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Václav Gregor (Soulmates Ventures): If people are seeing things as negative, then it’s time to step back and think about why do they feel like things are bad. Because they never are

By Roman Bdaitsiiev

21 Dec, 2020

Václav Gregor is CEO & Partner at Soulmates Ventures
Václav Gregor is CEO & Partner at Soulmates Ventures

Václav has discovered that even though the amount of information and options available can be overwhelming these days, we are still much better off than we were 10 or 15 years ago. Today, despite his young age, Václav have skills and experience that people in the past had to wait decades to gain, due to the relatively restrictive structure of the traditional corporate world and its limited opportunities.

If he’d have to list the most important skill he’s gained, it would be that he get things done. As simple as this sounds, it is an invaluable asset for him when working in/with 8 or 9 figure companies and it has allowed him to skyrocket in his career, both as an executive and as an entrepreneur. This experience has given him a whole new outlook on life. He’s also been able to create a network of top business professionals and industry experts that he now relies on every day.

Václav is always in search of new business opportunities that he can invest his time and money in, usually focusing on small online businesses and tech startups. It doesn’t matter what industry it is, Václav and his team analyze the market, weigh-up the risks and possible returns and, if the projected outcome is beneficial for him, they invest in the project or found the company.

What he’s learned from being an entrepreneur and executive is that the key to having a successful enterprise is in creating more value than what you ask for in return (financially). This always results in win-win situations, better (and more) opportunities, more sales and lower refund rates.

How it all started? How did you decide to enter the venture investment business?

When I was seventeen I start making money online and discovering ways to build a business. I was just looking around and I got into the world of blogging. Back then we didn’t have Instagram and things like that. I started building blogs 11 years ago and that evolved into creating a big technological orienting center, where we had a team of 35 people and our customers were influencers in the US, who were doing coaching and self-help stuff.

I was lucky enough to build one of the biggest online platforms. That gave me a lot of experience on how to launch brands, products and what works when building companies, regardless if it was going through the challenges in my own company or seeing customers and helping them launch the business or the product.

I’ve got a lot of experience and a mindset on how to overcome challenges and how things should be done when doing so. I had a lot of fatal errors while launching startups on my own and losing a lot of money. I’ve done some coaching in the US accelerator with other startups. Overall, I was part of over a hundred, or maybe even more companies and product launches and it all gave me a lot of perspective and data about how these things work. Later on, it wasn’t that surprising that I realized that I can’t be in the service industry and the agency where I was just paid to help someone where I can’t grow enough. And second is I didn’t have enough power or control to actually lead to the results. Even if I’m right, it doesn’t mean the customer will actually listen to me. That evolved into the fight that I had to be on the top decisive level and saying where the money itself should come into, what sources, when, what streams of the business level, because what I saw was that even though as a team we knew what should be done, the customer thought he knew better just because he was older than us and decided to go other routes, often failing miserably. We were just a hired technical agency and they wouldn’t listen to my marketing insights or something like that if they didn’t agree. Even though I might have the data.

Also, I saw a lot of startups that would take money from the investors and then would buy cars, pay their friends to help them code and create all sorts of things to improve their lives as they want to, and after three years they would not be able to show any results as far as market share, cashflow or customers to their investor. I realized that a lot of these young entrepreneurs don’t know what they are doing and they are learning at the expense of investors’ money. I wasn’t very satisfied with how things work. In most cases, I disagree that only one in twenty startups should be successful. I combine all of this and found myself launching and running an investment accelerator and investment fund.

My first agency was development and data analytical one. Later it evolved into a product launch studio. Once I’ve sold it, I started my own platforms. After that, I joined another colleague of mine who had a brand development and marketing studio and we use his company as fuel to launch our accelerator. We are saying that the typical ways are not working and people are wasting money, they need a partner and customers. We are investors and an investor needs someone in the company who can come in and actually build things. Then we needed to have a team who can actually do it. That’s why I joined my colleague and we acquired his brand developing marketing together to build the accelerator and fund on top of it because we are using this excellent team of experts as fuel to run around the companies. When we come to them we require equity because that’s our biggest advantage over anyone else on the market. We have the know-how. We are not just watching things. We are actually driving for scaling the company because it is also in our interest to increase the value of the shares.

What industries are you interested in?

