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Deeptech September 30, 2021

Building a deeptech startup: lessons from the trenches and Hofstadter’s law

Building a deeptech startup takes serious mettle. Here, Sting deeptech coach Raoul Stubbe shares his lessons learned and advice for people looking to commercialize advanced, cutting-edge technology.

What’s a deeptech startup in the first place, you might ask? Since this is the first part in a series of deeptech articles, here’s my own short and oversimplified definition:

A deeptech startup is a company that brings to market a superior solution, product, platform or service that’s 10x more effective than existing solutions. It must also solve an important SDG-related problem with novel, truly hard to copy, technology.

If you can tick that box, get in touch btw – I’d love to hear about it! So how is this different from building just any tech startup? Are there any special challenges for deeptech startups? You bet there is.

The important thing here is that the factor “10x superior” is enabled by a technological breakthrough. The factor 10x could in fact be 1.1x – as long as that’s enough to disrupt your target industry.

It’s already very hard to accomplish a technological breakthrough, of course, but using a technological breakthrough to sustainably create significant value for a large crowd of customers is typically much, much harder. This is also the reason for the 10x. If the technology doesn’t make a hell of a difference for the customer, then don’t even bother to build a startup around it.

What are the challenges then?

There are many, but the one I would like to highlight here is time.

Yes, time as in years, sometimes even decades.

If you are a tech nerd like me and born in the previous millennium, you may have read the book Gödel, Echer, Bach, by Douglas Hofstadter. One of my favorite passages from the book is the one about Hofstadter’s law which says: “Everything takes longer than you think – even if you take Hofstadter’s law into consideration”.  

Yes, it’s worth a laugh, but when you’re building a deeptech startup, more often than not, this “law” feels like an understatement.

And it’s not just caused by all the hardships and negative surprises in product development and scaling your production, it’s also the time it takes to get your first customer to make the leap of faith to say yes.

Being the first customer to integrate an unproven, albeit 10x superior, and probably mission-critical component into their own offer takes a lot of guts.

This first, and super important step (especially when it comes to funding) takes much longer than your most pessimistic logical mind can imagine.  

Regardless of your superior specs, you’re always selling to a human in the end and earning her trust in this new crazy thing takes 10x the number of meetings, 10x the amount of testing, and 10x the amount of legal loops to jump through. So long before you get there, your team, your investors and your customer champions lose faith in you.

Giving up, are you?

Despite this, there are actually deep tech startups that succeed. So, what are the tricks that make the journey smoother, shorter and increase your chances of success?

  • Manage the expectations

Sure, you are 200 percent convinced that your product and your business model is a total no brainer for the customer, and that if you build it they will come. That actually happens now and then in our universe, but on earth it almost never happens.

Instead, you better leave your ego at home and bring your most pessimistic glasses when you make your plans forward. Assume, in every step of your development, financing and go to market plans, that Murphy and Hofstadter are on the same team, and that team unfortunately isn’t your team.

Then multiply that estimate with a factor of pi every time. Now, maybe, you have something realistic. And the good news is that every time Murphy and Hofstadter happen to be busy elsewhere, you come with a positive surprise. If you have something as great as you say, i.e. 10x superior, the time required will probably be worthwhile for you and your stakeholders, anyway. Now coming from an underdog position you can start underselling and overperform.

  • Remember that good enough is actually good enough

Yes, the potential of your technology perhaps allows for something even 50x superior. However, once you get to 10x or perhaps even 2x your offer may be good enough to make your first customers happy anyway. “Best” is often the enemy of good, and there are few things that steal more time than perfectionism.

Also, reality is too complex to just optimize in one dimension only. Very often 10x in one dimension means too late in a market context.

When a market is ready for a technology shift, it will not wait for the best technology, it will go for the one that is available and then shift again only once that technology is obviously obsolete.

  • Stick to the plan…and don’t

Some say that the fastest learner is the one that wins in the end. This is true but only half the truth. Unless you transform your learnings into revisions of plans and actions accordingly, you will neither increase your speed nor shorten the time to success. So, what about your carefully devised plan. Should we just throw it in the bin every time we learn something? Yes, and no! There is an important balance to strike here.

Teams and organizations need plans with goals, milestones, KPIs, and so on. Not only because they perform better but also because most people feel safer when they know what’s expected from them. Many will leave the company if you change plans every week. Hence, you need a leadership and a process that puts every learning into context and determines if the learning really mandates a change of plans. Sometimes it’s many small changes, but once in a while it’s a pivotal change. Most of the time the conclusion will be to stick to the plan.

  • Create a culture of taskforce operations

As I mentioned above, things never go completely according to plan. This is especially true when working with deeptech. Sometimes you even run into adversity so severe that it threatens to send your startup right into the graveyard of great ideas.

If this happens, you need all hands on deck! As a founder or leader you need to embrace the adversity as an opportunity and remind everyone that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. In the startup world this is in fact true.

Brainstorm possible solutions or workarounds and design an appropriate taskforce to execute on the best ideas. When you are through the crises, you’ll have a much tighter team and a higher valuation too. Setting up taskforces create the necessary sense-of-urgency and also a feeling that the company acts adamantly whenever hardships arise.

Also, at times, your creative and superbright team comes up with an even better solution than the one you are working on. At least it looks like it at first glance. This is a very dangerous situation that can easily create conflict and divide your team. Again, the solution here is to create a taskforce. Let a handful people prove that the new idea is in fact so much better and easier and faster to implement and that you should replace the old with the new. Otherwise stick to the plan.

Finally, find and engage with champions, EARLY. What we mean by a champion is a person, usually working at your favorite (ideal) customer who’s gladly willing to try out new solutions and, if the trial is reasonably successful, willing to push (yes, they have to push a lot) your solution, product, platform, or service further into the customer’s internal evaluation process.

Unfortunately, deep tech startups often refrain from meeting with potential customers early, either because they are not yet happy themselves with the performance of their product (perfectionism) or because they are afraid of being dismissed as naïve and immature.

This bad strategy (or rather lack of strategy) puts everything back to front. Unless you’ve been the customer yourself, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to suss out all the intricacies of the problem, what the problem costs, who owns the problem, what the implications are for the customer’s customer, what the budget is, etc. from the outside.

