Julian Seydoux is a rare breed in Europe, an entrepreneur who has set up a company, scaled it, exited it, and is now investing and advising the next generation of start ups. As Julian has experience of Angel Investment Network, both raising funds and investing, we decided to pick his brains.
What impresses about his story is the belief that having completed his market research with intense focus and determination, he could take on the ultra competitive Chinese market, launching Vai Milno, a chain of gelato stores, and enter an industry that he had no prior experience of.
He explained how he arrived in China with ‘two bags and nothing else’. That sense of determination clicked with investors, but also tying in the traction and a word that keeps coming back in our conversation ‘momentum’.
‘We explained the story of all the achievements we had made until then, which in hindsight was extraordinary fast. We signed several partnership agreement, persuaded the chef to join us from Italy. So investors when they saw this, could see that something was moving fast, something was happening.’
Switching to being an entrepreneur, seemed a natural next step for Julian after his job in M&A, working in emerging markets, he learned where there were exciting opportunities. In the city he had honed the skills necessary to evaluate quickly whether there was a business opportunity.
Julian was finishing a part time degree at London Business School ‘One of my classmates approached me and said why don’t we set up a company? I think China would be a great place to start a business. And I thought if I’m working 18 hours a day, I might as well do it for myself!’
As Julian’s gelato business gained traction in the Chinese market, opportunities to exit began to appear. ‘‘I had a prior opportunity to exit, but we didn’t take it, I thought this is working, let’s just continue what we’re doing and focus. But at some stage life happens. You just need to decide whether to move on.’
Julian then thinks logically about how you determine when is the right time for a founder to move to on from his business. Splitting entrepreneurs between those who have the skills and desires to start a business, and those suited to growing it.
‘For the founders you need to decide what kind of founder you are – are you more interested in the startup craze at the beginning, or are you a later stage managerial founder who can get the processes right?’
In fact Julian has seen later stage VCs frequently appoint new CEOs, bringing new people to the board and key hires into the company, ensuring that they have the right skillset to grow the company. In Julian ’s words: ‘At one stage you have to think could someone else do better. One of the challenges for founders is acknowledging there’s a limitation of what they can do.
And all these considerations came to mind when I decided it was right for me to leave the company and exit.’
In terms of getting your company so that it’s in a position to exit, researching who are the potential buyers early on pays dividends . ‘Something that I was keen to do early on was two way partnerships with people who could potentially be acquirers.’
How do you ensure that you get the deal you want? ‘Just remember – at the end of the day, don’t be afraid to negotiate, everything is negotiable!’
Julian is sanguine about his success on selling his business, he describes the emotions he endured as ‘part of me sadness and part of me relief I had gone through the process, and other parts of me were thinking about what to do next. I have seen some very sad people who have exited with plenty of cash, they are just struggling afterwards’.
Now an Investor, Julian is often shocked by how bullish founders are before remembering that he too was like that. He feels that he can quickly get a sense of if there is a fit – he looks at spaces where there are potential and where his skills can add value, and when talking to founders quickly gets a sense as to whether the team can execute.
His parting advice for founders ‘if someone offers you money, take it!’ he says, before laughing.
Keen to hear more?
If you would like to see what other companies are up to on Angel Investment Network, or are interested in raising funding yourself, you can find your local network here.
Saima Duhare is the founder of Halal Fresh, the UK’s first halal non subscription meal kit service predominantly catering for the Muslim community.
What does your company do?
Halal Fresh is a meal kit service providing freshly preportioned ingredients, with an easy to follow recipe card to cook great tasting meals. Making dinner times stress free and enabling our customers to be adventurous in the kitchen, as well as supporting their healthy lifestyles.
Why did you set up this company?
My vision was to bring back the joy of cooking by offering every Muslim household the opportunity to cook homemade fresh meals from around the world, making dinner tables exciting to sit at.
I grew up in a household where food was the catalyst of bringing people together, my Grandma, Mum and Aunty are amazing cooks and would cook foods from around the world and we would always have family and friends over. I felt we were losing the importance of having a home cooked meal which gives an opportunity to spend quality time with family and friends over a great meal.