Our interest is in sustainability. We are strong believers that products should be built economically viable, but not at the expense of society or the planet. The business growth has to be sustainable and it has to be aligned with the environment and the society. We have this responsibility and it’s being shown in the political arena, the corporations and in the millennial community mindset that these things are changing. Within five years or so everyone will need to be part of the sustainable mission. We are just one of the first to admit this, but it’s something that no one will be able to question. In a few years, everyone will have to adapt to that.

We are also helping companies through consultations to prepare for this switch and either have the product be part of the cleantech, when all the inputs and outputs to be sustainable clean and green or if it’s not possible, then just the product itself to be some sort of green technology or impactful technology. This could be anything from helping with air pollution, analyzing the illness of bees, or AI used in agriculture, to health tech and virtual education. There are several streams that we are focused on and all of them have to do with sustainable and green technology.

Can you name industries you really like, yet will never invest into?

Oh, that’s a tough question. If I like something then I want to invest in it.

A lot of things that just being explored, like space tech, are very capital heavy and very new. It doesn’t make sense for us to be in those industries yet. But I see those as very impactful and maybe even sustainable niches. In the future we might invest in them, but not yet.

However, something that I like very much as an industry and it doesn’t make sense for us as a company is, for example, the space of e-sports gaming and all of this stuff. I have a lot of friends who have businesses and very successful products from a business and community standpoint. I like these industries very much. However, as a fund and as an accelerator we are very focused on green and sustainability. The fun industry in general, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the music industry, eSports, or gaming industry, is just not our focus. I think there are huge opportunities in there and if I had some capital as a physical person I would definitely have companies to invest in that I liked very much. But it has nothing to do with our investment strategy and the funding because we are just focused on entirely different things.

What geography of companies are you interested in?

That is very easy to answer. I’ve been spending my whole life globally, but our focus right now cannot be spread in all directions. We’ve decided that for funding and for the exploration we are focusing only on the EU markets: Central and Eastern Europe. That is our main focus. Maybe in the future as we grow and as we are able to hire more people, we might build more entities to help outside this region. Right now, it’s the Czech Republic and outside it – the rest of Central and Eastern Europe. Of course, we are able to help companies that are outside of our focus region, but only on a commercial basis, if they pay for brand development consultations and so on. But for funding and acceleration, we are focusing on the CE countries.

I think that for this and next year we might not be able to deal with the companies outside of the European Union, because there are much more challenges presented. But it’s something that we would like to be able to quickly overcome and expand to the area that is not a part of the EU. I think that there’s going to be a huge opportunity spike in the entire Eastern part of Europe, regardless if it’s a part of the EU or not.

Speaking about company registration, I don’t see it as a very important thing because it can be done easily when needed. The point of it is to have something in the operation area. If you want to have a business in the US, you are most likely will build a company in Delaware. You will put one of the founders physically there and will get him an investor’s visa. It’s a very simple process and it isn’t that complicated as people think. If you want to operate across Europe then it will make sense to have prevalent British registration. I’m not sure how things will work out with Brexit right now because it’s changing. If you want to go to the East, you should have the Singapore legal entity, which is the gateway to Asia. It really depends on what the business is actually doing. One of our partners is Deloitte. We are able to do a lot of due diligence for investors outside the Czech Republic because we have partners who are able to help us with that.

For the investors who want to invest in the sustainable initiatives and green tech launch, who believe that there are big possibilities to change things and also to multiply their investments if they believe we can help them to do it, we are able to secure the startup legally, as far as legal things to our partners who have subsidiaries in their respective countries. Even if it is Ukraine or Belarus that shouldn’t be a big deal for us.

At what stage of the company’s development are you investing?

Right now, our focus is around a seed investment. We have a foundation that is helping through communities to create MVPs and prepare pitch decks for investors because we saw a huge interest from small companies and starting entrepreneurs who aren’t ready for venture capital, seed investments and exploration. We’ve created a team for that.

There has to be a company with at least three people in the team because if the person is alone it’s quite difficult. We always tell people that regardless of where they are, always approach us and show what you’ve got. One of the main criteria is that we usually want to see a team of three people because otherwise, it’s probably not big enough yet.

Even if people are alone and they already have something, I’m happy to hop on Skype or meet up in Prague and we can talk about details. Usually, people leave the room with three pieces of paper of what they need to do. Then they come back in three months with a completed task list asking what should they do next. We are building relationships with startups as they grow. That’s one of the core benefits for investors. No one even knows these startups yet because they are not seen anywhere. For startups, it’s important to have relationships as well and not come when they actually need the money. They need to come six-eight months before and build the relationship. In this case, we can watch who they are, how consistent they are, if they do what they say and build trust.