The devil is really in the details here. Instead, you should hook up with potential customers as early as possible. Try to identify a problem owner that can act as your champion on the inside. Make them your partner in crime. Give them chance to become heroes in their own organization. By having a champion on the inside, you can fine tune your understanding of the problem you’re solving. You’ll get incredibly valuable feedback about what’s missing and what things really matter to the customer. More often than not, you’ll be surprised how much faster you may reach a value proposition that is good enough to make your customer happy.

Imagine just how much time it will save to skip all the features that you where planning to include that turned out to be just nice-to-haves! Not to mention how much time it would have taken to fix it if you missed a must-have.

Should I always work closely with my future customers? There is one exception, but that we’ll dive into that in the next chapter of this series.

In summary: Building a deep tech-based startup takes time, period. By being focused, customer-centric, efficient, happy with good enough, and managing expectations, you can, however, make the journey faster and more likely to end successfully. Bon voyage!

Raoul Stubbe

Raoul coaches deeptech companies.
070-655 27 74

Do you have an early-stage deeptech idea?

Book a free individual coaching session with Raoul now to get feedback on your business idea, test your pitch, or discuss how to solve a challenge that’s keeping you up at night.

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Insights August 18, 2021

5 stellar startup pitch presentations from high-growth companies

Creating a show-stopping startup pitch presentation is crucial. Here’s a definitive list of what you need to include and some world-class examples for inspiration.

If your startup is in its early stages and you’re thinking about raising money from business angels or VCs – you need a pitch deck. 

A pitch deck is a short presentation of your business idea designed to do one thing: grab the attention and interest of investors. It’s one of the most crucial tools you’ll ever use for growing your startup, and its quality will be a key determiner of your success. 

Typically, you’ll walk potential investors through your pitch presentation the first time you meet, but it’s not unusual for them to request a copy of your pitch deck in advance to decide if they’re interested in your business. 

And unfortunately for startups, the pressure to nail your pitch presentation is increasing. 

Why you need a show-stopping pitch presentation, now more than ever

The good news is, investors are busy. Global venture funding hit a record high in the first half of 2021, and in Europe, the amount of funding being raised by startups continues to grow significantly

But the number of pitch decks landing on investors desks is also rising – and as a result, they’re spending less time reviewing them. According to DocSend, that’s an average time of 2 minutes and 46 seconds (as of July 2021.) 

A thousand decks are made in San Francisco alone every day, and some sources say only one percent of pitch presentations actually win over investors and raise capital. 

Couple this with jam-packed calendars, zoom fatigue and increasing competition, and you’ve got yourself a sure-fire pitch deck panic. 

But never fear! Here’s a definitive list of what to include in your startup pitch presentation, some world-class examples, and the real secret to nailing any pitch. 

What to include in a startup pitch presentation

All pitch decks are unique, but there are some key things that all investors expect you to cover in your pitch deck:

  • The problem: describe what kind of problem your product or service is trying to address.
  • Your solution: explain how your business is going to solve the problem.
  • Market size: is the problem really “big enough” to invest in solving? 
  • The competition: what are your current or potential competitors? What makes you different from them? 
  • Business model: how will you make money? What’s your revenue model? 
  • Go-to-market strategy: how do you plan to find potential customers and engage with them? 
  • The team: without the right people onboard, you’re on a road to nowhere. Share who’s on your team, and why they specifically have the right experience and background to succeed
  • Financials: explain how much money you’re looking to raise and how you plan to use it. 

Depending on the stage of your business and how much investment you require, you can include more or less information in your pitch presentation.  But as a general rule of thumb, keep it to 15 pages or fewer. According to the same DocSend study, investors spend the most time studying the pages on financials, team and competition, so pay extra attention to finessing these slides. 

Want some feedback on your startup pitch? 

Book a free open coaching session with one of our Sting business coaches now.

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Startup pitch deck examples

For a clearer idea of how much information to include, review other pitches from startups who are/were in the same stage as you on their journey. You’ll find plenty of examples online, but here are some of our favourites.

  1. 👉 Karma’s seed pitch deck

Sting alumni and food waste startup Karma used this pitch deck to successfully raise a seed round worth EUR 3.2 million in 2017. This pitch deck is a great example of how to answer the most important questions succinctly (why, what, how, when and why) and grab your audience’s attention quickly (see slide 3). 

Key takeaway: these questions are the core building blocks of any story, so make sure you answer them. 

2. 👉 Y Combinator seed deck template  

This is a simple, downloadable template for companies looking to raise a seed round. Y Combinator is one of the most successful startup accelerators in Silicon Valley and has helped launch 2000+ companies. This template is extremely easy to use and mirrors the key bullet points we outlined above. 

Key takeaway: don’t overcomplicate your story. Always strive for clarity and concision.

3. 👉 Creandum’s series A deck template

As Europe’s leading early-stage capital venture firm, Creandum knows its way around a good pitch deck. This template has a more professional look and feel and will help you understand how to visualize your story. 

Key takeaway: use visual cues to bring your story to life and set the mood for your brand.

4. 👉 Facebook’s pitch deck (Spring 2004) 

Would this list be complete if we didn’t drop an F-bomb? Old but gold, this pitch presentation is a great example of how to communicate product traction and interest, even if you haven’t completely figured out how to make money yet…

Key takeaway: using metrics and stats that clearly demonstrate customer demand and interest in your product will help validate your idea.

5. 👉 Airbnb’s Angel round pitch deck 

Short but sweet, Airbnb’s pitch deck to angel investors outlines a problem and how the company solves it in an extremely simple way – allowing the audience to grasp the concept immediately. They’ve also managed to sum up their business model in eight words. 

Key takeaway: less is more. Spend time on finding the easiest way to explain what you do, and how you do it. Stress test ideas with your peers. 

The secret to nailing your pitch presentation

The most powerful tool when it comes to pitching isn’t your presentation, it’s you. Investors need to understand your vision, but you must let your passion and your people shine through.

Hjalmar Ståhlberg Nordegren, CEO & Co-founder, Karma, says: “Make sure that you have a good convincing case that you believe in. Don’t forget that you’re supposed to believe in the business when no one else does. Be enthusiastic but not ignorant, every model has its pros and cons and knowing your weaknesses and being able to convince others on how to solve them is sometimes just as impressive as good historical growth.”