Given the rise of fast food and the ease of it, coupled with the busy lives we lead, I felt this aspect of our life was slowly disintegrating. So Halal Fresh was born to make people’s life easier and offer varied, healthy delicious meals they cook from scratch at home, in addition to being mindful of our carbon footprint since everything is proportioned so there is no food waste and all of our packaging is recyclable
How did you get your first customer?
We had no budget for marketing and when we launched we pretty much prayed we get customers, lucky for us people were googling for a halal meal kit service, thus, my first customer was a Dr who kindly posted our service on Instagram, result of that we approached various influencers from different professions, and and from that we organically built and grew ourselves this is going back in April 2019 and still we haven’t spent any money on marketing apart from a offering a recipe box in exchange for a shout out, plus our lovely customers a promote us
We knew we were onto something when?
We were approached by a journalist from the Independent and at the time we had no clue which publication she was from until I delivered the box and we were included as being one of the best recipe boxes in July 2020.
Our business model:
We are an online non subscription business model, which people enjoy because they can use the service without feeling tied in, and that works for us and them.
We’re currently only serving the London region, however, we are looking to expand nationally. We are growing slowly but surely and organically. And the interest we receive daily in bringing it to other parts of the UK is promising and exciting. We are learning as we develop, progressing and improving our offering and service.
Our most effective marketing channel has been:
Instagram and word of mouth from our customers and being in several reputable british and British Asian papers has helped us and put us on the map as a 5* Halal Recipe Box.
What we look for when recruiting:
We are a very small team, and the team we have are very passionate about food and the industry. We look for people who are creative and open to learn as much as we are, and contribute to what we are trying to achieve, to make people’s lives easier, and can work on their own initiative.
My graphic designer for instance has had very little experience but her work excited me. I tend to go with my gut feeling, of course they need to have the skill but not necessarily the experience.
The biggest mistake that I’ve made is:
Having no experience in opening a business I have made lots of mistakes, but one of them for instance, when we had our soft launch I spent £6,000 to test the model on 40 people, in hindsight I could have tested the model on 20 people and tested it for much less.
I created the MVP as if though it were a fledgling business, with 9 recipes, 2 chefs, all the packaging and pre portioned ingredients from suppliers, which I could have easily pre portioned myself and less recipes and 1 chef.
We think that there’s growth in this sector because:
The halal sector is booming – in 2019 it was valued at £31bn, considering there are only 4.1 million Muslims in the UK, that staggering. It’s very exciting times for the food industry despite the current climate. We are becoming more mindful about what we put into our bodies and becoming conscious consumers.
Is there anything your business is doing to help in your community or with the wider crisis?
We are heavily involved with our local food bank which was set up by a friend of mine, and have volunteered, distributed food as well donated food. This is something we are also passionate about, which is giving back and helping those that are vulnerable in our community, so much so we are working on embedding this into our business model.
Keen to hear more?
If you would like to see what other companies are up to on Angel Investment Network, or are interested in raising funding yourself, you can find your local network here.
Angel Investment Network (AIN) has revealed its latest ‘State of the Angel Investment Nation’ findings. It is based on the data of more than 125,000 UK registered businesses looking for funding and 35,000 UK investors over the course of 2020.
Technology remained the top category of interest for angel investors looking to back businesses in 2020. Meanwhile, finance closed the gap, climbing five places to become the second most popular category for searches. In the year of the pandemic, medical & science climbed two places with a surge in investors backing entrepreneurs focused on improving health outcomes. We also witnessed a huge growth in interest in agriculture which saw a rise of 63% in searches and climbed seven places to become the eighth most searched term.
For entrepreneurs, property is the most popular sector for pitch ideas. Entertainment and leisure is the second, followed by fashion and beauty. This highlights something of a mismatch between the sectors in need of funding and the sectors investors are interested in backing.
AIN has also revealed the UK’s top entrepreneurial hot spots. London’s share of all pitch ideas has fallen slightly, although it remains responsible for 36% of all pitch ideas. The South East is second in the list with the North West number three. Growth in both Wales and Scotland outperformed the rest of the UK seeing a rise in the number of pitches as the startup culture continues to flourish across the UK.
According to AIN co-founder Mike Lebus: “It has been an extraordinary year with so many lives and businesses impacted by the virus. However in the face of unprecedented challenges, we have witnessed the resilience and adaptability of UK startups working to bring solutions to the problems of our time. From innovations in finance, technology bringing people together during social distancing to the wonders of medicine and science. It’s no surprise these are the businesses gaining interest and investment from our investors.”
