Making It with Julian Seydoux

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.

#SixtySecondStartup with Halal Fresh

Saima Duhare is the founder of Halal Fresh, the UK’s first halal non subscription meal kit service predominantly catering for the Muslim community.

  1. 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.  

  1. 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 

  1. 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

  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.

  1. 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.  

  1. 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.
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

Behind The Raise with Pharma Sentinel

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? 

2 reasons

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? 

Persist

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!

Sixty Second Startups – FastWater Dispenser

We caught up with Wayne Edward Clarke, Founder of Fast Water Dispensers, who explains how he is revolutionising water dispensers in the Philippines.

What does your company do?

We manufacture a revolutionary new kind of water dispenser for refillable blue 5 gallon water bottles.

Fast Water Dispensers Product Demo

Why did you set up this company?


I come from Calgary, Canada, where the tap water is top quality drinking water. When I moved to the Philippines I wasn’t used to using refillable water bottles for drinking water, as everyone does here. The long amount of time it took to draw a coffeepot full of water from a standard water dispenser to make coffee every morning became more frustrating until it was intolerable.

I searched the stores and online retailers for a faster water dispenser, and found that there were none available.

It took a few days of research, design, and fabrication to produce the item that I now consider to be my proof-of-concept prototype, and I used it successfully for months. I realized that there must be millions of other people who are as frustrated with their water dispensers as I had been, and I recognized that this was an opportunity that was too good to let slip away.

The key to our success will be:


-A product design that’s a disruptive improvement over all the existing competitors
-A tough, quality, environmentally friendly product that should last a lifetime for a price that’s competitive with cheap plastic Chinese dispensers
-The very low cost of labor in the Philippines
-0% taxes for 6 years and zero import/export fees in the Philippines Special Economic Zones
-Utilizing the training techniques of elite athletic teams to achieve world-class employee performance -A manufacturing process that achieves an unbeatable investment-to-production ratio by utilizing very ingenious jigs and simple machines but no complex or expensive machines.

Our most effective marketing channel will be:

-Online retail sites such as Amazon, Lazada, Alibaba Express, etc.

What we look for when recruiting:

Bright, adaptable, fast learners. This applies to our office workers and to our factory workers, who will also need good hand and tool skills. At the pace we’ll be working we’ll need to rotate the assembly line teams from station to station fairly often to avoid repetitive motion injuries and employee burnout and to keep morale high, so they’ll each have to learn every task in the factory.

Once we reach sales of about 2 million FastWater Dispensers per year in it will be worth transitioning to a completely automated robotic assembly line. We’ll then use our highly trained and integrated manual manufacturing teams to build and operate the assembly line for our next ingenious product design, of which I have many, and the entire cycle should repeat about every three years.

The biggest mistake that I’ve made is:

Not researching Alibaba and the Chinese suppliers represented there sufficiently before researching my costs for equipment and materials. I’d prefer to buy from local Philippines suppliers, but there’s only a few of them and they’re hard to find and communicate with compared to the crowds of companies on Alibaba. The Chinese companies can be challenging to communicate with because of language and cultural issues, and I wish I’d learned more about that before I started. Having dealt with many of them to cost out my business plans, it’ll be a lot easier when I start purchasing.

We worked with AIN because:

AIN seemed like the method of raising financing that was most likely to get results. There seems to be a lot of fundraising services that specialize in online and high-tech businesses, and a few who cater to emerging market businesses like the guy who wants to upgrade his small pineapple farm, while AIN represents a much broader spectrum of what I think of as ‘normal businesses’, like mine.

How has coronavirus impacted your business and your fundraising plans?

-In-person networking has gone from being the most important part of any fundraising strategy to being almost impossible. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to reach our fundraising goals without it, but we’re giving it our best shot!

How are you coping with lockdown, and what is your strategy for it?

I’m doing pretty well, thanks. I already worked online from home, so my life hasn’t changed much. It would be very hard if I were single, but luckily I have a fulfilling relationship so we can keep each other company. I’m a mask and face shield guy, I take every precaution, because I’m 57 so I’m in a moderately high-risk group, and I’m not taking any chances.

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.

Digesting 2020

In many ways there were two sides to 2020. On the one-side, there has been a monumental personal loss to so many families, we’ve all been taking the strain mentally due to our daily lives being uprooted, even if we have yet to admit it to ourselves, and many good businesses have been torn apart by COVID. 

But though searching for positives might seem futile, there have been some, and they are noteworthy.