Want more advice? Here are 16 startup pitching tips from our very own pitch coaches. 

Ready to grow faster, smarter? 

Sting is the number one startup accelerator in the Nordics. Over 19 years, we’ve coached 330+ startups, including companies like Karma, Sellpy, Airmee and Yubico. Explore our programs now to find out how we can help you accelerate business growth.

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Insights August 9, 2021

16 startup pitching tips every entrepreneur needs to hear

Startup pitching is an art form, and if you want to succeed, you must master it. Here, our expert coaches share their top tips for nailing your startup pitch.

So you’ve decided to pour your heart and soul into launching a startup? Wunderbar. This will probably be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. But, as I’m sure you’ve figured out, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. It also involves coping with the ever-looming pressure to raise capital. 

To successfully drum up funding, you need to win over investors in short and increasingly virtual pitches, which, let’s face it, isn’t the most thrilling way to meet someone. 

But the good news is: with the right approach it’s perfectly possible to nail your startup pitch and secure that much-coveted second meeting. 

I asked Sting’s pitch coaches and the winners of our recent demo day pitch event for their most important pieces of advice when pitching to investors. Here’s what they said.

  1. Treat your first pitch like a teaser

Sting pitch coach Jenny Lindblad has 15 years’ experience as a pitch coach and startup mentor. She’s also a TEDx Moderator and has delivered over 5,000 presentations to top execs and investors in over 130 countries.

“The initial pitch should provide a teaser for every aspect of your business, not just the problem and your solution. It should touch on your vision, what drives you, your business model, what you’ve achieved so far, what’s next, and answer questions like ‘why now?’ and ‘why you?’. No one is going to invest after a first pitch – the whole purpose is to secure a second meeting,” explains Jenny. 

If there are too many outstanding questions, investors are much less likely to book that second meeting – so make sure you touch on each of these areas. 

2. Keep your vision tangible and simple

Jenny can’t stress enough how important it is to create a simple, tangible vision. Here’s an example: our vision is to help one billion people stop using plastic bags to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10%. It’s easy to understand and includes a tangible outcome. 

“Your vision should stay the same regardless of the audience, and people must be able to grasp it quickly,” says Jenny. 

If you’re struggling to define your company vision, start by thinking about what drives you. What makes you jump out of bed every morning? 

3. Never assume anything

The biggest mistake young startups make when pitching is making assumptions about what the audience knows (and doesn’t know). Never assume that the people you’re pitching to know what you’re talking about or understand the specifics of your industry, the problem you’re solving or your product. 

4. Accept that your product won’t sell itself 

Time for some tough love: your product will not sell itself. Unfortunately, a lot of first-time entrepreneurs think it will and under prepare for pitches. It’s good to be confident, but dangerous to be overconfident. If people don’t understand what you do, they won’t invest in your startup, regardless of how amazing it is. But, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably not going to make that mistake. 

5. Work out how to touch your audience – and do it fast 

Sting pitch coach Anette Andersson has worked with us since 2003. She’s helped hundreds of startups develop and sharpen their messaging to strengthen their pitch and successfully secure funding. 

“If you travel on the subway you’ll only remember the people who touched you in some way. They could have physically touched you, said something unusual, or looked like an ex-boyfriend. Whatever it is, they’ve made a memorable impression, and that’s exactly what you need to do when pitching your startup,” says Anette. 

“Investors pass on 94-98% of companies that pitch to them, so you have to find out how to touch your audience and do it quickly,” she explains. If you don’t, they’ll mentally check out. Think about who you’re meeting every time you pitch, what they know, what they want, and how you – or your business – relates to that. 

If you have a startup in the mental health space, for example, this is relatively easy, as we all know someone who’s been affected by mental health issues. But no matter what industry you’re in, think about what you have that’s special and how you can touch your audience with it. 

6. Sell your story, not your business 

Over 90% of pitch coaching at Sting focuses on content and storytelling. There are specific things you need to cover in your pitch deck (the problem, your solution, market size, competition, business model, go-to-market strategy, the team and financials), but the trick is to develop a story arc and use human narratives to keep your audience engaged and establish a connection. Investors are more interested in value and scaling possibilities than the exact technologies. 

How does the problem affect people day to day? If a person uses your product, what does it mean for them? How will it make their life better, or even the world? 

Johann Gross, Co-Founder of online referencing tool Citationsy (and Sting Demo Day pitch winner) and his team used storytelling during their pitch to secure meetings with investors.  

“Our product is a digital tool for academic referencing, so it’s not the sexiest of products. But during our last pitch, we talked less about the product itself, and more about the problem it solves for people, the benefits that it offers and explained how it worked in a very simple way. Then we focused on what we’ve already achieved and where we’re heading next – which built a success story and positioned our startup as a non-losing bet,” says Johann. 

Watch Citationsy’s Sting Demo Day pitch (24:05)

7. Think like a journalist

Like any good piece of journalism, your startup pitch should follow a logical order and keep people interested to the end.

“Just like a written article, you need a headline that grabs attention, then something that intrigues your audience further before you dive into the details,” says Anette. 

Try to structure your messaging in a logical way, with the most catchy information at the beginning. Essential information like who, what, where, why, when and how are core building blocks of any story. Make sure that you answer these questions in an order that makes sense for your audience.

It’s also important to make it clear what part of the story you’re telling now, so use visual queues like subheadings to signpost where you are. Just like an article, end with a strong conclusion and a clear call to action (more on that later). 

8. Challenge any preconceptions

What does the audience know, and what do they think they know that might be wrong? A good example is cryptocurrency. Initially, they were perceived as risky and highly volatile, and investors stayed well clear of them. But today that perception has shifted. If it’s common for people to have incorrect preconceptions of your industry or the work you do, you need to clear them up by sharing knowledge and facts. 

9. Save way more time for discussion 

In the past, it was common practice to leave ten minutes at the end of a meeting for questions, but Jenny has flipped this entirely. 

Now, she urges startups to dedicate five minutes to hellos, seven to 10 minutes for the pitch and a whopping 45-minutes for questions (this depends on the length of the meeting, but roughly 75% of it should be set aside for discussion). And this approach doesn’t just work for young companies. 

