From Uber to EQT Ventures: Jo Bertram's new challenge

Stuart Hodge
- Leadership - Mar 08, 2018

Business Chief caught up with Jo Bertram, who oversaw Uber’s massive growth in Northern Europe over the past four years before taking her new role as Executive in Residence for EQT Ventures.

Jo Bertram is someone who knows what it takes to make a business successful.

In her previous role, the 36-year-old was responsible for Uber’s Northern European operations between September 2013 and the end of last year. She grew the company from just three employees to 300 and during this time, in the United Kingdom alone, the number of drivers grew from a couple of hundred to over 50,000. After that, she led the company’s expansion into Ireland as well as the Nordic, Baltic, and Benelux countries.

Bertram’s departure garnered headlines largely due to timing, with Uber embroiled in various lawsuits and its very presence in London under threat. Although she appreciates that the timing wasn’t ideal, Bertram is proud of the work she did whilst at Uber and has now dived headfirst into her new role as Executive in Residence for EQT Ventures, a European venture capital firm which focuses on turning tech companies into “major global players”.

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The EQT Ventures fund, which launched in May 2016, has €566mn ($687mn) in commitments and a large team of experts with first-hand experience to support every firm it invests in. Bertram’s job is to identify tech startups which can be successful and support them on their growth journey. It marks a significant change from her job at Uber, but Bertram is very much embracing it. “It’s quite a big shift from what was a very operational and hands-on role at Uber, back into an advisory role. That's always a bit of a mindset shift, and takes some adjustment,” says Bertram, adding: “I’m really excited about it. It's a great team here and I've been exposed to lots of new challenges and new areas I didn't know about, so I’m really excited about the future.

“For one thing it's really interesting to sit on the other side of the fence, on the investment side. So, I’m starting to understand how venture capital firms, other investors, think about companies and their challenges, rather than thinking about it only from the operational and management perspective. That's not something I've had exposure to before, so that's an area where I've learned a lot.”

Bertram started her career in consulting, and spent the best part of a decade working firstly at Accenture, and then at McKinsey & Company, across a range of different industries. Her role at Accenture focused primarily on large-scale programme management and IT-related topics, whereas at McKinsey she focused much more on strategy, mainly growth strategy, regulatory strategy – another role spanning many industries.

In the middle of that, Bertram completed her MBA, studying at INSEAD in Singapore and then in France, but aside from her multitude of education and experience, what unique qualities does she believe she can bring to the new role?

“From one angle, my consultancy background means that I'm used to taking an advisory role,” she says. “Probably more importantly though, in the four years at Uber, I had a lot of experience growing a team very, very quickly – taking my team from three to 300 in a matter of a few years, and all of the challenges that come with that. I'm able to help portfolio companies think about how they recruit and retain talent, how they structure their team as they grow through different phases, and how they scale operational processes.

“Most of these companies may be very rapidly doubling in size, so how do you build operational processes that will be robust enough to manage that? How do you launch and grow new markets? Where and how do you expand, and what do you need to have in place?

“Uber in particular is a marketplace business. So, for any marketplace business that needs to balance supply and demand, what are the different tools and techniques at different stages that you can use to find and attract customers on both side of the marketplace?

“More generally, I have general management skills that many CEOs and GMs need to pick up on, so it's just figuring out how I can help the different portfolio companies that all have their own unique challenges, and are at different stages in their journey.”

Bertram is undoubtedly passionate about the companies she is now being paid to guide to a prosperous future, but she is quick to point out that one of her main reasons for joining EQT Ventures was the fabulous team she has around her in her new role.

“As well as providing the capital for portfolio companies, the EQT Ventures team also believes in providing access to an ecosystem of expertise. Entrepreneurs don't just need capital, they need access to the people who have all of those different types of expertise, and so it's a team of investment specialists as well as operational experts who've built companies, exited their own companies or been experts in their field. I’m quite excited to see how that plays out.”

The company’s self-proclaimed goal is to provide the assistance and support that all of its partners wish they’d had during their startup journey. The fact that EQT Ventures’ portfolio companies are also very varied across a number of sectors was also a draw for Bertram. 

“EQT Ventures doesn't have a specific industry focus, so its portfolio companies span a large number of industries, and obviously a lot of different companies at very different stages,” she explains. “I think that's a really interesting challenge, and opportunity to figure out how can we best help each of those companies face the specific challenges that they're facing.

“I think the interesting thing is for any company that grows that quickly, everything you think about, whether it's the team, or the processes, you have to be planning for the fact that in six months it's going to be double or triple the size. 

“You’re always thinking about ‘how do I find people who are going to be able to scale? How do I not hire for what I need now, but for what I'm going to need in six or 12 months when the business might be three or four times bigger?’ 

“And the same with the processes, ‘how do I design a process that won't break as soon as the business grows by 20%, but is going to be robust to that growth? How do I keep looking at our organisational structure, our people, our processes, our tools, and evaluating how we need to evolve them?’

“I really enjoy the stage of the journey where someone has got an idea and it's a nascent business model, but you help figure out ‘how do we make this into a long-term, sustainable, and successful company?’ To do that it does eventually have to make money, and figuring out how to find the right business model with unit economics that are going to work at scale and offer some kind of sustainable competitive advantage. Once you have that, how do you put all of the analytics, processes, tools and culture in place to make sure that you can get there? Both from a profitability perspective, but also from a competitive perspective, product perspective, and things like that. This freedom and flexibility is something I'm quite excited about, so I’m expecting lots of different new opportunities and challenges along the way.”

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