Change = business opportunity

When people have a problem that needs solving, that is often when there is an opportunity for a new business to emerge. 

When life is stable, people incur major problems relatively infrequently; most people’s problems have been solved, and there are less opportunities for businesses to be created.

When COVID happened, simultaneously putting the population at risk, disrupting the supply chain and dampening demand for many products and services, suddenly there were a lot of problems that needed solving.

For prospective entrepreneurs this is actually a good thing – people needed to:

  1. Keep safe whilst out and about during Covid
  2. Communicate effectively with their team whilst WFH
  3. Make childcare work when nurseries and schools were closed.

These new problems and others are creating opportunities for the businesses of tomorrow to emerge. 

Talent 

This might sounds counterintuitive, but in the good times it’s hard to create a great business. Why? A lot of the top talent gets sucked into corporates, and consumers are less inclined to change their behaviour, because, well, they don’t need to. 

Economic shocks mix things up – Thomas Vosper was made redundant at the beginning of the COVID crisis, he’s recently completed an investment round for an innovative new retail concept that he since started – you can read about it in his recent blog

Efficiency

And whilst COVID undoubtedly has caused huge disruptions, some companies in some industries were quickly able to shift into the ‘new normal’. 

Working from home was something that was alway going to happen, probably in a decade or so. When COVID happened, almost everyone had to do it, straight away. 

But this had a few benefits that weren’t necessarily foreseen, people by way of being forced to do it – actually became good at using video calls. 

Meetings where people would have travelled across town and back, and set up 1 hour meeting to justify the time, suddenly became more efficient half hour Zoom calls. A huge time and efficiency saving. 

Investor Outlook 

When the pandemic first hit, there were signs that investors were being more cautious – some had taken hits on their portfolio and dropped back on the number of the investments that they made, and pushed harder on valuations.

However, investors have adjusted to the new normal, for each in person meeting they have given up, there are many more Zoom and virtual meeting that they are taking. 

Lockdown enforced many people to become savers, as there were so few opportunities to go out and spend money.  Investment activity has rapidly obtained new momentum.

The upshot is that we are fortunate to just had our record ever month at Angel Investment Network, and feel well placed and optimistic to enter 2021, despite the continued uncertainty. We’re mindful that it remains a challenging time for many.

Wishing you a happy festive season, even if it’s not what you hoped for, we hope that you at least get the quality downtime that you deserve. 

See you in 2021.

Agile Funding can help you raise fast

We are delighted to welcome back Adam Blair, CCO at SeedLegals, for his second guest blog as part of our legal mini-series for start ups:

When funding goes Agile

In our first article we discussed some of the different fundraising methods available to you as a founder, and the impact and benefits of the SEIS / EIS schemes. See How to close your funding round before the end of 2020 if you missed it or need a reminder…

This month we delve deeper into the world of agile fundraising and share some practical advice that can help you raise money for your business before the end of the year.

Making the most of the Christmas rush…

The run up to Christmas is always one of the busiest times of the year in terms of fundraising activity and investment. This can be a great time to look for investment, as many investors are looking to move quickly and close investments before heading off on their well earned break (even if this year that will be at home…).

With less than four weeks until Christmas, there’s not long left if you’re looking to raise investment this year. But all is not lost – agile fundraising enables you to raise investment quickly and flexibly in situations just like this.

What is agile fundraising?

Over the last couple of years at SeedLegals, we’ve observed that many early stage companies are moving away from go-big-or-go-bust funding rounds every 12 to 18 months in favour of agile fundraising where they raise small amounts frequently, taking investment opportunistically (e.g. when you meet someone who wants to invest) and as needed.

We now see the savviest founders use agile fundraising to grow their businesses faster, spend less time holding up the business while they look for investment, and give away less equity than founders relying solely on the traditional go-big-or-go-bust funding rounds.

The two main agile fundraising methods are SeedFAST (Advanced Subscription Agreement) and Instant Investment.

Advanced Subscription Agreement (ASA)

An Advanced Subscription Agreement is the UK equivalent of the SAFE (commonly used in the US) and is SEIS/EIS compatible – great news for you and investors.

An ASA allows investors to give you money now, in exchange for shares in your next funding round. Your ASA investors will receive their shares, generally at a discount compared to other investors in the round, because they invested early, when you close your next funding round. 

Instant Investment

Instant Investment allows founders to close an initial funding round like normal, and then top that up anytime, within limits agreed in the initial funding round.

