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Finansiering March 14, 2014

In the mind of a business angel

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How do you attract a private investor? What should you research and what questions should you consider before choosing who to bring into your company? On Monday this week, we had lunch with the serial entrepreneurs and business angels Jane Walerud and Martin Wattin who talked about private investing with our entrepreneurs.

So, simply put: A business angel is someone who privately invests in early-stage companies, with money straight from their own pocket. Jane and Martin are members of the STING Business Angels (SBA) network, and the two have invested in close to 20 startups combined.

Jane is currently CEO at her latest startup, Teclo Networks. She is an experienced tech entrepreneur and her journey goes back to 1998. Since then, she has built a portfolio of investments and companies that is rather impressive. Some of the more known cases are Bluetail, Klarna and LensWay.

Martin hails from a background as an IT-entrepreneur and investor, and has since 2006 invested in a number of IT/media companies in Sweden, the US and India. Some of the Swedish investments include Mostphotos, Rabble and Scrive, where Martin also serves as a board member.

Here is a summary from the lunch meetup.

Enjoy building companies
To invest in early-stage startups equals a large risk, and the investor can potentially end up empty-handed. According to both Martin and Jane, it’s worth taking that risk. They believe it is important, and a real pleasure, to share their expertise as serial entrepreneurs, and help companies to scale early. Angel investors usually have a deep passion for building companies, and have a lot to offer younger entrepreneurs – especially in the initial stages of a business.

“I know I’m most helpful in the early stages of a startup, before the team grows bigger than 50-60 people,” Jane said.

Martin is an active investor, and on a weekly basis he meets up with the companies as well as has regular follow-ups. “I want to steer them away from doing the same mistakes I once did, and be close to my companies,” Martin said.

Martin and Jane pinpointed business angels’ critical role in the eco system of startups, which is to support the companies with both funding and coaching when they might require expertise the most, and before they attract capital from larger VC firms.

Study before the official test
So how do you go about attracting a private investor? Well, there’s no straight answer to that.

“It’s vital to know who you’re approaching. What type of business has this person invested in earlier? Why is your company relevant to them?” Jane advised. She really emphasized the importance to identify the weaknesses within the team, and look for an investor who represents those skills.

“Make sure that you accept the right people into the company, who share your values and future ambition,” Martin urged.

For Martin, it is essential that the entrepreneur presents an idea of a vision of the business, and in what direction the business will head in the next few years. You need to have a vision to become a leader. Structure is key, and also to show a sense of urgency combined with a lot of optimism.

 “You need to find the perfect match”
At the end of the day, it’s all about how you connect. Martin and Jane could not stress enough how central the connection is between the two parties.

“You need to find the perfect match. A business angel is a key player, it has to be a brilliant fit,” said Jane.

It is worth to keep in mind that this person will be with you for a long time ahead. And, of course, by targeting the right kind of investor, identify exactly what you want to get out of it and what skill-gap the investor could fill, there’s a greater chance of finding that perfect match.

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Thanks Jane and Martin for spending this Monday lunch hour with us!

Want to hear more from two experienced entrepreneurs? Read our blogposts about Niklas Adalberth, founder of Klarna, and Henrik Lenberg, former VP Soundcloud.

Entreprenörskap October 10, 2012

The Pivot – so hyped and so underused

My colleague Raoul Stubbe recently wrote an excellent (yeah right, I’m not biased) blog post on ”Why Swedish entrepreneurs need more staying power”. One of the issues Raoul brought up was the PIVOT, in the context of how much harder it is to pivot here in Sweden than in the US due to how investors (and, let´s be honest, most of us) regard failure.

(If ”pivot” is still not part of your vocabulary, a nice way of defining it is ”A change in STRATEGY without a change in VISION” quote on quote from an article I recommend.)

After having spent a couple of weeks in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and meeting with quite a few entrepreneurs there, the picture is pretty clear: The view on pivoting is definitely one of the more distinct differences between entrepreneurs here vs there. Yes, it is true that here in Sweden, in most cases the pivoting needs to be done before bringing in angels, whereas in the US the investors are used to endure one or several pivots, with the often accompanying need for additional capital.

BUT, and this is a crucial difference between success and failure for many Swedish startups I think: the fact that Swedish investors generally don´t like the idea of pivoting doesn´t lower the need for it. Quite the contrary, just because we have less capital here, because we have a lack of failure acceptance, the need for pivoting is BIGGER than in the US. Swedish entrepreneurs increase their chances of success exponentially if they embrace the thought of pivoting already from the start in their projects.

So, where does this leave the Swedish entrepreneur compared to the American? With a need of being better in both staying power according to the blog post mentioned in the beginning, AND being faster in challenging and pivoting your business model. And, of course, this is nothing less and nothing more than saying that Swedish entrepreneurs need to be better than their American colleagues in lean entrepreneurship. Iterate, iterate, iterate, and involve customers and users in every step, every work week.

Speaking of pivoting, here is a good post in Techcrunch with a number of both historical and current pivots.

Clarification: No, the number of times I´ve been using the term pivot is not an attempt to bring www.sting.co to the top search results on the search phrase pivot. Ehhh, Pivoting. Pivots. Pivotal. (If you have other forms of the word, please write it in the comment field.)