“We are also seeing the nascent development of ag-tech and brilliant technological solutions tackling the very real challenges we face of feeding the population and maximising efficiencies and yields. The challenges of climate change are undimmed and this is a sector that is at the forefront of that battle.”
He continued: “While London has been dominant in the past we are now seeing the comparative growth of other nations and regions in the UK as our embedded startup culture takes further root. We can look forward to a continuing resurgence across the country as we emerge from this difficult period.”
“COVID has pulled the transition to digital learning forward by at least 5 years.” These were the words of David Sherwood, CEO and co-founder of EdTech startup BibliU, commenting on the remarkable development of the sector. With a series of lockdowns over the past year, there has been huge demand for technology to solve the challenge of learning shifting from the classroom to the home setting. AIN’s Sam Louis takes a closer look at the EdTech sector and why it is getting top marks from investors.
Size of Ed Tech market: The global education technology market size is anticipated to reach USD 285.2 billion by 2027 (Source: Grand View Research, Inc. Technology)
Number of companies: 3,250 companies globally according to Crunchbase
On the platform: Education and Training is the 17th most popular category for angel investors
Description EdTech (a combination of “education” and “technology”) refers to hardware and software designed to enhance teacher-led learning in classrooms and improve students’ education outcomes. It also incorporates the wider sphere of adult education and learning.
WHAT ARE THE REASONS FOR ITS RISE TO PROMINENCE IN THE PAST YEAR?
Necessity There’s been no shortage of great EdTech companies over the years, but lockdowns and social distancing have changed the game. It’s forced the hand of consumers because the usual in-person learning option was no longer available. Necessity is often the mother of change as well as invention.
The reason it’s taken a global pandemic to speed up adoption is that most consumers weren’t prepared to go through the hassle and the teething problems of full implementation. This is especially true of academic institutions and businesses and they aren’t unfounded concerns. It takes real time, energy and capital to bring step changes in how you deliver or receive education, and getting it wrong can have a very real cost. Until the potential benefits significantly outperform the current system (and it does have to be significantly for most consumers), the change is a genuine risk.
A new climate for innovation What this period has done is moved the market five years into the future in a matter of months. In time, EdTech offerings would have improved to the point that they did provide significant improvements for consumers and major adoption would have occurred. Instead the existing system has been hamstrung to the extent that the tipping point was reached early. I think this will be to the benefit of the education system long term. When in-person education returns, the best educators will be able to take the most valuable parts of the old and blend it with the new, and hopefully retain a more open view on future innovations to improve further.
WHAT CHALLENGES HAs EDTECH NEEDED TO HAVE OVERCOME?
For Individual learners The challenge with individual learners is user experience, course completion and efficacy. People either struggle to engage with the tool, they struggle to stay motivated, or they don’t see the results they want. In all cases, they drop off. People are very used to traditional learning so it’s been a big point to overcome.
For B2B products For B2B products there needs to be a strong enough case for change that the business commits to the risk. Beyond that, all of the points about individuals also apply.
For Academic institutions Lastly you have academic institutions. These have all of the hurdles of the other two, and then the added complication of being influenced by broader regulation or controls, such as the school board or government. Many EdTech ventures manage to capture a large number of individual teachers but never get the official adoption at school or national curriculum level. This is where budget allocation and curriculum is dictated and without that it is hard to secure wider market share. Not dissimilarly to the medical space, this is both a blessing and a curse. It makes the education sector a tough one to crack, but for those who do and are given the green light, the growth curve from there is very exciting.
Investors have been aware of all of these issues and that’s led to less investment. You can have the best concept in the world but the influence of top down decision making across the market creates a variable that’s very hard to predict or control for. As a result, despite many EdTech businesses more than holding their own in idea, innovation, team and execution, the investment has been far more restrained than other sectors.
The pandemic has arguably been a Black Swan event in that regard. Institutions have realised the need to adapt and change which has forced educators to engage with these new opportunities. This change in consumer sentiment has been recognised by the investors, which in turn has given them the confidence that startups can find a significant and willing market.