“I recently tried this format with a VC company that’s raising a huge fund. They used to present to potential investors for 45 minutes, but since cutting this down to 10 they’ve been having some fantastic discussions and seeing a much more positive response,” says Jenny. 

10. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes 

Know your audience. Who are they? What do they want? What other companies has your audience invested in? What potential questions would they have for you? Some tough ones include:

  • “If this is such a big problem, why has no one solved it yet?”
  • “What makes you uniquely positioned to solve this problem?” 
  • “Why did you decide to X….”
  • “Could you grow faster with more money?”

Listen back to your presentation and put yourself in their shoes. 

11. Don’t memorize your pitch word-for-word  

“You should know your pitch inside out, but not word-for-word. If you do, forgetting one word completely throws you off”, says Johann. When prepping for pitches, Johann walks around in his apartment in circles presenting the pitch out loud but without memorizing the words. This also helps him…

12. Practice body language and non-verbal communication 

According to many experts, only 7% of meaning is communicated verbally, with 38% coming through tone of voice and 55% through body language. 

“When we watched our pitch back, one of the things we realised was how stiff we were. It’s just as important to practice physical movement as what you’re going to say. You can really feel the energy and passion when someone makes the right moves too,” says Johann. 

Like any good public speaker, you should use physical movement to emphasize key messages and elicit emotion from the audience.

13. Put stage directions in your cue cards 

Another of Johann’s key tips is to use stage directions: “Writing reminders to pause and take a breath in our cue cards really helped us set a good pace and establish a rhythm”. 

This is particularly helpful if multiple people from your team are pitching, as you can assign names to different sections and include reminders to look at each other when appropriate. 

14. Walk the stage

If you’re pitching in person, it’s really important to practice walking on and off the stage beforehand. 

“When people haven’t practised walking upstairs onto a stage it usually throws them off. They either stop or end up looking like they’re walking in slow motion,” says Jenny. 

Walking the stage and being comfortable with the set-up beforehand also makes any last-minute changes easier to navigate. 

“I did a speech in Stockholm City Hall in front of 1,400 people on a round stage that was really shaky. I wore really high heels, but I practised the stairs over and over again to make sure I felt comfortable. At the last second, someone also pinched my props, but if you’re comfortable with your surroundings it’s easier to adapt to things like that,” shares Jenny. 

15. Remember to smile

When you smile, your body releases endorphins, which makes you feel happier and more relaxed. Research also suggests that people who smile appear more confident, and even more successful. 

“It’s amazing how many people forget to do this in the heat of the moment. My smile is always my secret weapon,” says Jenny. 

If you do stumble during your startup pitch, smiling is a great way to deflect it. No one will judge you too harshly if you stay cheerful and approachable. 

16. End with a call to action

What do you want to get out of your pitch? If an investor is interested, what’s the next step? Make it clear.

The secret to nailing your pitch presentation

Don’t forget that the most powerful tool when it comes to pitching isn’t your presentation, it’s you. Investors need to understand your vision, but you must let your passion and your people shine through.

Hjalmar Ståhlberg Nordegren, CEO & Co-founder, Karma, says: “Make sure that you have a good convincing case that you believe in. Don’t forget that you’re supposed to believe in the business when no one else does. Be enthusiastic but not ignorant, every model has its pros and cons and knowing your weaknesses and being able to convince others on how to solve them is sometimes just as impressive as good historical growth.”

Want some feedback on your startup pitch? 

Book a free open coaching session with one of our Sting business coaches now.

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Insights July 6, 2021

The state of startups: a letter from our founder

As we ease into summer, Sting Founder and CEO Pär Hedberg reflects on what’s changed in the startup world over the last year and what potentially lies ahead.

Startups showed incredible resilience during the pandemic

If I had to sum up how our startups handled the pandemic, I’d say with amazing resilience. When it hit, we were worried that a lot of them would face big problems, but thankfully that didn’t happen on a large scale. In 2020, companies in entertainment and travel naturally suffered, but as our latest figures show, the majority still delivered strong results. The pandemic was a catalyst for widespread industry digitalization, and as most of our startups are in tech, the pandemic’s impact has overall been limited. Best of all, most of the ones who were affected managed to survive and are beginning to bounce back (such as the artist booking platform Gigital).

Barriers to securing funding have lowered, and there’s plenty to go round

Getting first-line access to capital is easier than ever. Now that everyone uses Zoom, our startups are securing more and more meetings with investors – and it doesn’t matter if they’re in New York, London or Berlin. A natural side effect of this is that international investors are beginning to look further afield and scout more in the Nordics – which in turn increases competition among Swedish investors. The current supply of capital overall is also very good, and there’s a lot of money out there for hungry young startups (except for deeptech startups…).

New actors with deep pockets for deeptech

For a long time, deeptech companies have been overlooked by private actors like VCs and business angels. In both Sweden and other countries, it’s been hard for them to secure financing because they require a lot of money, they’re risky, and it takes a long time to see a return. But I’m incredibly happy to see this funding gap is narrowing down. We have seen new public funding possibilities in this pace, with the EU EIC initiative, and also several new private family funds entering.

Deeptech companies create solutions to big problems using complex technologies with long development times. Today, new actors are starting to make big ticket investments in deeptech technology, as they realize that once these solutions launch, they have the potential to transform entire industries. This is extremely positive – especially for our deeptech incubator companies. This fall, we’re also launching our new test drive program specifically for deeptech entrepreneurs in partnership with KTH. Keep an eye out for more info!

The way we view the world has changed

The pandemic has influenced the way we see the world both directly and indirectly. Of course, we’ve made obvious changes to our behaviors, but I think there’s also been a more subtle shift in our collective consciousness. We’re more aware of our planet’s vulnerabilities than ever before – and this is reflected in the type of startups we see applying for our programs, and where the money is being funneled. 

For instance, healthy living and climate change have become top of mind, and in the last two accelerator programs we’ve seen an increasing number of sustaintech, cleantech and healthtech startups apply. We proactively adapted to these cultural shifts by running specific programs to support startups in these areas, which were really successful.

Of course, the healthtech industry in particular is booming. The demand for digital solutions enabling quicker, more cost-effective access to care is still there – as demonstrated by the success of companies like KryMediCheck, health integrator, Care to Translate, and Mindmore. This will continue to be an interesting space for the next few years.