Cleantech October 3, 2012

The Scene for New Cleantech Ideas and Connections

Solelia

Solelia pitched its charging stations for electric cars and presented “Solbanken” where you save solar power to use on a cloudy day.

Last week, 19 new cleantech ideas were presented at Stockholm Cleantech Venture Day, which was held for the fifth time. The scene was set for meetings between investors and entrepreneurs, and for sharing industry insights.

Notable during the conference was Her Excellency Ambassador Najla Al Qassimi’s description that the initiative in the United Arab Emirates to create Masdar City is pushed as a way for the country to reduce its strong dependence on fossil fuel (owned by the emirate and not the country).

From India and Mr Raghupathy, CEO of the Confederation of Indian Industry, we learned that the cleantech business has been growing by 25 percent annually for the past 10 years, and is expected to continue at this rate to offer at least 1.4 million jobs by 2020.

A major challenge is to reduce the energy consumption, which is enabled through a green building movement, to ensure availability of energy by implementing renewable energy solutions, and to provide clean water for more people.

Mr Jussi Nykänen of GreenStream Solutions in Finland described their work in China and their involvement in arranging funding and technologies to allow a shift away from the fossil based economy and to switch to renewable energy on a larger scale. He also shared his guidance, based on several years of experience, on how smaller companies can approach the Chinese market.

A Cleantech Countries Innovations Index from the Cleantech Group/WWF was presented from which it was evident that three out of the top four countries are Scandinavian! This offers an excellent investment opportunity as there are apparently a range of good prerequisites to build cleantech companies in our region.

Anolytech - cleantech company of the year

The winner: Catherine Ehrensvärd and Anolytech – Cleantech Company of the Year

As a highlight, 19 companies gave well-rehearsed pitches to the audience and answered questioned from the jury for the Cleantech Company of the Year Award. The pitches proved once again that there are indeed an excellent range of companies in Sweden and that they now to a larger degree have reached further and are active in sales and have customers. This was a very good sign and encouraging for the whole audience. The jury had a very tough time in selecting a worthy winner among the companies presented.

Malmberg Water, Veolia Innovation and Carbon Trust contributed towards the view of how companies can develop, how they have set an example and what assistance is available.

The conference ended with three parallel workshops covering current industry topics, and, during the evening, a gala dinner was held at which the winning company was announced – Anolytech AB, the green bacteria killer.

I was very pleased with the outcome of the event but specifically to hear the intensity of meetings and discussions, and the eagerness to make new contacts during the day. This is exactly what the Stockholm Cleantech Venture Day is about; to set a scene for meetings between investors and entrepreneurs and to provide new insights for the industry. With a few days retrospect, I can say that I am pleased to be part of the industry, that there continues to be an increasing demand for good solutions and that the innovators of this industry truly are fantastic in developing new solutions throughout the whole spectrum of technologies.

Entreprenörskap September 25, 2012

Why Swedish entrepreneurs need more staying power

One of the most crucial traits you need for starting a venture in Stockholm is staying power. Your peers in Silicon Valley need it too, of course, but not to the same extent. Why is that? Well, there are a number of reasons, but here are three of them.

First, the accessible amount of seed stage money in Stockholm is less. We don’t have the same fools, friends and family tradition to fund startups; the number of business angels and the sizes of the amounts they can invest are less; and we only have a handful of VCs that make seed investments. The lack of competition among the VCs allows them the luxury to place their bets once the startups have made it passed the most critical validation points. Good for the VCs, but as an entrepreneur you need to take the company longer with less money.

Second, in Stockholm failure is really not an option. Most startups need to pivot a few times before they find their recipe for success. This means that you have to be prepared to experiment and learn from failure. In Silicon Valley, as long as you fail fast, failure is embraced, cradled, and even encouraged.  In Sweden, I’m afraid that we still have to learn that we can learn from failure. Thus your pivoting must be carried out preferably in stealth mode and with money from your own pockets or possibly with soft funding.

Third, Sweden as a target market is too small for most startups to justify VC funding. The Swedish market is excellent for testing and validating new business models, but as a Swedish entrepreneur you need to think globally from day one. Many startups underestimate the effort it takes to build an international presence. We think we are so cosmopolitan, but are we really?

So, here is some advice to extend your staying power:

  1. Don’t quit your daytime job too early. There are probably a lot of the customer development, alpha prototyping, etc, that you can do in the evenings and on weekends. Try to validate as much as possible before you trade time for salary.
  2. Apply for soft funding (long) before you run out of your savings. This is of course true for all funding, but first timers tend to miss this. In fact, you can often use the money you invest yourself to match government grants/loans. You can´t do this retroactively, though.
  3. Stay lean. Don’t try to build a new Ericsson from day one. Be even leaner than your Californinian peers. Read the book “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. Focus on the minimum viable product.
  4. Understand what unique values your business brings to the market. Everything else should preferably be “components” that you buy off the shelf.
  5. Value your own time the most. A trick is to set a high price tag on you as a consultant working for your startup. If you are charging say 10 000 SEK per hour, you will surely only do the things with the highest priority.
  6. Be frugal. One of my favorite entrepreneurs built his first prototype with garbage container findings.
  7. Trade speed for equity. You shouldn’t give away the whole company, of course, but you can’t afford to miss the window of opportunity either. Find the best co-founders and pay them with equity.