Stephan Morais is the founder and Managing General Partner of Indico Capital Partners, a leading venture capital firm based in Portugal. Indico focuses on software as a service, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, fintech, cybersecurity, and digital companies, targeting investments at Pre-Seed to Series A level. The fund’s portfolio of companies has raised an excess of 550 million euros in the last 2 years.
Stephan was a guest speaker at Berytech’s Euro-Med Scale Up Innovation Day where he shared his experience and tips on scaling from a VC fund point of view. Here’s a roundup of the tips he shared during his talk titled: How to Scaleup Your Ideas from Local to Global.
When you don’t have a local market or if the local market is too small, it becomes a huge advantage to your startup because it forces you to think globally. From day one, it pushes you to think of how to be unique, which is really what is going to differentiate you on a global scale. For you to be that unicorn, you need to have a unique value proposition.
At Indico, we’ve seen 1700 deals in the last 2 years, and 95% of the pitches are eliminated on the first meeting because they lack that uniqueness. It is the unique way of solving a problem, that is addressed certainly by other competitors, even if they are old school competitors.
It’s the unique way you are approaching the problem and solving it, that is ten times better than anything else out there that will stand out when you are pitching to a VC. First, you define the problem and then you say: “This is how I’m solving it and this is how I am unique. And this is why I’m way better than anyone else out there.”
You are solving a problem. It’s a big problem for a few people, but is it a big problem for a lot of people?
Size matters and it matters because of the unit economics of the venture capital industry. We are normally very selective, out of 1700 companies, we invest in 17, so that’s a 1% acceptance rate. Despite that fact, we know we’re going to get it wrong because starting a company is inherently hard. What we need is that the few companies that succeed in the portfolio to become massive so we can compensate for the losses that we are going to have in all the other ones.
Given that we are going to have only a small percent of your company, we need your company to become huge so that our small percentage is still a big return for the fund.
At an early stage, there might not be a lot of traction yet for the solution, or the product is still an MVP, you have maybe a few pilots and you have maybe a few customers. At that stage, what investors want to understand is the team.
Are these people smart enough? Hardworking enough? Do they have the right background? Is there diversity in the team? Will they think of the difficulties and the problems from many different angles? Do they have the ambition, not only in terms of the hard work, but do they really want to reach the top of the mountain? And not any mountain. Do they really want to reach the top of Everest? It is difficult to try to find such a team, but when and if you do you sign up for success.
What you also need to demonstrate is a willingness to listen. VCs are normally quite interventive and in tune with the company. If they are good VCs, they will try to add value, so they need to have a team to work with, not a team to lecture but also not a team that doesn’t listen. It needs to be a teamwork through and through.
The startup journey is rocky and things might not go well all the time. Markets change. You think that the product is going to solve one thing then it ends up solving the other. You think that revenues will come quicker than they normally will or you find new avenues of growth so you need to be able to iterate.
Iterating means sometimes changing your customer, changing your business model quite often, changing your strategy, changing your pricing, and for sure enriching your team with more senior people and more diverse backgrounds.
This idea of iteration is key when you are on a path that hopefully will be a successful one, but there will be setbacks. Even the unicorns that we have backed in the past have had and continue to have several setbacks. It doesn’t stop there, real-life starts when companies do their IPO and then there are more setbacks and more iteration needed when you go into the public market.
We always say to our entrepreneurs, perfection is at times nice to have but not a must-have.
What you need is to execute fast, to iterate, to execute again, to try it out, to go with a sense of urgency. The sense of urgency you see in Silicon Valley, that’s what we need in our markets as well. You need to be ahead of the curve, but not way ahead of the market. Once you spot the opportunity and particularly, once you reconcile the product-market fit, you want to be fast in gaining traction and making sure that your product is at the top of the game.
You need to be able to deliver momentum because it is the momentum that will keep on helping you to raise capital and it is that capital that will keep you on the top of the game and at the top of the mountain.
Finally, you need the right attitude. You need stamina for sure, you also need to be positive. Imagine an entrepreneur who only sees the glass half empty. You need to be that person who sees the glass half full. There will be setbacks, competitors that will bring you down, you will be brought down multiple times by customers and multiple times by VCs and you have to keep on believing.
It is not a sprint, it is a marathon. It is never a couple of years, it is more towards a decade if things go well, and so attitude, being positive and bringing amazing people into your team is important for you to win this race, which is a long term race.
The Euro-Med Scale Up Innovation Day
The Euro-Med Scale-Up Innovation Day was organized by Berytech under the EU-funded THE NEXT SOCIETY initiative as the first virtual event for scaling-up Mediterranean startups through the COVID-19 challenges and consequences on startups, businesses and economies.
More than 1,000 people of the region’s most entrepreneurial minds signed up for the six-hour event that gathered more than 50 speakers and 40 exhibitors from more than 15 countries. The event included around 40 activities from power talks, success stories, discussion panels, growth workshops, virtual exhibitions, and live networking. The event saw more than 250 one-to-one meetings happening to solidify the exchange of knowledge and support and the forging of new partnerships. Read more about the event.