Ulyana Shtybel (HighCastle Investments): We provide an all-in-one solution for private companies to raise capital, close a deal, and manage communication with shareholders.
25 Mar, 2021
Guillaume Kloof is Founder of CreateStartupshere accelerator. He helps startups with their product/problem fit and with their product/market fit. Especially when it comes to launching or rolling out a new product/service, Guillaume can guide your startup through the lean methodology, to improve your chances of success. With experience as CTO, the emphasis is on product development and overall business development.
I actually started out on an entrepreneurial side, as a web developer. I’m mostly functioning as an accelerator, working and collaborating with entrepreneurs and helping them get funded. That journey started in 2018 when one of the companies where I was CPO needed funding and we went through all of the steps of arranging this finding. It was an incredible journey, I’ve learned a lot about the whole VC world. Fast forward to 2020, I set up my own accelerator program, and now I collaborate with VCs on a regular basis.
I never classified them as unusual, but it is always nice to see something completely different and innovative. One of the most innovative ones I’ve seen this year is a VR startup that was able to decrease the amount of time for a user to create an avatar before entering VR. Hardware-wise, I came across the hardware/software startup in the Netherlands mapping out real estate, which is pretty cool, especially because the founder gave me a demo. Those 2 startups brought actual experience, that added to the impression.
I collaborate with other startup organizations, like InnMind, which is very active in Europe, Impulse 4 Women, and many others. These organizations help startups grow and be funded. Talking about general inquiry, most of those happen through LinkedIn and through our own, Valley Date Venture Partners’ website.
When it comes to selecting early-stage startups, there are 2 things we look at – fine-tuning the whole process, the idea itself, and putting together a business model. When it comes to the businesses that are a bit more mature, that already have been or are working on a prototype, I typically look if they have a product-market fit. Another important thing is that I only work with tech startups and really rarely with hardware, and I would always prefer B2B model; I may consider B2C startups if they already have a product-market fit. It’s a bit more difficult to break into B2C sector, and I try to make my life simpler a little bit. Of course, if I see real potential, I will support B2C business as well, because it’s a business, it has its risks, and you need to be ready to take those risks when you see the potential. As for location, right now I’m mostly working with European startups, but recently we officially expanded to Southeast Asia.
Back in 2016 I was a VP of international operations in a company named PIEdata and really focused on those regions. But what we see is that we need a lot more capital to truly bring those startups around. So right now our strategy is to get the European and Asian branches going as smoothly as possible, and then we can expand into the Caribbean and Latin American regions to be able to facilitate the movement there. Because although check sizes are significantly smaller, it does require a lot of startup cost and you definitely need somebody local to be able to coordinate the businesses. You cannot do it remotely.
On our side, we typically have weekly or biweekly brainstorming sessions with them – it depends on what stage they are and what problems they have. mostly we talk about where are they now in where can we take them. Once we established that, we can set up some clear performance indicators and guidelines. That’s where 2-weeks sessions come into play, because we have these sessions based on the KPIs, using which we are going towards our goals. In most cases, it’s a 3 months engagement, and after the first month we can see how profitable they can become are they ready to get funding.
Usually, it’s case by case with maximum would be 10% and the minimum is always 2%.
Discussing equity, I always try to look at the full picture. If it’s a company at the very beginning, I try to be a bit more conscious, because they will need every bit of the equity in the long term when other investors and new team members come into play. So I start looking at what do they actually have and what do they need right now rather than on validation. Then I’m trying to see how much I’ll be able to add. Otherwise, I may ask for 10% equity, but my contribution isn’t worth that 10%. When it comes to more mature companies, I know that’s the level of equity might be a bit lower, but I might be able to help them grow their revenue by 20%. In return, I’d like to see this amount of equity, which may be higher than in the first case.