This enables you to raise only what you need or are able to raise right now, and get back to growing your business. Then, as you find additional investors, you can quickly and easily add them, effectively topping up your last round. At SeedLegals, we regularly see founders close a funding round and continue raising using Instant Investment for 12-18 months before doing their next round.

You can read our comprehensive agile fundraising guide here

Is agile fundraising right for me?

There are a number of scenarios where you can use agile fundraising to your advantage, whether you are going out to investors for the first time or have raised multiple rounds of funding already.

Here are a few of the most common use cases we see at SeedLegals:

  1. You’ve found your first investor…

First investor on board – now to find the rest, right? Yes and no…

While one option is to keep your round open as you search for other investors, a better way could be to use ASA to get that money in ASAP, rather than keeping those investors (and their investments!) on hold while you line up all the other investors for your round.

With an ASA you get investment there and then, which can be used to invest in growth or extend your runway, and the investor generally receives a discount on the upcoming round in return.

The fact that one investor has already committed and transferred funds will also typically be viewed positively by other investors you’re speaking to.

  1. You can’t agree on / don’t want to commit to a valuation…

Is my valuation £500k? £1m? £3m? £5m? Agreeing a valuation for an early stage business can be a minefield. Luckily, we’ve written this article about how to think about valuing your startup…

Great! So you’re good to go… But there are still lots of cases where investors and founders simply can’t agree on a valuation or may strategically not want to agree a valuation at that time.

An ASA can help both parties here, giving you up to 6 months to finalise the valuation. As a founder, this not only gives you much needed cash, but also time to grow the valuation to a point where you and your investors are both happy.

  1. You’ve got your key investor(s) on board…

When fundraising, founders will often have certain investors they really want to get on board. Perhaps they’re writing the biggest cheque, have a great network, or are able to provide unique advice and insights.

You’ve landed your dream investor(s) and have a decent chunk of your target raise committed – now what? 

This is a great time to consider closing your round and continuing to raise using Instant Investment. Negotiations around valuation and key terms are likely to be finalised or close to finalised by now, meaning that other investors are likely to be signing up to the same terms. 

This approach means you receive funds and can put them to work immediately, whilst continuing to fill and complete your round.

  1. You’re just waiting on the last investor(s) to sign…

Everybody has signed, except one or two investors… One is going on holiday for two weeks and the other is dragging their feet. What do you do?

You could wait until they get back, but this just means more time thinking about fundraising vs. growing your business. Instead, you can let these investors know that you’re going to close the round without them, but (and very importantly) they will be able to invest at the same terms once they’re back, or ready to commit.

This approach can sometimes lead to investors suddenly being available to sign and transfer funds, meaning the round closes as initially planned. Either way the round closes sooner, without losing investors, a win/win.

Summary

If fundraising is dragging on, or you just want to move faster, agile fundraising could be just what you have been waiting for…

SeedLegals

Questions about agile fundraising, or fundraising in general? You can book a call with one of the SeedLegals experts, who will be happy to help.

What’s in-store for Google’s finest at the Xoogler Demo Day?

Jenny Collins brings her passion & experience for bringing together smart, impactful R&D teams, across Google – to optimize the European start-up eco-system, and in particular connect Xoogler (“ex-Googler”) entrepreneurs with angel & capital investment.

So what can we expect from the Xoogler Demo Day?

This is the annual opportunity for ex-Googlers who have founded their own start-up to connect with investors.

This year, we have 170+ investors lined up and we are selecting 15 of the most credible start-ups from around three times that many applications. We’ll help each of them to create a succinct & delicious elevator pitch, of 2 slides in 2 mins & 2 Q&As, to attract further discussion in the social element of the day.

I’ll be simply there to present the talent: we have keynote speakers, all the major capital & angel investors signed up and we are sponsored by Landscape, which seeks to reward great behaviours in the investment world and Remo.co as our platform.

But it’s not just about funding; it’s about creating an entrepreneurial community, in this locked-down world. It’s a space to connect like-minded people & expertise; to absorb advice, be inspired, to show off, and to express frustration; to laugh. 

Are there any common themes for the companies attending? 

Companies must have at least one former Google Employee as a founder, be committed enough to the goal to be working on it full time, to have raised initial seed at least from friends & family, right up to series A and be rallying further funds. Companies will need to have an initial MVP to showcase and be able to demonstrate customer traction. 

How does Google support Xoogler startups?

We have folks from inside & outside Google who help out; it’s entirely voluntarily – Xooglers tend to be self-reliant and like most things at Google, people help out because they are interested, not because they have to. We may look to syndicate further virtual demos to become more self reliant. 

