Q&A with Wanja Humanes, investment manager, Swisscom Ventures

Dominique Mégret, head of Swisscom Ventures, the corporate venture capital (CVC) arm of Switzerland-based telecommunications firm Swisscom, said of Wanja Humanes, an investment manager at the unit: “Wanja has been instrumental in developing Swisscom Ventures dealflow in German and English-speaking countries. He will move to our office in Palo Alto, California to further develop Swisscom’s network in the US.”

1. First, just give us a quick overview of who you work for, what you do, and how long you have been doing it for?

I am an investment manager at Swisscom Ventures. Initially joined in 2014 as an analyst as part of a graduate programme and have since been with the team. I am primarily focused on telco and cloud infrastructure, enterprise SaaS (software-as-a-service) and cybersecurity investment opportunities. As many of these companies originate in the United States, I am also responsible for our US investment activities. (I should have relocated to the US in Q2 2020, but then covid happened…)

2. What attracted you to CVC?

I am deeply interested in new technologies and the factors that make companies successful. Working at a CVC always seemed like a great opportunity to build upon those interests while introducing an exciting, synergetic relationship to the equation: Incumbent (market access) versus startup (technology and product). At the time, I perhaps underestimated how inspiring it would be to be able to work with brilliant entrepreneurs every day.

3. What have been your greatest successes at your unit?

I have been closely involved in about 15 investments during my time at Swisscom Ventures. I believe that my greatest success so far, however, was when I introduced a systematic, data-driven process for monitoring and proactively anticipating investment opportunities (process plus tool). Doing so, we were able to successfully complete four new investments in the last 24 months alone, that we would otherwise have missed. In the end, I was able to refine our investment approach in a meaningful way and we are much more proactive now than before, which also positively impacted our perception in the market.

4. What have been your biggest challenges?

It can sometimes be rather difficult to align the agendas of our business units with our own portfolio strategy. NIH (not invented here) can be a strong factor when people feel like they are no longer in charge of their own decisions so personal relationships tend to be a critical factor.

5. What is your main professional ambition for the future?

I would love to see our local ecosystem in Switzerland fully come of age and make it on to the global VC landscape. As Switzerland’s most active investor we should play an important role in this. I want to gear all my energy towards making sure that we do not miss an opportunity and are able to provide the best possible returns to our investors.

6. What do you think all CVCs could do better to make it a stronger industry?

I believe that CVCs should not look down onto themselves as second-grade VC investors. I am convinced that quite the opposite is true and that all except the very best VC investors lack the level of differentiation that CVCs by nature possess. Add to that a higher degree of syndication among CVCs and our whole industry could really evolve to the next level.

7. What are some of your corporate parent’s technology needs and corporate strategy amid the pandemic, as well as your CVC unit’s pain points?

Our parent company is primarily interested in telco or cloud infrastructure technologies. Due to how our business has evolved over time into IT services there is a keen interest in enterprise software, too. More recently, we are seeing an increased interest in cybersecurity solutions across the board.

8. And, finally, for colour, what did you do prior to CVC or in your spare time?

Before joining our CVC team, I attended business school, completed military training and learned the value of a dollar while working many different jobs since my early teens from working at retail warehouses to being a clerk at a gas station to working as a lumberjack.