First of all, I’m looking for the drive and passion from a founding team, because when it comes to entrepreneurship you can be a genius, but your attitude may prohibit you from growth. I know one guy who is extremely smart, but his main focus on short-term gains and not on the long work, that’s why his wins are also short-term. I don’t like when a team is ready to give out equity left and right because it’s also a short-term solution. You’ll need that equity when you’re negotiating with investors. I always look out at their mindset and why are they even considering being entrepreneurs, if there’s a strong “why?” they will recover from whatever problem comes in their way. If their mindset is poor, one or two problems can make them give up – they can’t really cope with it.
Yes, but I always try to encourage them to get other people involved with a project. If you can get a team from scratch, that means that your startup has potential – it’s not necessarily validated but it has potential. And if you can get commitment from people that also share your vision, that gives more validity to the startup itself. Also, the team makes your life a lot easier.
I actually wouldn’t mind Steve Jobs, although he might have been a little bit of a jerk every now and then. But he was a jerk if you promise but don’t deliver or if you don’t share his vision. He was always conscious enough, open-minded enough for feedback that adds value to the vision, that’s a very important quality.
My primary red flag, again, is a poor attitude. Another red flag is being not open to learning. When it comes to entrepreneurship, you can have all the numbers, all of the information, but if your attitude or mindset is bad, you’re still not going anywhere.
Yes, I have rejected a few startups, but I never truly regretted it, because every setback is a setup for a comeback. I always saw those moments as reasons to be a bit sharper in the future rather than regretful decisions.
I like the Sporting verticals, I really love that industry. But it is a very very very sensitive industry. I’m helping one startup, Ludemas, here in the Netherlands. It’s a very tricky industry to be in and your timing needs to be perfect. So, I love it, but it’s a tricky one.
A little. More in the sense that right now I’m looking more at how to work more efficiently. Before COVID you had to meet people in person, sometimes it meant more time traveling than meeting people. Now I may have 10 Zoom calls a day – and I need to be able to do some actual things. Second thing: when it comes to due diligence, I’m still trying to figure out the tools to use to make this process efficient.
My glass is half full. When COVID hit, I was trying to assess how to act within the restrictions. For certain industries, COVID was a huge threat, while for others it was a major opportunity. For me, it was an opportunity because I’ve been getting in touch with a whole plethora of people that I probably would not ever get in touch with otherwise. It is a matter of how creative the pivot was, actually.
I would definitely say Facebook is generational in the sense that it is still relevant today and it made a major impact. Google is another one that goes from the search engine to a whole lot more. And I divide the third spot between Apple and anything that Elon Musk does.
I wouldn’t say it is a failure, but every startup had its setbacks and dark times. Some of them failed, but others survived because they were creative enough to get back on track. Airbnb had, like, 3 different approaches to its concept and they even used breakfast cereal boxes to fund their business. Another story is Slack – it was made as a messenger for another project, for the online game Glitch, which, actually, failed. One of the investors decided to stay with the company – and, at the end of a day, he won. And I cannot name the biggest failures, I just can name some companies that were failures, but they are big, huge companies now.
To be a good VC you need to be able to do several things. Number one: Get a good lead on startups. Number two: Know the industry you’re getting into. If you don’t know the industry, at least in its basics, don’t even think about getting into investing there. Number three is optional, but it helps: You need to have your own criteria of a startup’s success, know some core numbers to measure its performance.
I would label that as Checkers: it’s complicated but not the highest level. Basically, a VC is somebody who invests other people’s money. There is a lot of work done, especially during the due diligence, but most of that may be done by external parties.
I am very consent, but I definitely know that this is not my final stop. This is the process of building towards the ultimate goal of becoming more than just an investor or startup builder. I was raised in Suriname, and my ultimate goal is to build up that region. Everything I’m doing right now is setting up the framework to be able to also impact that region. It’s working progress all the time.
First: Know your work. At the same time try to balance and still be open for feedback. Second: Try to humble yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help and accept it when it is given. Third: Stay hungry, stay ambitious, keep that creativity and that curiosity – and you’ll always be able to learn and always be able to recover from any setback that you have.