To get back to my point, we invest when there is a team of three and a finished MVP. They need to have at least a monthly revenue of €10,000-20,000 for a period of six months or showcase that in the last 12 months they’ve made a gross revenue of at least €50,000. Obviously, it may vary case by case. If they can convince us with half of that, it may be very well. But oftentimes this would be the starting criteria to get money from us and to get into the acceleration program. We have under programs, where we can sit down together, consult them and prepare for the point where they would be actually ready to raise money. At that point, we would sign a memorandum and start the due diligence process, because we would decide both them and us are interested in working together.

We are very happy to spend time with people, even if they are not ready and help them to prepare for funding. However, since we have certain obligations to our strategy and the fund for results of investments, we are very strict and usually, people need to showcase that they stake on the entrepreneurial risk themselves and they figure it out. For me, that is the definition of someone who is ready for an investment. They need to have a finished product, show interest from customers and have some type of financial track record. It doesn’t need to be millions of dollars, but they have to showcase that it’s not a piece of paper and they actually have something. Of course, we have programs on top of that. We have the first acceleration program, called “Go to Market”, which I’ve just described.

Then we have the acceleration program which is called “Scaling”. There are usually four people, a bigger full-time team, or they have hundreds or thousands of customers buying their product solution and they need to scale fast and big. Oftentimes they might have hit a plateau where their entrepreneurial mindset is not enough to build a medium-sized company. In times with this funding, we have co-investors as well.

And then the third level is “The Equity Success”, which is designed to help exit the company, move founders to the board and not to be actively involved in the company. Frequently, someone who has been running a business for a while wants maybe to get out or move into a passive role. We have partners where we can go into the company, put active risk management together and prepare a company to be sold to our pool of investors or to someone else.

From the other side investors sometimes approach us. They don’t want to invest with us because they already have the investments and they may want to help as co-investors, or they may want our help in transactions, making due diligence and creating a team post the transaction. Where most investors fail is they invest in ten projects and then they watch what works and what doesn’t, because they either don’t know how to help, are from other industry, maybe their skill set is different or they might not have the time for it because they are actively running their companies.

This is why that is the number one focus for us. Sometimes they just come to us, asking to be part of their company for 5-8%. We need to put together a better team and triple the company value. This is something that we are also involved with.

What was the most unusual startup you ever supported?

The most unusual startup that we have right now in accelerator would be Sensetio. It was something very interesting when I first looked at it. It’s a gadget on your wrist, like Apple Watch or something like that, which ensures your emotions by measuring the spikes, the highs and lows, which right now is being used in therapy when the therapist can see how you are being affected, where you might mask it in a certain way. We hope that this product, as we’ll improve user experience, the brand and the value proposition, will be used in different other niches or also on the more mass market. There are a lot of products right now in the gadgets area that are raising in popularity. On the health tech, whether it’s for consumer or medical experts it is definitely interesting and it was very unusual when I first saw it.

There is one more unusual startup that we haven’t accepted yet. It might be impressive in the future when they would be ready because a lot of founders that come to us are not ready for an accelerator or venture investment. That is why we have programs to help them get to that level as well. So, there is a startup with the idea to put a small microchip into beehives to actually study why did bees are getting sick and die. You can’t take one bee and pump it with antibiotics. It’s difficult and there’s a huge market for it. It can seriously help odors. Bees are all the time mentioned as probably one of the most important species on the planet. I see a huge business value in this product.

What are the requirements for startups as an investor?

Like I said before, we measure case by case. We want people to approach us, even if they don’t feel like they match the criteria because they may actually match them, we can put them in contact with someone else or we can slowly help them to get to the point where they would be ready. But to answer your question, for the “Go-To-Market”, which is our starting point, the accelerator’s first program and the easier one to get to with typical investments between €100,000 and €500,000, they have to build a tested MVP and a working prototype. They need to have a real product, even if it’s just in the early stages, clarity in what they are selling and have data from the market to actually support their clients and prove there is a real interest. They need to have functional marketing. Are they seeing measurable results that showcase the validity of the idea? A small customer base is definitely needed. Now it’s hard to say should there be 5 or 50,000 people because it depends on the price. If their product costs $300K and they are selling to major banks, then they are not going to have thousands of customers. At the same time if the product is SaaS and it costs $200, then three customers will not be enough. There need to be a small base of customers in regards to their pricing, some type of either recurring monthly revenue traction, or a history of more than six months to showcase that they haven’t started yesterday and could get cash flow somehow.