How would you describe the characteristics of a Xoogler?

It’s a terrific blend of folks who are smart & humble enough to get through Google’s interviews, schooled in how to create globally scalable tech, and a desire & determination to now do things themselves.

What type of investors are you expecting?

We have everything from Googlers who are starting to fund early stage ex-colleagues, about 50 seasoned angel investors, right up to companies like Atomico, Sequoia, Seedcamp, etc. 

Have there been exciting successes from previous years?

It’s always fantastic when people you know do well, like Ex-Google Engineer Lewis Hemens, co-founder of dataform.co, who pitched in 2017, going on to complete Y Combinator & raise a seed round with a top European VC. The most recent exit is Irish based Pointy for $163m, and then (ironically) acquired by Google in Jan 2020.

How has Covid affected the demo day?

In response to Covid-19, XDD is now virtual, which has brought the future forward suddenly.

This makes it easier for more speculative investors to attend, but also means it’s even more requisite, because those coffee morning conversations and water cooler moments, in real life, are less frequent. Online community is increasingly important to promulgate this sector. 

Are there any practical takeaways for our entrepreneurs? 

Now is the time to get your startup sorted, to be ready to take UK/Europe out of lockdown Spring 2021. It will come quickly and there are plenty of gaps to fill that big corps are too busy scaling and often aren’t agile enough to notice.  

What was the biggest thing that you learnt personally whilst working at Google?

Always assume best intent.

Anything else?

If you are an investor interested in attending the event, or a suitable start up, you can apply here.

Founder Market Fit & what it means for early stage planning

In his second guest post for Angel Investment Network, Dan Simmons, CEO of Propelia, explains ‘How understanding the shift from Product Market Fit to Founder Market Fit in the pre-seed space can now help influence your early stage thinking and planning’:

Understanding The Shift 

There is a recognisable shift starting to happen in the early stage space. A shift that is important to be aware of and understand whether you are a founder or investor. A shift away from Product Market Fit and towards Founder Market Fit around and for pre-seed investment. This shift essentially means the way certain angel investors are starting to evaluate early stage founders is beginning to change. Change away from the traditional lenses that model and evaluate Product Market Fit towards a new phase where different tools, frameworks and assessment criteria are at play.

We can see this shift clearly by comparing and contrasting the two diagrams below:

We can see from the Product Market Fit diagram, that as you move forward, it essentially at each stage relies on and is informed by tools and lenses like OKRs, YOY, NPS, KPIs, CAC and CLV to chart founder progression and development. A progression that many founders when trying to structure and project the progress of their start up onto find very difficult to navigate. A difficulty that often then causes them to come up with and put forward assumptions and future projections that are essentially best guesses – just to align with Product Market Fit based questioning and be attractive to and try and close their potential investment.

However we can see that by shifting the focus towards Founder Market Fit, the nature of the early stage journey distinctly and meaningfully changes. 

Here we can see that different criteria are being used to assess value and progress of the founder, that utilise much more human language and exploratory values when compared to the tools and lenses of Product Market Fit. This is critical as to why this shift is increasingly attractive to and in the interest of early stage pre-seed founders.

Why This Shift Is Occurring Now?

For a long time the tools of Product Market Fit have been the only way to really evaluate an early stage founder and their future start up journey. This often creates an asymmetry and many ensuing systemic problems in the ongoing dynamics between founder and investor. Both parties when evaluating an early stage funding deal, are of course looking to gain comfort that the road ahead is valuable and worth pursuing together. The tools around Product Market Fit have been an attempt to create that comfort and generate that degree of future certainty.

A certainty that was always speculative at best. Ask any founder who has been asked over and over again to create and then endlessly tweak a 3 year spreadsheet of projections and you will be met with the frustrations and self-evident limitations of this methodology and approach in the pre-seed space.

However will market conditions now very much being set to ‘Uncertain’ post-COVID, it is clear that any founder predicting more than 6 months out is simply putting ‘their finger in the air’ and practising some sort of start up fortune telling with no real basis in the reality of events unfolding on the ground. For the first time, both investors and founders can agree that a change is needed to adapt to this underlying uncertainty – particularly around evaluating those first 6 months in the early stage space. This is all important in creating the conditions for the shift from Product Market Fit to Founder Market Fit.

Who Are Some Of The Key Stakeholders Helping Make This Shift Happen?

