For more than a year Rob Kniaz, one of the UK’s most prominent technology investors has been working from a shed in his garden. A New York skyscraper is the virtual background on Zoom calls. But, for now, visiting the US is a million miles away for the investor who, as a partner at investment fund Hoxton Ventures, has backed giants including Deliveroo and Babylon.
Last year Rob’s Hoxton Ventures announced a new £50m fund which it will use to back fledgling companies across Europe. Together with his long-term business partner Hussein Kanji and new recruit Rob Ludwig, Rob is hoping to sniff out more unicorns.
But unicorn hunters in the UK are facing an unprecedented time and Rob says it has definitely impacted the mental health of all those working in the sector.
Rob tells us: ‘It’s drained me being locked inside most days. My work is entirely Zoom-based, so it’s efficient to the point of being exhausting. I miss the downtime I used to have in my commute to take a breath. Now it’s straight to calls in the morning and straight to kids’ bedtime at night.
‘The hardest thing has been the challenge of actually getting to know founders. We’ve had many more social type calls to get to know each other better but it doesn’t replace a good meal out.’
For Rob, getting outside and trying to be active has been a key in helping him remain in good mental health over the past year: ‘I try to take regular walks where possible. Taking calls while walking or at least blocking out part of the day is essential to have some fresh air and time to think. It’s harder for parents, especially in London, when schools are shut. Interestingly, in the US, the impact seems to be a bit less negative: parents have more space often to dedicate to a home office and schools are open in some locations. Plus people can pop in their car and go more places whereas here, there’s no place to drive that’s even warm.’
Rob says he has also been surprised at the lack of focus there has been on the issue of mental health in the mainstream media: ‘Is it discussed enough? Probably not. Being a founder is mentally exhausting all of the time. You only see the success stories and not the other 95% of cases that end poorly for founders. It’s an excruciating job full of highs and lows and being isolated makes getting through the lows even harder, because you can’t see friends in similar scenarios and share their journeys.’
Rob’s advice is to reach out to your community and share common experiences: ‘Find friends and schedule regular time to just catch up even without an agenda. Share the trials and tribulations: it’s reassuring to hear others are going through the same problems themselves. For founders, all they can do is keep the business going and hope the economy rebounds well.’