Final thoughts

At Sting, the pandemic has still made it challenging for us to deliver our services to the best of our ability. People are a huge part of our business, and what makes our offering so unique is comprehensive access to a qualified business coach, ad hoc support, networking events, and a close-knit community of entrepreneurs to bounce insights and learnings with. We will continue to use digital channels when it’s the best option, and of course stick to public regulations. But thankfully, things slowly feel like they’re getting back to normal – and I’m looking forward to giving our startups a truly world-class accelerator experience in person again and a dynamic, creative workspace.  

Pär Hedberg

Pär is the founder and CEO of Sting. He also coaches deeptech and sustaintech companies.
070-855 03 18

Insights June 15, 2021

3 must-dos to master the sales meeting

Sales is one of our biggest focus areas at Sting. During our startup programs you’ll be trained by industry experts who will help you improve your sales technique. Here, Sting Sales Coach Olof Berglund shares his top tips for closing more deals.

Olof Berglund, Sales Coach at Sting, has worked in marketing and sales for over 20 years in both startups and multinational pharma and medtech companies.

At Sting, you’ll learn to identify and respond to the behaviour and emotions of your customers so that you can move the conversation in the direction you desire.

“Sales and marketing are about influencing people, and it’s an enormously positive experience to influence people into buying a product. By using the right mix of marketing and sales tools in combination with training, most people can achieve success. I want to share my experiences so that you can succeed right from the start”, says Olof.

Here are his top three tips for mastering your startup sales meetings.

Applications to Sting are now open! Join Sting Accelerate in the fall. Learn more and apply today!

Olof’s top three tips:

1. Listen.
Many are prejudiced about how salespeople are and should be. There is, however, one important thing that the best sellers are extremely good at. Using their ears! You should listen to the customer. During the sales meeting, let the customer do the talking while you ask the appropriate questions that will create insight, a strong need and motivation to buy.

2. Identify the REAL problem.
Ask questions that help make your potential customer aware of a problem that needs to be solved and that creates a real pain in the customer’s daily life. Identifying not only the true pain points but also the cost of them will help accelerate a deal.

3. Do not defend yourself.
Know how to handle objections. Do not practice answers, but questions, to meet the most common objections your customer will have. By asking the right questions, let them solve their own doubts. Once all objections are handled, you will be ready to close the deal.

Sting’s sales training

The sales training is carried out several times a year and includes realistic role-plays that allow you to practice and make mistakes in the “classroom” rather than at an important, live sales meeting. These are some of the many critical things you will learn:

The practical exercise of a sales meetings and cold calls were excellent! Theory is good, but exercises and real experiences are much better.

Victor Gonzalez, Porkchop
  • How to create strong need within the customer. We will teach you what questions you should ask to make the customer truly understand their problem and how serious it is. The questions are open, powerful and motivating and create a will to remove that problem and a need to buy your solution.
  • How to handle objections. Another common reason why a deal does not happen is that the customer objects at the end of the pitch and the seller doesn’t really know what to say. We will teach you how to turn the objection into something positive that leads to a close.
  • How to close the deal! Without a strong closing technique, it can be extremely hard to finalize a sale. We teach you different ways to ask the right questions and close the deal, instead of asking for another follow-up meeting.
  • Cold calls. Yikes! This is one of the most difficult tasks in sales. How do you cold call a person you have never met before and make them not only stay on the line, but actually accept a meeting? We will teach you how to get those sales meetings into your calendar.
  • The sales cycle. What does the sales process look like for your particular customer? What are the different steps to get ahead at each stage so you can finally come to a close? You will learn how to set goals and what steps you should keep track of to speed up the sales process.

The best part was the practical takeaways – how to handle customer objections, for example. And the detailed overview of the question technique was great.

Karoly Szipka, iPercept

Got questions?

Get in touch!

Want to discuss your startup, test your pitch, or get input on a challenge you’re facing? Reach out to one of our startup coaches.

Olof Berglund

Olof coaches healthtech companies.
070-635 98 15

Insights May 13, 2021

How to find tech talent for your startup? Here’s a 7-step guide to help you succeed

When building your startup, there are A LOT of things to focus on. One of the most challenging – and most important – is to get the right team in place. Recruiting is not simple, especially if you’re looking for a co-founder or people with tech skills. Therefore, we have put together a comprehensive step-by-step guide to help you succeed with your tech hiring.

Step 1: Why are you looking for a new team member? 

Start by asking yourself why you need another person. What should this individual help you achieve, let’s say, in the first six months? Is it a co-founding role or an employee you are looking for? It’s crucial to discuss and agree on this in your co-founding team before you start a hiring process.  

Step 2: Define the profile (and ask for help if you lack the tech skills)

When you have defined what your new team member will work on, ask yourself what kind of experience and knowledge you think you should be looking for. If you don’t have the tech skills yourself, try to find someone in your network that does and ask them to help you with this step.

To verify that everyone on the founding team is on the same page, a great tip is to put together a list of five profiles from LinkedIn and go through them one at a time and discuss if you consider them relevant or not. 

Step 3: Decide on a budget

Don’t forget to agree on your budget. What kind of salary (if any) are you able to offer? Maybe you can only offer equity to begin with until you have raised some money? The budget will have a big impact on which profiles will be relevant to you. (For more info on salary levels for tech profiles check Stack Overflow)

Step 4: Remote or not?

Remember, be careful not to define the profile and skills you are looking for too narrowly, then there is a big chance your talent pool gets very small and your chances for finding the right person get ridiculously small. Also, discuss if you need the person to work on-site or if you are open to broadening the search for people working remotely? This will expand your talent pool and give you more opportunities to find a great team member. There are a number of solutions today to make it easier to work with people located abroad, such as Deel and Omnipresent.

Meet us on May 20th

Want to discuss your startup, test your pitch, or get input on a challenge you’re facing? Book a free meeting on May 20th with one of our coaches to discuss your questions and challenges.

Step 5: Stand out from the crowd

When you have defined what the person will be working on, the budget, and if you’re going to hire a remote candidate or not, it’s time to put together a great pitch for the role. What are the interesting challenges that this person will help you solve? And what makes your business idea something really special? Write a job ad that gets people inspired (make sure to check the language for bias to be able to capture more great candidates) and ask your network to help spread the word!