It’s not necessary to have three or five years of track record. It can be, let’s say, a year-old company and like I said, it’s necessary to have two-three people full-time and the team, because that is one of the key orientations or one of the key measurable things that shows they are capable and have something that is working. If you cannot pay three people then you probably don’t have a business.

And that to me is the core team, where someone will probably be handling the marketing, someone will be handling the technology and someone will be handling financial operations and customer relations. Two-three people outside the founders’ team is something that should be, it is one of the primary things. Again, the product that is finished and showcasing on the market, if we like it, if there is a mutual fit with the founders and the team, it is aligned with our vision and everything matches then we start the due diligence process. We look with our team onto everything from finances to legal and IP rights.

People should always tell us true because if you lie to the investor they will always find it out and you will completely lose your trust. Even if there are some skeletons in the closet, always be upfront with them before you need to. Just because there may be some issues with legal things doesn’t mean the investor cannot invest in the company. Maybe those things could be easily solved with the internal team. Always be upfront. It’s all about the values of the founders and how do they approach things. The company is always a mirror of the people who are behind it, either starting or running, it depends on the size of the company. Usually, in the startups the same people who started it will probably own and run it at this point.

What do you want to see in the company’s product?

I don’t care if it is software, hardware, or both because it depends on the problem itself. It doesn’t matter if it is software or hardware because it is just a description. Everything depends on what it actually solves on the market. Let’s look at the issue with honeybees and Asian hornets. There might be a hardware solution to help fight the hornets, or maybe these founders don’t even know what the hardware is and they have a data reading algorithm from the government that is helping bee owners to prepare when learned the hornets made the move from Asia and come to Europe or the US. If it can warn bee owners and say to save the bees, the type of the product doesn’t matter. It just matters if it’s solving a big enough issue for enough people. That dictates the impact it will have and the economic value the company will have as well.

Of course, it has to be their product. They need to have some type of rights to it. They cannot just buy a soundbar and put their brand on it. It’s not interesting for us. We don’t fund consolidation or agency companies. We don’t fund people who just buy the product somewhere else and then sell it under their name. When we are speaking about e-commerce, most such businesses, like drop shipping, are just to make money when you are at college. That’s not something that we are interested in and usually, there’s no value for us.

Investors prefer to work with teams. But have you ever supported a one-person startup?

I think a one-person startup is not a company. It’s a freelancer. My question would be: why this person is alone? That tells me that either there’s no money coming to the company or the founder doesn’t work well with people, which means he will never be successful beyond some type of influencer on Instagram or whatever. You cannot build a huge impactful company if you are just alone. If there is no money, then he doesn’t have the capital to hire people, which means his solution is probably not that interesting, he just started and doesn’t have the solution or maybe just doesn’t know how to outsource this work and how to delegate it. It definitely doesn’t look good when the person is alone and doesn’t have any co-founders or co-partners.

If something happens and everything stands on the founder, the investor will immediately lose money and the investment is gone. In most cases, it would probably not be enough. Of course, there are a lot of people who came to us alone, but through the process of a couple of months they are able to showcase to us the plan on hiring people who they’re already talking to or who are helping them maybe outside of the company. They actually had a team of five people who just wasn’t part of their company. They were hiring across Europe to help manage their business virtually. And before the investment, they actually hired them full time or they needed more money to cover the operations and marketing for the next couple of months to actually be able to hire these people. We are also able to help with the hiring process through our partners. It really depends on why that person is alone. It’s definitely not a good marker, but there may be a reason behind that makes sense. It’s something that can stretch into months.

How big is a check you usually issue?

The average one is between €100,000 and €500,000 at the first program we have. Anything beyond that is coming from our accelerators or all our funds requires co-investors or commitments from the pool of our investors. They might be clients of our fund or not, it doesn’t really matter. The way it works is we have some of our own money, we have the investment fund and then, of course, we have a huge network of other investors. Some of them are already the clients of our investment fund and if we need more money we can always step into that tool and either get them as co-investors or if it’s not something that we are able to do, we can just prepare a startup for the funding and help that persons to find the right investor. We had someone who came to us requesting €10 million, which is something that is outside our strategy, but we were able to start a due diligence process and preparing it for one of the investors in our network.

What percentage of ownership of a company is fair to take for investment?

