5 Minutes With a Visionary: Fabrice Grinda

Editor’s note: As part of CNBC’s “20 Under 20: Transforming Tomorrow” TV documentary, we interviewed thought leaders and visionaries who have paved the way for the next generation of entrepreneurs. In a series of Q&As called “5 Minutes with a Visionary,” we discover what has shaped and molded the careers of these innovators.

When we caught up with Internet entrepreneur and investor Fabrice Grinda on the phone, he was about to go kite-boarding in the Dominican Republic. This is a man on the move.

Fabrice Grinda
Photo: Fabrice Grinda
Fabrice Grinda

Since age 10, when he got his first computer, Grinda has had a curiosity for innovation and intellectual pursuits. While he was born in France, he attended college in the United States, graduating summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1996. Two years later, he co-founded Aucland S.A., an auction site in Europe. Grinda went on to found Zingy, a mobile content company that he sold it in 2004 for $80 million. In 2006, he founded OLX, a free local classified site now in 90 countries and 40 languages.

Today, Grinda, 37, focuses on angel investing. He doesn’t have a fund, but has helped back 98 startups with his own money — mostly early stage companies in the travel and e-commerce space. Given his current passion for angel investing, we started our conversation there.

Q: Is the market overly saturated with social media companies?

It’s very frothy, but not necessarily frothy at every level of the ecosystem. It’s very frothy at the earlier stages because of a lot of these newly minted millionaires from all the IPOs last year from Pandora to Zynga to HomeAway to Zipcar and now of course Facebook. All are playing angel investors, so it’s brought a lot of new money to the category.

Q: Are we in a bubble?

I wouldn’t quite describe it as a bubble, but I think we’re definitely heading into heady territory, especially given the background of usually negative economic backdrops. When you think of the rest of Europe blowing up, it’s hard to justify extremely high prices.


Q: Where are you investing?

Forty percent of my portfolio is in the U.S. In the rest of the world, most of the places I invest in or invested in are Brazil, Russia, Germany with a little bit of Turkey, China, India, France and Israel sprinkled in there.

Q: Switching gears, when you look back over the last 20 years, what innovation do you think has had the most positive impact on society?

The most important impact on society and the world is the cell phone. Cell phones have actually been one of the primary drivers in productivity improvements.

Q: What innovation has had the most positive impact on your life?

In my personal life, it would have to be the Internet — given that for the last 14 years, my professional career and personal career is really centered around the Internet.

Q: What current challenge, when resolved, would do the most to change the world?

If we could be in a world of unlimited free energy, quasi free energy, it would be completely revolutionary because all these constraints would go away. You wouldn’t have food shortages because you could grow crops in the desert; you wouldn’t have water shortages because you could desalinate the sea, and it looks like it’s bound to happen in the 21st century.

Q: What individual or innovator has had the biggest impact on society?

I actually think the one who is underestimated in terms of impact he’s had on society is Bill Gates. The reason is that with the innovation of software, he really allowed the computer revolution to take hold.

Q: If you had the world's intellectual elite all in one room, what thought-provoking questions would you pose for debate?

How do we build a build a political system that thinks about the future winners and not just the current, existing incumbents? How do we avoid things like overregulation and maybe even the polarization we see in Congress today?

Q: You went to Princeton. Do you think entrepreneurs need higher education to succeed?

To succeed as an entrepreneur, you don’t need a college education. The reason I loved my college education is because I’m extraordinarily intellectually curious. I love learning about everything and anything from molecular biology to the Peloponnesian War to Russian literature. Was it useful in any shape or form in my entrepreneurship? Probably not. I do think it makes a more driven human being, and I loved it. Is it the right thing for everyone at every point in time? Probably not. I could have probably been just as successful by not going to college, but it was the most intellectually stimulating environment that I was ever in.

Editor's Note: This interview has been condensed and edited.

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