What types of companies are we seeing developing solutions in the EdTech sector?
a) Those digitally enabling existing learning This has probably been where we’ve seen the biggest change to demand – companies providing technology to enable learning that was already taking place. This has understandably been pandemic-driven growth, with the market responding to a particular crisis, but it’s also one of the areas with the least need to stimulate new consumer behaviours. This gives it a strong chance of adoption and investors know that, shown by the capital deployed this year. For example, BibilU, who digitise print text books and provide them seamlessly across all your devices, had to do an extension to their funding round due to the incredible demand for their product. People were already at universities, the courses and textbooks were already set, you are just changing one component. They’re enabling an action people are already doing in an easier, cheaper and more effective way. You can see why the pitch resonates.
b) Adult education
There has also been an on-going rise to prominence in digital solutions for adult learning. The pace of change in the world and evolution of job roles has created a need for lifelong learning. Time pressed adult learners are now able to get the same learning, sometimes even better learning, than available to them in traditional face to face institutions. This ranges from post-graduate degrees to language learning to brain training, with a new generation of smart apps able to offer them a tailored pathway.
People like DuoLingo have shown the heights possible with self motivated learners, while Coursera has done the same in the B2B market. Student motivation is still a concern, with course completion rates often low, but in comparison to younger learners, many adults actively engage with the digital structure and find that it opens up a world of opportunity.
c) Tech to boost efficiency With increased reporting and accountability, many educators are struggling with the added workload that comes on top of teaching time.There is a lot of work being done on technology to enable teachers to streamline their tasks and work more efficiently, giving them back the time to really focus on the important part, the students. Pango for example is a tool for planning lessons, sharing resources and managing curriculum. Whole schools can share and collaborate on lesson plans, keeping consistency while allowing teachers to design and plan lessons in a fraction of the time.
The past year has highlighted the difficulties and stress teachers come under and this area is likely to grow strongly. As institutions and governing bodies welcome more digitisation, we will likely see the strongest supporting tools gain significant market share as the industry encourages consistency across teachers.
d) AI and personalised learning systems: The most exciting and arguably the most controversial is AI and personalised learning. Companies like Atom Learning have developed high-quality, teacher-made content with sophisticated AI driven technology to keep students on individual, optimal learning paths. This can have a transformative impact on pupils’ progression and can arguably help to reduce educational inequalities.
New methods of learning enabled by AI and machine learning have come up against some entrenched thinking in the education system, as it requires teachers to learn new systems. Another challenge in encouraging take up is that some of the gains can be incremental. This has meant it has been difficult to get wholesale buy in, particularly given the initial disruption and new learning required. However attitudes are changing, driven by a new generation of tech native teachers
what are investors saying about this category?
A lot more than they were before, and a lot of it is positive.EdTech has a strong altruistic component for passion-driven angel investors. Investors see it as a worthy place to be investing money. They are improving peoples’ ability to learn and better themselves, which has always held currency but more so now than ever.
A lot of proponents are enjoying that this is a sector being given the opportunity to show what it can do. Many investors hadn’t considered education seriously before but it has come onto their radar due to the increased receptivity from the market. Many institutional investors now have EdTech proudly on their masthead of sectors they invest in, which was previously rare outside of very focused, and often government supported, funds. In this regard EdTech has arguably joined FinTech in capturing its own zeitgeist.
The speed of change in attitudes and investment sentiment shows the extent to which EdTech has been pent up by a challenging growth environment. The innovation has continually evolved as with other sectors but the hurdles in place, and investors’ awareness of them, has held the industry back. Now that the consumer market’s attitudes are changing, there’s no shortage of innovative ventures ready to take on both the investment, and the opportunity.
Hopefully this combination of attention, investment and market willingness will create a positive cycle of attracting the strongest talent to the sector and in turn drive yet more progress.
What are the fundamentals you look for in an ed tech business?
Traction – Unlike nascent markets, EdTech firms can build significant traction and product-market fit at an early stage, even when bootstrapped. We like to see strong uptake and engagement, that they’ve really tested the product or service with consumers and that the feedback has been encouraging. Not just they like the product, but that it delivers real value.
We’ve seen so many fantastic ideas but this shows when someone has really found something that has an impact for educators.
