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Square Mile and Me: Pi Labs founder Faisal Butt on succeeding in the world of venture capital

Each week we ask a City figure to take a trip down memory lane. Today, Faisal Butt, founder and managing partner of Pi Labs ,takes a look back at his career.

What was your first job?

I did an internship during my first year of university at a stock brokerage firm in Los Angeles. In between making coffee and photocopying, I was enlisted to cold call people to sell stocks which certainly helped to develop my confidence and communication skills!

What was your first role in venture capital?

Following my master’s degree, I did a summer project in 2009 with the family office of James Caan (of Dragon’s Den fame). I had the pleasure of meeting lots of the entrepreneurs pitching to him and eventually became a sort of ‘first line of defence’, evaluating and assessing potential new investments before they got to James. So, I guess you could say I learned from a Dragon.

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When did you know you wanted to build a career in venture capital?

While studying at Oxford, my careers counsellor would repeatedly refer to me as unemployable because I had a very unconventional background. While starting multiple companies and being entrepreneurial might be seen as cool now, it wasn’t always the case! I eventually figured that venture capital would be a good avenue to enable me to use those entrepreneurial skills.

What’s one thing you love about the industry?

I love the ambition of the founders and entrepreneurs I work with who are looking to build businesses to change the world for the better. I relate to that motivation myself and feed off their positive, proactive energy. In my sector I can surround myself with ambitious people looking to shake things up, which I really enjoy.

And one thing you would change? 

Pi Labs’ investment thesis centres around building cities of the future. We’re finding and working with revolutionary founders who are transforming the built world as we know it across the globe – whether that’s making cities more sustainable, healthy, digitally-enabled or decarbonised.

In my view, London is right up there as a city of the future but I’d love to see the government prioritise more investment towards digitisting the city – for example to make healthcare more accessible or to decarbonise the buildings we live and work in (the real estate sector is currently responsible for 38 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions). That way we can continue to attract the talent we need to keep London’s tech scene among the best in the world.

What’s your most memorable lunch? 

My search for talented tech founders takes me to some inspiring places around the world. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be able to travel and experience new cultures as part of my job, and I always make a point of trying local cuisine wherever I go. I tend to gravitate towards lunch and dinner spots with mesmerising views of the ocean where I can – and a few years ago was invited for drinks on a Mediterranean yacht, which hasn’t happened since but was memorable!

And any City faux pas? 

I somehow missed the memo and showed up at an evening gala in full black tie – the very same year the gala decided they no longer wanted to do black tie…

What’s been your proudest moment?

At the end of 2023, we fully exited our first fund, and delivered x10 the money back to our investors. This was Europe’s first proptech-focused fund, so we were at the vanguard of the subsector’s investment, before it was seen as a high growth asset class. While the industry was still trying to understand proptech’s value, we were investing in visionary founders, building a strategy and thesis that really delivers.

And who do you look up to?

I’m very inspired by the founders coming out of Silicon Valley; their global ambition, their big-picture thinking, their fearless drive to go against the grain. I read all the major biographies… Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, the founders of Google, Zuckerberg – any time one gets released I make sure to read it.

Are you optimistic for the year ahead?

Yes – I’m optimistic about 2024 as a year of rebound based on the progress we’re making and what we’re seeing from our portfolio companies. There’s pent-up growth in the market: for our portfolio companies, this is a year where they can really take advantage of that.

The need for digitising real estate has never been greater as the sector looks to become more sustainable, improve efficiencies and transform the way we live, work and interact with the built environment. The innovative technology solutions our founders are bringing to market – whether that’s real time data monitoring to improve air quality, a platform to reduce burnout in the workplace, or an urban planning tool for healthier, greener cities – also make me optimistic and excited about what can be achieved this year.

We’re going for lunch, and you’re picking – where are we going?

Chiltern Firehouse. My go-to-order would be the forty-eight hour chicken – because the best results don’t always happen overnight!

And if we’re grabbing a drink after work?

As my firm is based in Soho, you’ll often find me at Soho House for after work drinks.

Where’s home during the week?

Richmond Hill

And where might we find you at the weekend?

I’m a runner, so usually running either along the Thames or Richmond Park.

You’ve got a well-deserved two weeks off. Where are you going?

I’m headed to Mexico!

Quickfire: 

Favourite book? Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography

Favourite film? Interstellar – I’m a bit of a space nerd

Favourite artist/musician? My favourite genre is 90s hip-hop

Favourite place in London? Primrose Hill

Cocktail order? Frozen margarita

Coffee order? I like my espresso in a martini