It depends on the size of the company and how much we are investing in. It’s going to be anything between 5-30% and it really depends on the size of the company, the product and the amount of money, how much acceleration do they need, if we have co-investors, if they already have investors, what stage are they in, are they making money. It’s very dependable on all those things.

When investing in things that need angel investors, we never take the major rate in the company. Those projects are not ready for us yet. Typically, we don’t invest in anything where we have less than 10%. It would be very rarely interesting to us. That is something that we usually prepare for either one of our investor clients or someone from the network who may be investing higher amounts of money or who may be interested in lower representation.

What multiplication of your investment do you expect on exit?

The multiplication level is a part of our strategy. Our CFO would be more capable of answering for it to make sense. That really doesn’t matter if it is us or someone else, what investors are looking for is between 5-10X. Our strategy is that due to the expertise we are increasing the amount of startups that are highly successful because we just don’t rely on funding the company. We also help them to build a company into bigger numbers. That itself already increases the amount of companies that are successful in our portfolio, regardless if they have a go-to-market strategy, or they are also looking for that 5-10X increase. Again, this is a very specific company by company.

What is your due diligence procedure and how long does it take you to cover the whole way from the first meeting with founders to contract and check to sign?

Usually, the legal things take longer than people think, but once people have decided and signed some type of memorandum that they want to do business, I don’t see why it should take longer than 6-8 weeks. Unless there is an issue or the company is spread across countries and we need to hire our partners for it, usually, it takes between 2-3 weeks for us to have a board meeting that decides if we will invest. And if we like it, we always launch a process of due diligence and that’s when our internal team comes into the picture and they start working on all the steps.

How many projects do you consider per year?

I think this year I’ve looked at 100-150 companies and projects give or take; we’ve evaluated 24 and invested in three of them. Before the pandemic, we had a commitment for 80 million Czech korunas that is over €3 million. And we wanted to invest in 10 companies. It didn’t work out because things slow down and there were challenges that we didn’t expect. So, we ended up getting into 3 companies out of 24 we’ve evaluated or even 20, because we evaluated other companies after that. We are rolling a lot of opportunities to the next year, and we also are expanding, because now we are able to invest not just because of the commitments we have, but also because we have our own funds for the next quarters. We are raising to invest about 200 million Czech korunas that is about €9 million that we are preparing to invest in the next phase on beyond just the commitments we have from local people. We want to keep the same strategy as of today that we were looking at stages where we can invest between 100 to 500 K.

How startup teams usually find you? Do you wait for inflow or scout for interesting ideas and perspective teams?

I would say it’s a combination. What are the key things? Why investors are interested as clients in our fund? It’s because we have a very good deal flow. I think people need to do everything and I’m not afraid of actually doing the work. Even though we have fun, we don’t expect people to just show up. I’m oftentimes doing interviews, speaking up at events without having to expect anyone to approach us. What is funny enough that a lot of people are coming back to us and saying that they’ve heard us speaking about entrepreneurship, failures and challenges at an event. And they really like what we’ve talked about.

I may see a good company and I just approach them. I don’t like the idea of just waiting around because I am responsible to our investors and other partners to have better deals than our competitors, even though we don’t have competitors because everyone is either a client or a co-investor. Sometimes someone who can be viewed as a competitor might actually want to buy startups from us. I’m not worried about that, but my priority is to have the best deal flow we can have. That means that I cannot sit somewhere in Bali. I have to actually go to events or communities, meet people and talk to them. What challenges do they have? Why are they struggling?

Sometimes I find myself speaking to people who don’t have any PR or marketing. No one knows they exist. They might have incredible solutions. Since they are sitting in a garage and are actually building, they don’t have time to promote themselves or they don’t even know how to do that. That’s why they come to us because we can help them with that. We can create magic around them.

I do a lot of scouting. When I look at the NBA and ice hockey scouts in the US from the best of the best teams, they hire people to go out to football and college communities and look at the athletes, how they are doing and try to drop them. They don’t sit in their pretty offices waiting for people to show up. If you have the best-branded investment fund or accelerator it’s just not enough. You can’t be afraid of doing the little ant work and that’s what I’m relying on. Actually, it goes very well with what I’m teaching as well. If people are relying on organic or affiliate traffic it’s not enough. They always need to be in control of their lead generation. And that means to have a system that if they increase something it allows them to increase the deal flow and the profit. We are no different. Just another type of business. I always wanted to be in control of the deal flow because then I’m in control of the business.

What conferences do you find really useful?