Step 6: Boost your own headhunting efforts

Unfortunately, the reality today is that many great developers are not actively looking for a job. They get approached by recruiters on a weekly basis who are trying to convince them to change jobs. However, don’t let this demotivate you, rather see it as an opportunity to stand out by doing the same.

Not many founders reach out to candidates and pitch their company and job opportunities themselves. If you spend some time reaching out to relevant candidates, you will be more likely to get some replies than if you hired a recruiter to do it for you. Yes, it means you need to spend some time on this, but in the long run, it will be more efficient than just putting out a job ad and hoping for the best.

In the early phases of your startup, finding the right person to join your team will have a huge impact on your chances to succeed in the long run!

Step 7: Once you’ve found the right personact quickly!

Think about how you would like the hiring process to look before you get started. For example, if you don’t have the tech skills in your current team, find someone who you could ask for a favor and help you with the tech skill evaluation.

Also, make sure that you don’t lose momentum when you have found an interesting candidate. Chances are high that they are talking with other companies simultaneously. Ask them what their time frame looks like! When it comes to putting together a hiring agreement, warrant agreement etc., a good source for templates is for example StartupTools

Hiring for your startup will be a skill that you can develop over time. At Sting, we support our startups with team development and talent acquisition support for free when participating in our programs. Last year alone, we helped our startups to find more than 50 new employees, among them being CTOs, full-stack devs and frontend devs.

Meet us on May 20th

Want to learn more about how we could support you? Book a free meeting on May 20th with one of our coaches to discuss your questions and challenges.

Andreas Wennberg

Andreas is our head of talent management.
073-811 81 71

Sara Bjelkstam

Sara coaches our companies in team development.

Financing March 19, 2021

Due diligence turned around: 70 questions to ask a potential investor

Google, and you will find an amazing amount of information on what questions a VC will ask to evaluate you. But let’s turn it around! Here are questions your investor should be ready to answer well to be a great fit for you.

Some business angels and most venture capital firms take an active role in the running of a startup they invest in. So, it’s important to make sure you are a great fit for each other and agree on the strategic way forward.

Sometimes, the best option is to just take the money while it’s on the table, but if you have the luxury of choosing what investor/s to align yourself with, here are some great questions to ask the investors to learn who is the best fit for you and your company.

1. What experiences from your previous investments are most relevant for your engagement in our company?

This question should give you information about the investor’s track record and if they have done investments in areas of relevance for you.

2. How do you help companies you invest in?

It’s important to look beyond the money and learn about what added value the investor will contribute with. Ask for specific examples that involves startups that the investor has previously backed.

3. How much do you set aside for follow-on investments? For how many financing rounds do you typically follow-on?

This question should give you insights on the depth of the investor’s pockets and how they can support you in terms of funding over time.

4. When this company is worth $B and we look back, what path do think the company has taken to get there?

This question will give you a sense of whether the investor fits in and shares the same vision for the company as you do. The same way a team shares the dreams of the founder/s, investors should, too. 

5. What’s your view of the industry sector we’re in?

The answer to this question will help you to better understand how the investor sees the competition in your field, how to navigate the sector, and how to think about its future. If the investor shows remarkable knowledge of your market, he or she could potentially be a great resource for your startup.

6. Who are some of the founders you have backed that I could talk to?

You don’t need to connect with the references, but it could be a good idea to ask and see what the answer is. Great investors will have great reviews, and not so great investors will be reluctant to supply you with names.

7. Are you interested in potentially investing in my company, and if so, what are the next steps?

Before the end of the meeting, make sure you ask this question. It will help you understand where you stand with the investor. There are so called “soft no’s” when the investor is vague. For example, if you get “keep me posted”, then you can assume he or she is not interested at this time. But, if the investor wants to set up a follow-up meeting or a call, this means there is interest.

Do you want more questions?

Download an additional “60 questions to ask VCs during the first meeting to assess fit”.

While they are aimed at VCs, many can easily be adjusted for business angels as well.

Financing March 11, 2021

6 ways to fund your startup – and when to pick which option

Financing is one of the most important – and most time-consuming – elements of building a company. Most startups begin with early seed funding from friends and family, but then what? Below, Sting’s coaches explain some of the good and the bad with six different types of funding.

Before you start your financing journey, it is important to critically think about what your goals are with your company. What kind of pace is needed for your company to succeed? What are the value-increasing milestones over the coming years? How important is it for you to keep control of your company? Answering these questions will help you find the right financing option below.

1. Grants

Grants are funds provided by organizations, such as Vinnova, the Swedish Energy Agency and the EU, for a one-off project. They are primarily for early-stage, high-risk companies with an academic origin, based on science or research and often with a strong IPR.


  • You don’t have to give away shares of your company, so it doesn’t dilute your shares.
  • It is essentially “free money”, as you don’t have to repay a grant.
  • It can fund important early milestones.
  • It can help you better structure your product development.

Potential drawbacks

  • The application process can be extremely time-consuming.
  • Grants often require some level of compliance and reporting, which can be quite tedious.
  • The hit rate varies between 5%-20% – most applications fail.

2. Loans

Loans to startups are often provided by for example Almi Företagspartner, especially their “Innovation loan” in early stages. Sometimes, there’s also a possibility to receive loans from banks.


  • Helps to finance product development in early stages.
  • No dilution of shares.

Potential drawbacks

  • You must pay interest and have a possibility to pay back the loan.
  • Will affect the balance sheet as a debt and create a risk for control balance sheet.
  • Sometimes you need provide personal bail.

3. Customer financing

Another way to finance your company is through customer financing. This is a great way to let a potential customer pay for early test/pilot to develop the product further until final product is ready for launch.


  • Creates a strong relationship with customers in an early phase.
  • Cost efficient
  • Non-dilutive
  • Can finance the product development.
  • Market credibility, as the startup gets to “borrow” some of the goodwill that the customer potentially has built up.

Potential drawbacks

  • Customers see potential disadvantages early before the product is ready
  • It can come with a “lock-in” during the pilot, preventing discussions with other interested customers
  • There is also a risk of lock-in on foreground IP in joint development projects if you lack experience in negotiating IPR clauses in the development contract.

– These three types of funding; grants, innovation loans and customer financing, are what’s often called “soft financing”. This means money with low or non-existent risk for the entrepreneur and without major requirements for return or ownership. You should use soft financing in the early stage to build value in the company before attracting private investors, says Olof Berglund, business coach at Sting.