This shift is being fuelled by various key stakeholders in the early stage space that are sensing the market timing and opportunity to fuel and propel it forward. These range from early stage funds that are realising that updating towards Founder Market Fit is both valuable, viable and attractive as their pre-seed market positioning. Indeed by adopting this approach it could immediately make them more ‘founder friendly’ and differentiate them from their rival funding firms who are still focused on the tools of Product Market Fit and therefore lack this new perspective. Forward Partners and The Fund are good examples of this or early stage firms talking this language. 

However there are also additional stakeholders that are worth noting and exploring further. Here’s a few of them worth exploring.

 The legal parties that specialise in the early stage space. Companies like SeedLegals offering Agile Funding solutions that enable founders to take on smaller tranches of funding in a much more fluid and ongoing manner than if they were completing a larger round – see here:

The increasing awareness around Founder wellbeing and how applying the lens and pressure of Product Market Fit too early can have adverse effects on mental health. Many founders report the same symptoms and sleepless nights having to prove the projections they previously plucked from the ‘spreadsheet ether’ last quarter at their next investor meeting. See founder peer support groups like Foundrs who are there to ‘help one another break new ground without breaking ourselves’ and Courier’s excellent Founder wellbeing report.

In recent years this shift has been enabled by the application of R&D and Innovation Grants to the early stage space by forward thinking companies such as GrantTree and Data Fox. These companies have been able to reclaim capital spent and invested in innovative new products, services, processes, software or systems and are often willing to be engaged on a no-win, no-fee, no-risk basis. This has provided an alternative route to financing and capital in the early stage and is particularly well orientated to outputs of Founder Market Fit.

A final stakeholder that has emerged in recent years that helps value this shift differently are firms like Coller IP and Valuation Consulting who are managing to put the softer and intangible assets – like brand, business models, know-how and sweat equity – on the early stage balance  so that they can be factored into larger rounds. This starts to assign an actual value to the dynamics of Founder Market Fit that were previously considered to have a marginal worth at best when compared to the more tangible metrics and measures of Product Market Fit.

How This Shift Might Affect Early Stage Funding?

If you are currently engaged in an early stage funding round or indeed considering one, it might be useful to pause and think about the difference in approaches between Product Market Fit and Founder Market Fit. Whilst this shift is visible and happening it is still quite new, even to sophisticated investors who regularly fund founders and their pre-seed start ups. 

You should both as founders and investors feel like you have the permission from the outset to discuss and delineate which approach is being taken. They are both very different with different paths with different evaluative criteria and measured outcomes. Critically once you are down one path and everyone is aligned to that approach, it is notoriously hard to reverse out of. 

However factored in up front an awareness of the choice around this shift could help fuel a different type of initial conversation between founder and investor that helps from the outset frame and articulate future aims, expectations and values. It could even form part of an early whiteboarding or brainstorming session between founder (and their team) and potential investors.

Just by being aware of the shift and bringing it into the conversation is at the very least a sophisticated early basis for discussion.

How Do You Assess Where You Are On This Shift?

Finally a quick diagram to assess where you are at in relation to this shift. It is suggested that if you are in the pre-seed space then Founder Market Fit may well be the more suitable approach. This may also be the case if you are still in the Seed funding stage.

However it is likely that if you are in the Series A or above that you are further down the line in the territory and terrain of Product Market Fit and its evaluative tools and approach are still more suited to you.

The good news for everyone, is that by being aware of where you are in relationship to this shift, then all conversations and their related lenses, tools and frameworks, can start to hopefully become more ‘fit for purpose’ and ultimately as a result, more valuable for all parties and stakeholders involved.

Dan Simmons – Propelia Founder // dan@propelia.com 

Propelia is the UK accelerator navigating the use of Pilot Rounds in the pre-seed space in our post-COVID times. A Pilot Round is designed to rapidly connect early stage founders with aligned investors, to enable them to leverage SEIS capital to fuel, test and iterate uncertain market assumptions and prove Founder Market Fit over the next 6 months. Once completed, this enables them to then evaluate and ideally increase the value of  the greenlighting of a subsequent larger round to fund the further launch of their product and operations. All diagrams in this article remain the Copyright of Propelia Limited

Home a Future Tech Superstar

At Angel Investment Network we are continually forming partnerships so that we can help start up founders with fundraising and key issues they encounter.

One of the challenges that we see time and time again is the ability to recruit the right tech talent.

And that’s why we are excited to collaborate with Silicon Roundabout and the UK Government to train junior tech and startup enthusiasts between the age of 18-24 seeking to start a career in tech start ups.

As part of the programme, entry-level candidates, will be available to startups for 6 Month placements fully paid for by the UK Government.

