Tom Blomfield has met with his fair share of "shitty" VC investors over the past decade, where he's cofounded two $1bn+ fintech companies — Monzo and GoCardless.
But he says nothing prepared him for meeting with executives of the $150bn SoftBank Vision Fund around 2018/2019, where he says the lead partner took the meeting barefoot and would "pick his feet" during their discussions.
And feet were just a small part of the eccentric behaviour, Blomfield wrote over the weekend, which also included the executive smoking indoors and leaving him waiting in the lobby for "an hour or more" in what he said was a weird power play.
In a bigger article about the VC industry, Blomfield writes: "One particularly egregious example of bad behaviour that I will name is SoftBank (at least the London team). Like most growth-stage founders, I’ve pitched them for investment multiple times. They passed — no hard feelings."
"But it seemed like standard practice during my visits to the London office to make me wait in the lobby, often for an hour or more after the meeting was supposed to start. I heard of one founder who’d flown in from another country and was made to wait for the entire day in their lobby. I don’t know if this is true or not."
Blomfield adds that once he eventually got into the meetings, SoftBank's behaviour was worse.
During one meeting, [the lead partner] lit a cigarette and smoked it in his office, windows closed. He finally put it down in his lunch plate, and poured his coffee over the cigarette to extinguish it.
"The lead partner took meetings barefoot, and would pick his feet incessantly. During one meeting, he lit a cigarette and smoked it in his office, windows closed. He finally put it down in his lunch plate, and poured his coffee over the cigarette to extinguish it. I didn’t know if it was some weird power play, or if he just lacked any kind of manners."
Blomfield adds that he wished he had said something at the time, but did not because his company needed the money: "Looking back, I wish I had the guts to ask him to stop, or to simply get up and walk out of his office. But my company really needed the investment and I didn’t want to blow my chance."
SoftBank did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story. But the Vision Fund has over the years won a reputation for eccentricity, and executives have even become known for their barefoot meetings — notably Rajeev Misra, the London-based head of the Vision Fund.
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This, for example, was how the Financial Times described a meeting with Misra: "Mr Misra once greeted the FT there barefoot, dressed in a light blue linen suit and crisp white shirt, with his hair slicked back and wrists adorned with beads and bracelets. At regular intervals, aides walked in bearing coffee while others came seeking advice. Throughout the conversation, Mr Misra chewed paan while vaping from an electronic cigarette."
And this was the first paragraph of a Wall Street Journal piece about the Vision Fund: "Flying over Europe in a private jet last year, Rajeev Misra took his shoes off and propped his bare feet on the knee of a top executive of FIFA, soccer’s governing body. The executive froze while Mr. Misra, head of SoftBank Group Corp.’s $100bn Vision Fund, chatted about ways to make more money off the streaming rights for the organisation’s tournaments."
Blomfield was in the early 2010s one of the cofounders of GoCardless, the recurring payment provider, which was valued at $970m at its latest round. In 2015 he founded Monzo and was CEO for nearly six years before he stepped down last year. This year he announced he was leaving the challenger bank altogether and has since turned his hand to angel investing.