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Interview: Jone Vaituleviciute of FIRSTPICK

Jone Vaituleviciute is the Managing Partner at FIRSTPICK, an early stage venture capital fund based in Vilnius, Lithuania. Jone is one of the leading voices of the Lithuanian startup scene. During most of her career previous to startups, she advised tech companies on funding and scaling, mainly within Civitta and Startup Division. She managed her first VC fund with the Startup Wise Guys flagship in 2019 and after making 50 investments there, founded FIRSTPICK.

Tell us a bit more about yourself. How did you become involved in the world of startups? And what were you doing before starting FIRSTPICK?

I have been around the startup world for over a decade now, having entered it in 2012 via work with a startup supporting NGOs and management consulting.

At that time the word “startup” was something new. I transitioned to VC in 2018 when we launched an accelerator and a fund in Lithuania in partnership with Startup Wise Guys. Fifty investments and two funds later, together with the team we have decided to launch FIRSTPICK – a VC fund focusing on the Baltics. 

How did FIRSTPICK come into being? What motivated you to co-found it? 

We feel like this is our startup – we can create it the way we want it, we have full ownership of what it will become. This is extremely satisfying, but also challenging. The idea of our own fund came after we have each personally crystallised how we want support the ecosystem – by investing in early stage Baltic talent and pouring all of our heart into it. 

Where will FIRSTPICK fit in within the ecosystem?

FIRSTPICK positions itself as an early stage venture capital fund, that support founders from idea validation (think pre-acceleration), to first traction (acceleration), and revenue (pre-seed and seed rounds). As the name indicates, we are usually the first investor and we love it – this is our fit in the ecosystem. 

What type of startups are you looking for?

We are looking for founders from the Baltics – though we are not bounded geographically too much, we feel we can support them best. On the vertical side – we are proud generalists, but historically we have been very successful within the broader fintech vertical. 

What do you look for in a founding team?

Honesty is number one. If I would sense a founder trying to create FOMO by not being truthful, I will not want to invest and work with him/her for upcoming 5 years or more. Otherwise, team cohesion, complementary and all-rounded experience is very important. We might sometimes look at this as a recruitment exercise – would I be happy if this founder joins any other team? 

Why should startups choose Firstpick?

Our portfolio founders are the best to answer this, but I believe we should be chosen because we have energy and we are not tired. We are here to give all support we can, either ourselves or via our in-house mentors. Plus, on a practical note, we do provide cash from early to seed stage, which saves a lot of headaches for founders going from round to round. 

How do you assess the Lithuanian startup ecosystem currently? (Could you give us a quick/short SWOT?) 

On the strength side: Lithuania is of course a very cozy ecosystem, where best founders can be found hanging out casually together or sharing know-how with first time founders. This is what I love so much about it. We also have a generation of second time founders and super specialists coming out of startups to create their own companies.

On the weaknesses side: we still need to improve on the financing side of startups – many VC funds were recently depleted, leaving the ecosystem with little cash to spare or reliant on foreign funds, which is never easy to overcome in an early stage. 

If you could change something about it for the better, what would it be?

I want the startup & VC ecosystem to be the one that pupils and students are looking forward to joining and working in. Today it is still a bit of a bubble of a few, very unknown to general society. Making it the “hot topic” is what I want to change – this way, we would make sure we have enough talent to join startups as well as to create them. I really do believe this will happen and I am contributing as much as I can to show that this is the next big thing to be in.

What’s your number one tip or advice for new founders? 

Cliche, but… do it, don’t doubt it. Time is good now to kick off something – there are plenty of mentors, founders and general public that one to help. If it does not work out – whatever – you are anyways coming out smarter out of this. 

Times are hard right now, with many startups struggling to get follow-on funding or facing significant delays. What would you advise founders in this particular context?

I believe there are many practical tips already given to founders, mine would be to focus on the growth of the market in general – I am very bullish on the tech scene, no matter what it will grow, with ups & downs, but it will grow. Thus if you are here for the long term and you are certain about what you are creating – whatever economic context there is right now, it will pass over and we tech will continue to flourish. Look at the bigger picture. 

What’s next for Jone?

A lot of growth on many levels – FIRSTPICK, personal, ecosystem. The excitement level is high. 

How can people best stay updated with the latest from you (Twitter, LinkedIn, etc)?

LinkedIn is perfect to follow FIRSTPICK, I am myself also somewhat active there. 

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