This also covers the training for these candidates, which will be run by our partners at Silicon Roundabout. The project seeks to help tech companies by offering a diverse pool of junior staff, whilst helping these candidates gain work experience, particularly valuable given the current pandemic.

One of the aims is to increase diversity in tech and to serve as a gateway into the industry for young people from a broad range of backgrounds.

Startups in this programme will receive funding to hire candidates graduating from our training bootcamp, which are aimed specifically at tech startups.

Funding for successful Startup applicants will cover the entire cost of a placement for the duration of 6 months. To apply, please fill the following form: http://bit.ly/sr-placements

Closing date for applications: Sunday November 8th at 4pm GMT. Further details about the scheme are attached below:

  

Silicon Rhino Tech Start Up Placements

 ▪ A 6 weeks intensive bootcamp with Silicon Roundabout, before the start of the programme

   ▪ National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week (Companies can offer more hours and/or a higher wage, if they wish, at their own cost)

   ▪ National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions 

At the end of the placement, startups will have the opportunity but not the obligation to offer the candidate a job in their company

Qualifying companies will receive available candidates on a first-come-first basis. 

Please note that the candidates’ wages will need to be paid by the company as with any normal employee and that the funding to cover these will be paid out by the Government within 4-5 weeks.

Available fields that the programme will be training for and that startups can request:

– Digital Marketing for Tech Startups

– Sales and Business Development for Tech Startups

– Office Administration / PA

– Graphic Design, Branding and Video Production

– Blogging, Ad-Writing, SEO and Copywriting

– Entry Level programming (JavaScript/HTML/CSS)

7 software due diligence considerations

By Roger Planes, CEO Silicon Rhino

Investing in tech startups can be daunting, especially if you don’t have a tech background. Investing in new ideas, market opportunities and teams can be exciting, and should remain the most important deciding factors when considering an investment. Here are a few points to focus on from a software due diligence perspective.

Documentation

Documentation is hardly at the top of the priority list of many early stage companies. While the tech team may know all the ins and outs of the project by memory, it will be much harder to onboard new developers or take over the tech if the need arises.  Projects and quirks in the systems should be well documented.

At the very least, any startup should have a set of documentation to allow someone else to pick up the project if the key people became incapacitated.

Roadmap

Early stage startups usually fall into the trap of prioritising features due to customer feedback or potential deals in the pipeline. Ask for a 12 month roadmap to understand how the product will evolve going forward. 

Having a roadmap in place will serve as a general direction, but understand tech startups operate in an agile environment so feature prioritization may change to best achieve market fit.

Resourcing

The convention of a tech startup needs to have a tech team is being challenged. So long as there’s access to reliable resources to build the product, a product can easily go to market whether the team is in-house or not. What matters is how well the company is able to explain the relationship and access of the resource and how these resources are prioritised.


Leveraging third party systems

Early stage startups should focus in building and iterating the core of their product first and foremost. When resources are not widely available the team needs to prioritise what should be built by the company itself versus what third party tools can be integrated into the system. Payment processors like Stripe or Braintree are one the best examples for a product that takes payments but isn’t part of the core offering. Make sure the team is focused sharp in the product USP and integrate other tools to help speed up development.

Customer Data

Another advantage of using third party software is delegating the regulatory requirements and storage of sensitive customer data like credit card and payments. While you shouldn’t expect developers to be experts in data security, the team should be aware of the current laws, their obligations and have plans to improve security in the product roadmap if it’s not as robust as it could be.

Architecture

There are infinite ways to architect a technical product, and all of them have their pros and cons depending on budget, resources available and product availability. 

The most important pitfall to look for is the opportunity for a single point of failure. An example of this would be having your whole test stack plus storage in a single server or virtual machine. In case of failure or unavailability (it happens) this would mean the company and their customers wouldn’t access any data while the incident lasts. Distributing the technical stack between different services or microservices will lessen the risk in case of disaster.

Disaster Recovery

Technology can sometimes be unpredictable, so every tech team should have at least a disaster recovery plan in case there are problems with the hosting of the platform or some external services. Asking about backup location and periodicity, how long would it take to relaunch the tech stack in case of failure will give you an understanding about how much the team is thinking about disaster recovery.

This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list but should highlight the common areas you should have a high level view over for potential additions to your portfolio (and potentially reviewing these points on your existing investments). All these areas can be relatively easily overcome in the early stages of a company. If these questions throw up something unexpected that gives concern, please speak to a trusted advisor. 

Next Steps

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