Core or ancillary – An important consideration is are they doing something core or ancillary? Is it enabling the student’s core interaction with either a teacher or the subject material. The demand is still very much ‘core’. As the market evolves though, we expect the supporting technology, efficiency products for example, to really start to gain momentum and attention.
Passion of the founding team – The passion, insight and drive of the founding team are key factors determining success in this industry. Despite new consumer willingness, there are still entrenched hurdles to overcome on the growth path within the sector. In B2B enterprise software, just having the best product might be enough to win a significant share of the market, but in education there is a trickier path to navigate and the leadership team is often the determining factor here.
WHAT IS THE UNICORN POTENTIAL VERSUS OTHER SECTORS?
CB Insights expects 2 of the next 50 unicorns to be in the EdTech sector. To build a unicorn you need a large, willing market that’s growing fast, and this is certainly the environment evolving where education meets technology.
With vast numbers of people in education of one form or another, there’s the potential to become a unicorn while staying within just one country’s market. This isn’t the case for every sector and so when you then consider the global opportunity, things get really exciting. Many of these technologies have both real scalability and the market opportunity for significant size, so we may see EdTech start to make up more than just 4% of the new unicorns as time goes on.
BibliU is a digital education platform that provides students with digital access to their textbooks and libraries across all their devices.
Founded in 2014, the company now has over 100 university customers including Oxford, Imperial, University of Phoenix and Coventry University. The company has digitised content from more than 2,000 publishers including: Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Oxford University Press. The content is licensed directly to universities, who can then provide access to students and include the costs in their existing tuition fees. BibliU raised £600,000 on the AIN platform last year, this was an addition to its £6.5m Series A. The company saw a surge in demand due to COVID 19. Completed in eight weeks, the funds will be used for new technical hires to support demand from Universities. The startup is scaling rapidly with 60+ new pilots across the globe.
CoGrammar is an edtech startup that is dedicated to closing the global tech skills gap. The company achieves this by integrating human mentorship and code review into the world’s leading tech education brands. The company integrates quality and affordable review of developers and aspiring coders using the top 0.6% of African tech talent. It has been backed by Facebook, Google, Python and the University of Cambridge.
PSYT Technologies are specialists in wellbeing and technology. The startup turns the advice of the world’s leading self-development authors into digital, action-based summaries to help individuals create real change. They work with leading academics at the forefront of research, providing innovative technology that allows them to use state-of-the-art research designs to capture data. The team is backed by advisors from Headspace, Masterclass and Audible.
We first met Rav Roberts, CEO of Pharma Sentinel, at one of the virtual events that we hosted. He recently successfully closed his investment round, and we are pleased to hear the learnings he has to share:
Tell us about Pharma Sentinel:
Pharmasentinel.com is a UK Consumer & Business healthtech helping each person to lead a safer life, by leveraging AI to provide trusted, timely & personalised medicines and medical conditions news, alerts and medicines data intelligence.
PharmaSentinel launched its consumer app ‘medsii’ (Medicines information for Me) in October 2020 on the App Store & Playstore and already has over 15,000 app downloads in 150 countries.
Medsii provides information on side effects, drug safety alerts & recalls, and clinical trial opportunities for participation, in an engaging, patient-centric Twitter-style interface.
Why did you decide to raise investment?
1) To accelerate our launch into the USA, our key market.
2) To accelerate the launch of our Business SaaS data product.
What is your top tip for anyone raising investment for the first time?
It took us months of pitching to get our first investor, then bit by bit, the floodgates opened.
Secondly, use Twitter to link with very experienced USA VCs, e.g. Brad Feld, Jason Calacanis, Elizabeth Yin, who will give you tons of *free* advice AND *free* training on pitching, negotiating with VCs etc.).
What attracted investors to your company?
1) Very experienced founding team (we all met in Business School 16 years ago).
2) Healthtech very topical, even before Covid-19, with more people living longer & taking personal responsibility to manage their health to live quality lifestyles.
3) Great business model, with globally scalable consumer & business products.
My biggest fundraising mistake was…
Initially not being succinct during pitches. (Second mistake was not using an ethernet cable to pitch).
Why did you choose to use Angel Investment Network?
I got a couple of tips from friends, then tried it and, (to my surprise), angel investors started to contact me and actually invest!