I like a wide range of events, especially the community based small startup events. Though I have to limit that because I just don’t have enough time to be everywhere. A lot of these events attract students and don’t have our customers there. It’s not useful for business growth. I just like going there and maybe saying some advice or helping promote some ideas. For business would be ideal if it’s a business conference that attracts startups either at a higher level who fit what I’ve described earlier. It definitely helps to have some type of niche as well.

Sometimes it’s a broad range, and sometimes we have very local niche-based events that attract investors, startups and business people. I will luckily attend them, have a drink and maybe say a few words to attendees and see if I can help someone. Typically, founders don’t like to attend events because if they are product-based they see the biggest value in working on the product. That’s why it’s always good to have two people, even though they usually really argue with each other and they have 50-50%. It’s impossible to make legal decisions if they don’t agree. That is definitely good at the beginning because those two different energies are very productive. Also, when one is sitting at a garage or a computer nowadays making a product, unless it’s hardware and the other is actually working with people, hopping on calls and going to the conferences. That’s what I need: if they are able, if they can afford to travel, if they can go to places they need to be to make a beagle.

It’s not about selling them hard, whether it’s an investor or a customer. They need to talk to people because only through talking to people they will get perspective and it will allow them to understand what issues and challenges their customers have. They would be able to see what they need to present to get business partners, joint venture partners, or maybe platforms where they can offer their solutions and also how to talk to investors to actually get an investment. It’s not going to happen in the office. It is super important to go to events. But most people will still not do it, because they expect short term results from every event. If they pay a hundred bucks and go there, they already want to have five customers from it because they see the bigger value of sitting at home, working on their product.

But that’s not how business is done. You need to be part of the community, speak up, be heard and seen. You need to be where your crew is hanging out. Then it doesn’t matter if it’s someone who will give you money as an investor or buy from you. But it won’t happen unless you talk to people.

What are your red flags?

If people are lying or if they have a huge ego, those two things are definitely the only two red flags for me. Above my head, probably there may be a couple of other things. I can’t think of anything right now, but the major things really come down to the persons of leaders. They need to be truthful to their board and be upfront of complaints and everything, don’t show ego to impress someone and be willing to learn about who they are with their personality. Ego is the biggest killer of all businesses and it applies sometimes with young millennial entrepreneurs.

What are the most common areas of weakness in startups?

It’s actually mirroring the accelerator program. We are focusing on three things.

The partner as a person, their vision, mission, business model and all the things everyone thinks they have figured out. That’s what we’ve started because they don’t. We work with the person as a person. No business strategy will help you if you’re not thinking straight if you have personal challenges going right now. Nothing else will work unless you’re dealing with that. That is number one. The business is always a reflection of yourself.

The second is brand communication. People don’t know how to sell, get customers and explain what they are doing. They don’t know how to build a brand. It’s not a logo. It is business essence and messaging. They don’t know who their customers are, where to get them, how to approach them, how to target them, how to look desirable to them. They just don’t know how to do marketing. We focus on the brand.

The third is financing. They think that if they will look at a bank account, that is all they need to know. Try that with a 50 person team and a 5 million coming every month in gross will become rubbish. People think that they will learn that as they get to that level. That’s too late. You need to have the structure and the know-how at the beginning. Finances and financial management would be the right word, and it is the third thing.

Those are three things to be focused on. Because we have expertise in it and the most important because that’s how we can guarantee the best results to our investors to get the money back at the higher return. Also, it is the biggest weakness of these companies.

Have you ever rejected a startup and then regret it?

I don’t think so. Not yet. You always have to work with it. There is no way back and I’ve never regretted. I didn’t even regret making the mistakes and losing money because that was what allowed me to grow in the future. I understand your question, but, I don’t have anything that would fit the answer.

Has your VC approach changed after the COVID-19 started?

I think it is. There are multiple angles we can look at it. We could have an entire call on that. It is an opportunity and it doesn’t matter if it’s an opportunity to invest or build a business. A lot of things are slowing down. Typical it is what everyone is going through, but I don’t see that as an issue.

We have phases where we’ve slowed down and it allowed us to create better processes and to hire better people. We will see more startups running out of money. It’s another opportunity to come, invest and put in better management, or maybe to help pivot them. If people are in an area where they are successful, because everybody is running Zoom services, obviously, they are expanding and scaling. That means you need a bigger team, better servers and maybe funding to help you cover the quick operation transition. There is no phase that would not be an opportunity.

