an associate for a few years, but there’s no guarantee they’ll keep you on. You can also join at a more senior level if you’ve been an angel investor or entrepreneur.

Q: How did you go from IDG Ventures to Google?

I was headhunted. I got a call from a headhunter and it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

Q: So, what next?

I left Google at the end of June, specifically to do a few things. I’m working on some advisory and angel investor work and have been investing in some companies. I’m also raising a dedicated seed investor fund to invest in London.

Q: What’s the future for tech investing in the UK?

The cost efficiencies of establishing an internet business today are much higher compared to ten years ago. In terms of experimenting with different businesses and products, you can do a lot more now with a lot less money than you could in the past. You’ll still need many millions of dollars of investment capital to get properly established and to build customers, but getting going and fine-tuning a product has become much cheaper than it used to be and there is a lot of data feedback on traction and market fit. That enables seed investors like me to come in and place investments at a far earlier stage than previously. It’s a trend we’re seeing in Tech City (the Shoreditch area of London) and in places like Berlin.

Q:  What about Ireland? Doesn’t that have a pretty vibrant tech scene?

This early stage seed investing trend lends itself to big cities where there’s an amalgamation of tech companies, corporates, universities and investors. You could tick some of those boxes for Dublin – it has Google and Facebook, for example , but it lacks the deep level of venture capital available in London. Venture capital tends to be a local business, meaning that start-ups will prefer to be closer to its source. Equally, London has a lot of other industries outside pure technology – things like advertising, financial services, media. As a result, we’re seeing a lot of innovation from start-up internet companies in London that are focused on adding value to those industries. You can do that much more easily when you can hire from and partner with companies just around the corner in Soho, for example.

Q: What’s the new thing for technology companies in London?

A few years ago, it was all about developing platform and infrastructure technology companies. This is what California does well – it has Sun, Google and Facebook, which are all fundamentally platform companies. But the real innovation now is happening at application level. It’s about developing applications that can solve business and consumer problems in certain verticals. This is where London has much more in common with New York. We’re seeing a lot of start-up internet companies focused on solving problems and adding value for other industry verticals like those I mentioned above.

Q: Are programmers rather than bankers going to be the power-brokers of the future?

Not necessarily. Technology companies don’t just want people who can programme. They want people who can understand how technology is changing industries and who can use that knowledge to transform businesses themselves. That knowledge doesn’t just come from programming, it can also come from someone who has engaged with technology and can apply that to developing new applications.

Q: Thank you!

My pleasure.