Want to know how to raise funds for your startup?

Register for a free 121 session with our startup coaches. Tell us about your business and we will point you in the right direction.

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4. Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding allows many small investors to pitch in and support your startup, either just for the good cause or rewards and perks.


  • All communications on one platform – no need to update potential investors through emails, meetings and phone calls.
  • Non-dilutive. Your investors are being rewarded with perks not equity.
  • Great way to test the market and validate your offer.
  • Your investors finance your product.
  • Can create momentum and build your market.

Possible drawbacks

  • Scammers have reduced the trust between entrepreneurs and early adopters.
  • A lot of work – to be successful you likely need a full-on launch campaign.
  • Negative feedback can be damaging.
  • The transparency and visibility of failure. Crowdfunding puts your company’s performance in full public view.

– The startups best suited for crowdfunding are in general those with tech gadgets or products with wide appeal that already have a large following of fans. It’s more difficult to explain and understand a complex medical device, for example. You also need to be a really good storyteller to break through, says Karin Ruiz, business coach at Sting.

5. Business angel financing

Business angels are private individuals who invest their own money. They are often established entrepreneurs who understand the degree of risk involved with establishing a small business. Usually, the first ticket is in the range of 250 000 SEK – 1 MSEK.


  • Business angels invest in the early stages of company development.
  • In addition to capital, business angels can provide sector experience, knowledge and network.
  • They can also be hands-on engaged in the companies they invest in.
  • Business angels can both make investment decisions and act quickly.
  • They usually have an investor network and can get multiple people to invest.
  • Well-connected business angels can open doors to later stage financiers, e.g., VCs

Potential drawbacks

  • You give up a share of your business.
  • If you give up too large a stake in your company to business angels early on, you may run into troubles securing later-stage financing
  • Business angels invest with the expectation of a return on investment. This may create extra pressure to deliver results quickly.
  • Business angels are individuals who invest their own money, pay attention to personal chemistry and reputation.

– Startups often bring on business angels early, when institutional investors feel that the risk is too high or the tickets too small, says Krim Talia, active angel investor and business coach at Sting.

6. Venture capital

Venture capitalists (VCs) are investment companies that takes a percentage of your company in exchange for capital. VCs invest other investors money with an objective to deliver a significant return on investment. VCs therefore have a limited time horizon for their investments. There are different categories of VCs, investing in different industries and stages of company development, ranging from very early stage (alongside angels) to growth stage.


  • VCs can give you “muscles” and help your company grow fast, as speed and timing are often very important.
  • VCs can also provide international networks, knowledge and professional guidance.
  • This will allow you to take on multiple markets faster than the competition.
  • Well-connected VCs will support you in the next funding round, potentially opening doors to new investors.

Potential drawbacks

  • You lose a (big) stake in your company and thereby control.
  • VCs may want to be involved in your company’s operations and decision-making. You may have to compromise on your goals.
  • VCs often have a long and drawn-out investment process. It is not unusual that it takes at least 6 months from the first contact to closing.
  • The legal agreement is typically quite complex with tougher terms than business angels.

– Venture capital is a good alternative for companies with a great growth potential in need of financial muscles to speed up the development. However, the entrepreneurs who bring on VCs on their journey need to be open to dilution and loss of control. Many well-established VCs have extensive networks and can be of great help for a startup that is embarking on its internationalisation journey, says Maria Ljungberg, Director of Investor Relations at Sting and CEO of Propel Capital.

Want to know how to raise funds for your startup?

Join our coaches for a free coaching session on March 18th. Tell us about your business and we will point you in the right direction.

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Healthtech March 1, 2021

What’s next in healthtech?

In 2020, all eyes were on health. The pandemic has accelerated the shift to digital health services and has increased ambitions for a better patient experience. Here is who we think you should keep an eye on in 2021.

The healthcare sector has faced unprecedented challenges during the last year. But where there are challenges, entrepreneurs find solutions. Fueled by new technologies or new business models, startups have been paving the way for the future of healthcare – now more than ever.

Investor interest in healthtech has also been booming. Early last year, KRY secured one of the largest deals of the year and raised €140m to expand its footprint. Sifted also noted a $750m increase from 2019 to 2020 in European healthtech investments. In total, Swedish healthtech startups raised a combined €396m during 2020 according to Dealroom, a record number.

Promoting health instead of cure

The future of health is not only patient-centered, the idea is to keep you from becoming a patient in the first place. Instead of curing, it’s about staying healthy as much as possible. Preventive, predictive, and personalized care are the new norm, all while you take an active role in your own health.

After the first wave of healthtech, where early adopters discovered the first health apps and lifestyle activity trackers, we are in the middle of the second wave that is aiming to digitize the outdated processes and experiences in the health care system through telemedicine, machine learning and AI. But we are also seeing signs of the third wave on the horizon, that has the potential to revolutionize the ways we interact with our bodies (as recently demonstrated by Elon Musk’s Neuralink) or develop new cures with computer-aided drug-design.

We believe that 2021 is going to be a great year for healthtech and to demonstrate that, we want to highlight 21 teams that you should keep an eye on.

Mental health


Mindler enables you to talk with a certified psychologist through video call or chat. Early last year Mindler raised an €8 million Series A round, co-led by Ventech and Shibsted Growth, and has since expanded its services to France and The Netherlands.


Sting Alumni Mindmore digitizes cognitive tests and offers their SaaS platform to clinics to make cognitive status available for all patient groups that need it while streamlining testing procedures for healthcare staff.



The blood collection device for microsampling from Capitainer enables easy and accurate sampling by non-healthcare professionals. The company announced in January that it has raised another SEK31 million to ramp up production capacity for Covid-19 antibody testing.

Profundus Imaging

At least 1 billion individuals globally have a vision impairment that could have been prevented. Profundus Imaging is a producer of an innovative camera used for earlier diagnosis of retina-related diseases. The company raised SEK 8.4 million in January 2021 from Almi Invest among others.


Located in Gothenburg, Amferia develops anti-infective medical devices that can prevent bacterial infections including those caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria. In January 2020 the company was able to secure SEK 6.2 million and aims to bring the product to the market within the next 3 years.