People don’t sleep and treat it as a vacation but they can come back stronger than before. That is why riches always become richer out of every crisis. Maybe you are doing better due diligence. Maybe things slow down as a business double plan, but I definitely see it as the end result and it is always positive. If people are seeing things as negative, then it’s time to step back and think about why do they feel like things are bad. Because they never are. It’s just an emotional light bulb that they are putting on things and events. And oftentimes on things that are not even something that would be affecting them or things they see. News is the same thing. It’s very easy to watch the news right now. I don’t watch them, but if I would, then I wouldn’t be very affected by the fear-mongering. I don’t want to get into political things that media approach. There is no reason to see it as a negative thing. And if people are seeing that they should ask themselves “Why is that?”.

Can you name the three most breakthrough startups in history?

I think that is impossible to answer, given how history is changing. Obviously, there are no just the three most breakthrough companies. I would rather name three people.

One is from our age – Elon Musk. I like what he is doing because it’s showcasing one thing for startups – you need to go in stages. Right now he is working on a Mars mission, but he started with PayPal to get money, experience and flowable. And that’s why people should look at it. I’m looking at people from our age, not Nicholas Tesla and these brilliant people.

The second would be Steve Jobs. I think people should look at him as an innovator and someone who would show up in jeans and a black shirt, because he was able to create a thrilling experience by putting his mind and his inner world out there, not how he would dress. It is very appealing that most people have a hard time because they do the opposite with things like Instagram and so on. That’s the second person and most of these people have companies. It also answers your question as well.

I like Branson’s Virgin because of a very simple thing. That is the third company, but again, it’s someone behind it with a mindset. He doesn’t have only one thing in his portfolio. It’s multiple companies under the holding, which means that he must be not attached to the product. And that is the third lesson – don’t be attached to the product. Build it, buy it, sell it and go on. The product doesn’t matter. He is not attached to it but attached to having a positive team, helping his employees and having brands on the market, that he is managing and looking for opportunities. He is able to run all these things, which means he has great processes. But processes work only if you have great people. He must be a very good leader.

That is the lesson. Instead of answering with companies, I wanted to answer with names and give reasons why people should study them. Don’t look at the Forbes cover, but look at the inner values of these people, because they were able to create great outcomes based on those values.

Are you satisfied with what you do, or do you think to apply your knowledge and skills to something else in the future?

I think if I were to retire, I would probably get bored very quickly. The answer is no, I don’t have any plans to retire. As for the question, if I’m happy, I think being happy is the goal of being successful, which most people are still very confused about. And I’m very happy with what I’m doing now. I might not be satisfied with how I perform because I always like things to be better, but that doesn’t mean that things are not going well and are not satisfactory. I never know what happens next, but I don’t see why I should be changing anything.

Everything that I went through in my life led me to a point where I am able to secure people for investments, increase the value of their company and help investors better multiply their capital. That allows me to have a lot of options on what I can do and where I can move business. I might be changing my own position, then our whole ecosystem of companies. I might be doing more speaking. I may be producing more content. I might be moving more into the direction of mentoring people. Right now, I’m CEO and I’m responsible for the entire holding of companies and for our media presence. I’m the main spokesperson and I am also responsible for the scouting, but that can obviously change as I grow and my values and lifestyle will change. Anyway, I don’t see why I should be doing something different as far as maybe starting another company. That doesn’t make sense. I like where I am right now.

What books/films/podcasts/blogs would you recommend to a startup founder?

I was always very interested in personal development. I would not have enough fun when I was growing up and building companies. Nowadays I try to integrate more and more activities that help me to relax. I allow myself not always listen to podcasts, read books and work on courses, but just put on music and relax.

When I’m driving a car I have 30 minutes of time and I can listen to an hour of the audiobook on double speed which is probably 60-80 pages. I would be too tired to read such an amount in the evening after work. So, I use this time and put on audiobooks on double speed. It’s like reading a book.

No one book will help someone to build a business. You need to be like a sponge and learning all the time. Maybe you can build a business without eveт reading a book. There is a huge database on YouTube or Audible. You don’t need to read books. That is going to be redundant. Our generation is fine with just watching and listening to things. I didn’t have time to read Steve Jobs’s biography because it has around 500 pages and I would fall asleep before I would read the first two. I’ve gone through the book in three days because I listened to it as an audiobook when I was working out and driving.

If I have one idea from the book, that’s enough. We shouldn’t read books to post on Instagram that we’ve read a book. We should read to get something from it unless it’s for fun, not for education. If it’s for education, perspective, or business purposes, then we are looking for something within the book. And if we got it, then it doesn’t matter how we did it. It’s perfectly fine just to listen to it, or maybe buying a course. People might spend many hours on the weekend, learning how to improve their copywriting. It is definitely more valuable than reading Elon Musk’s biography for most people. Let’s call it what it is. If someone said he’d read Steve Job’s biography, I would ask: «Great! What did you change in your life after reading the book?» That’s an important question. I don’t want to give one book people should read. I would rather stress if they don’t have time to read, get an Audible account and listen to one book a week on business growth, biographies, or mindset.

I always look for one thing from the book that I can change. We don’t learn unless we change our approach, routines and behavior. At school we are told that we learn by reading, but in reality, we learn by doing and the only metric saying that we’ve learned something is when we’ve actually changed our behavior or attitude towards something. And for that, we actually need to get something. It’s not about reading a book. There is a ton of business and mindset books people can find online.

Speaking about my favorite music for working and breathtaking, I like orchestral music and soundtracks from movies. I think they are brilliant. Just recently I was at a concert from Lords of the Sound, a very cool Ukrainian orchestra that plays soundtracks. If I’m working out and don’t want to listen to a podcast or something like that, I will just listen to some high energy music to help myself with lived activity. Music can change your energy and it can support the activity that you are doing. If you feel sleepy, you can take a 10-minute walk listening to high energy music, get back, drink a cup of water and you are ready to write an article that maybe you’ve been putting off.

Sometimes I write blog articles. I don’t do it often because I don’t like to create content for other people. It’s very time consuming and when I put my time in, I want it to be on our platforms or on our media. We have social media and we also have a blog at I am also planning more and more content, that will be published on our channels. There will be some videos with business steps and maybe some type of eBooks that we will produce as well.

Your three advice to founders

We probably mention them already. Often times, there is a crazy amount and never ending list of what people should do in business. But people will learn it if they will want through mentors’ books and experience they will get by making mistakes until they will learn it. I don’t think there is value in business tips. It’s related to never ending journey of learning, trying and doing. Oftentimes I have to remind myself about it because that is super important. Sometimes I don’t know how to do it and then I realize that if I just drive something it will show up to action, I would change my thoughts and the results will show either satisfactory or unknown, but I will see what’s working. Always try to take action and never stop learning. People want to get things too quickly and they will fake themselves. They will try to be more complete than they actually are. They have a lot of ego and will be afraid to ask for help or think that they can do better. I would just drop it. I wish people can drop the ego and do the maximum. Just work on things and don’t stop. And if something is not working, try something different. It’s probably the best advice.

What is your favorite city?

I’ve seen some parts of the world and it helped me to realize that the Czech Republic, in general, is the best place for me. I like Prague because of the culture and the business community. There are some issues that I may not be happy with, like political, but in every other place, there would be always something I do not like on a level that it would annoy me if I’d live there. Things that annoy me here are not on such a high scale. They don’t bother me that much because there is no perfect place. It doesn’t exist.

It’s important to travel. People should always travel. Traveling is the biggest investment I can do in my life right now. My answer in 10 years will be different, but I don’t invest in real estate because I don’t care for it. All the money goes into education, traveling and any work on mindset and developing myself as a person. Some people told me that they don’t recognize this as an investment, because it doesn’t make my money bag and if it’s not real estate or stock, it’s not an investment. I am laughing because I couldn’t disagree more with that. For me, the biggest investment is traveling, perspective experience and personal development. Thinking that investing in wealth will give you establish is very naive. From a financial standpoint, it’s more important to have confidence by knowing how to make money than actually having the money because you can always lose the second one. Unless you have a brain injury or health issues, you will not lose your financial confidence and the ability to make money.

I like abilities here in Czechia because it gives me the freedom to do whatever I want. It’s not as limited here as in some other countries. If I wanted to travel, I can spend five months in Bali or go to New York City for three months, not right now of course. I was in the accelerator there for four months. I just decided to go, get the visa and went there. Living here works for me, but at the same time, I don’t stay here for 12 months a year. I like to stay a couple of months outside for perspective and new experiences. Maybe one day we will be ready to go to Mars if Elon Musk will be successful. There is no perfect place. Who knows what will happen in 2030? I still have a lot of places I want to visit, but I don’t see myself living out there in the near future.

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About the Author

Roman Bdaitsiiev

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