Swedish startup AlgoDx focuses on supporting disease detection and prediction with machine learning algorithms. The first application is able to predict sepsis in hospitalized patients. AlgoDx has closed a €600K seed round early last year.


Symbiome develops a medical toolkit that customers can use for testing their intestinal flora and find out how their gut bacteria can affect their well-being. Users can take the test at home and get their results in about 6 weeks.

Jaisy Health

Jaisy, a Sting Incubate alumni, has developed a low cost solution for non-invasive jaundice detection and measurement in infants. The company has developed an optical mobile device that connects to any smartphone which measures the bilirubin level and predicts the risk of jaundice.

Chronic disease


PainDrainer is a digital pain coach who, with the help of artificial intelligence, learns how your activities affect your pain. The app guides you and gives individual advice to help you plan your day and control your pain level.


1.4 million Swedes suffer from migraines. Migränhjälpen, founded in 2019, is working for launching a digital service available for users looking to get treated for migraines. The company announced a capital raise of SEK 6.2 million in March 2020.

Alex Health

Alex is preventing people from getting chronically ill in the first place. 40% of all premature deaths could be prevented by changing behavior.
Combining technology with psychology and a consumer-first user experience, Alex treats unhealthy habits

Digital Diabetes Analytics

People living with diabetes currently spend billions on continuous glucose measurement, but are currently drowning in their data. Digital Diabetes Analytics provides an automated solution which analyses the data and generates systematic interpretations to transform diabetes care.


Making digital treatment plans for Psoriasis patients, Itchy’s ambition is to make the daily life easier for people with Psoriasis and Atopic eczema. It combines an app with a journal and personalised treatment plans with skin care products.

Health Integrator

Sting Alumni Health Integrator strengthens the individual’s ability to achieve long-term changes in living habits, in order to prevent common diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The health platform provides access to a number of activities and health services.

Female Health


Tilly, a sting company, is creating a one-stop-shop for personalised fertility support enabling proactive testning, easier ways to find relevant information and mental support.


Momentus is an app that gives a new mother all the knowledge she needs about her own body and health after giving birth. The team was accepted into the Sting Incubate program in early 2021.

Grace Health

Grace is solving the current problem of accessibility and discretion by delivering a solution to the 1.9 billion women in emerging markets who lack access to women’s health services and information. It lets women track and understand their reproductive health.

Digital Health

Care To Translate

Sting Alumni Care to Translate offers medically correct communication with translations verified by native speakers to overcome language barriers in healthcare. They are active in over 200 countries and their app has more than 241.000 users.


Sensivo helps clinical researchers to store and manage research data in a flexible, collaborative and secure way. It provides a GDPR compliant, cloud-based spreadsheet for modern clinical research and sensitive personal data management.


Skinfo translates ingredients in cosmetic and skincare products with scientific facts to help more people choose, avoid or discover products based on their ingredients. The Sting Alumni simplifies complex data to increase consumers’ knowledge and understanding.


Malmö-based Kind is a secure communication platform tailored for healthcare providers and patients. It allows healthcare providers to communicate with patients, share care plans and documents. Since its Seed round in 2019, Kind has now started expanding beyond Sweden.

Need help to grow or scale your healthtech startup?

Through our new initiative, Sting Health Action, we support startups that, like us, believe that the future of health must be characterized by Personalization, Prediction, Prevention and Participation.

This will be a leading star when we now look for innovative and disruptive companies to join us. We’re especially interested in startups with ground-breaking technologies and scalable solutions within the following areas:

  • Chronic Disease
  • Diagnostics
  • Female Health
  • Mental Health
  • Pandemic Health Action

Thanks to extensive experience from scaling 300+ startups, we can give you access to unparalleled skills and knowledge and help increase your chances of success many times over.

Learn more about our support for Healthtech startups

Insights April 24, 2018

The Growth Hacking Gap

We recently surveyed 20 growing tech startups within our ecosystem on the growing business needs and we found the following skills along with their demand and availability:

This image shows the frequency of companies looking for the various skills (blue) and how many candidates who say they have the various skills (red). In short, this is the supply and demand for skill in the startup job market (for non-technical positions).

For every 2.5 jobs looking for Growth Hackers, there’s only 1 person in the market with that skill.

Does this mean there’s a gap?

Now when we analyze these skill gaps, most of the time we rely on the tags. How many people tag themselves with “marketing” and how many with “Growth Hacking”?

And we see that only,

50 635 persons have the keywords “Growth Hacking” in their profile and a whooping

43 830 036 persons have Marketing.

However, while marketing is hugely more common as a term than growth hacking, we’d like to highlight the growing trend for the term.

Look at the Google search trend for instance:

Note: Important to mention here is the scale in the two graphs. The total search volume is still way higher for marketing than growth hacking. But the searches are growing for growth hacking but not for marketing.

May be it’s just the term Growth Hacking

Candidates and companies do not necessarily use the same language. The jargons can vary widely and may be most modern digital marketing professionals are analytical, metric-driven, experimentative and sprint-oriented. But not all of them, call themselves “Growth Hackers”.

One reason that marketers might not use this term often is because of a certain bad reputation for “quick hacks to gain big unsustainably big user base”. Especially combined with a low retention. Another reason is that the growth hacking term is kind of ambiguous and debated.

OR if you’re not actively seeking a job, there’s not much motivation to update LinkedIn profiles with new keywords. Instead, there might be a period where the person learns new things but don’t communicate it. Job ads from companies are different. They are always fresh and updated, so they show the demands quicker.

But then what is this growth hacking anyways? Wikipedia reads,

“growth hacking is a process of rapid experimentation across marketing funnel, product development, sales segments, and other areas of the business to identify the most efficient ways to grow a business”.

In an ideal world, isn’t every marketing person trying out new ideas? Pushing the marketing funnel? And constantly trying effective way to grow a business?

We’d like to think that and that’s why we’re inviting all growth hackers and marketers to come and meet our Startups who’re looking for you.

2 hours — 17 startups — 35+ Marketing & Growth positions

In 2 hours, you’ll have the opportunity to meet and mingle with 17 startup founders who’re expanding their teams in marketing/growth/sales areas. We call this event Join a Startup and it’s a selection-only event. So please apply asap. Deadline for registration is today.

Apply by clicking here.