We asked 23 of Europe's wealthiest and most successful entrepreneurs who invest back into startups what they're looking for
- After spending years building up their own startups, many tech founders opt to share the fruits of their labor and invest back in other promising up-and-coming firms.
- Business Insider asked 23 of Europe's leading founders-turned-angels what it's like on the other side of the investment table – and what advice they'd give to other wannabe founders.
- We spoke to the founders of major European success stories like Zoopla, BlaBlaCar, and ComplyAdvantage.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
After years spent pitching to venture capitalists and building their companies from the ground up, many startup founders like to get a taste for what it's like to sit on the other side of the table.
From the founder of divorce services startup Amicable to the man behind wildly successful property platform Zoopla, we asked 23 of Europe's founders-turned-investors what it's like to pivot from pitcher to pitchee — and what advice they have to share.
In no particular order, these are some of the top founders-turned-angels every entrepreneur in Europe should know:
Alex Chesterman, serial unicorn founder of property site Zoopla and car marketplace Cazoo
"I have been investing as an angel in UK startups for about 10 years now. I like disruptive business models and when there is a great team seeking to use technology to improve a market then I am interested in getting involved.
"There are essentially three things I want to hear from founders when I look to invest. Firstly, what it is that they are trying to achieve and why. Then I want to know why the team is better and are going to win.
"And finally I want to understand the size of the prize. The team is the single most important factor for me in any investment decision."
David John, founder and CEO of consumer points fintech Loyalize
Portfolio includes: Edtech startup Gamicate, social platform MyRound
"I've always loved investing. At university, I formed an investment club with friends. The trend continued after I graduated, when I became a commodity trader before eventually leaving to start my own business.
"Having gone through the process of raising money to grow the business, I wanted to know what it was like sitting on the other side of the table — identifying opportunities not only to put money in, but where I felt I could help through my knowledge and experience having gone on this journey myself."
Pip Wilson, cofounder and CEO at divorce services startup Amicable
Portfolio includes: Tampon subscription service Ohne, recruitment firm Juggle Jobs
"Experiencing both sides of the founder-investor relationship has been really beneficial.
"I know what founders are going through and can draw on my own experience to support them constructively. I also know what I value as an investor. I work best with founders who provide timely and concise updates, so I try and work with Amicable's investors in the same way."
Ismail Jeilani, founder and CEO of tutoring platform Scoodle
Portfolio includes: Stocktrading app Freetrade, group messaging app Picnic
What's it like being on the other side of the table, as an investor rather than an entrepreneur?
"I think the most interesting insight, when you're an investor and not a founder, is seeing what conviction 'feels' like. The feeling that this idea could reach tens of millions of people around the world is exciting.
"Often, I reflect on what gives me that feeling from startup pitches. Then, I think about my own pitch for Scoodle … The most impressive thing you can do is execute very quickly, that is, achieve a lot in a short space of time.
"The decision to invest isn't always financial, it's often relationship-driven. Building a great company can take a decade, and an investor needs to believe you'll be there to last."
Michelle Kennedy, cofounder and CEO of Peanut, the social network for mothers
Portfolio includes: Lex, a social app for women, trans and non-binary people, and Beautystack, a marketplace app for beauty professionals
"Changing access to the elusive 'friends and family' or 'angel' rounds is critical to diversifying founders. What if you don't have family or friends who can write checks? What if you don't know how to access that funding or network?
"Funding businesses earlier, and supporting those businesses with sharing access to networks — that's where angels can help, and we need those angels to not all be male.
"Remember: not everyone is going to be polite, and sometimes they are downright rude. It's not personal. When you don't get the response you think you deserve, you have to have a thick skin — I must be like an elephant now."
Charles Delingpole, founder of compliance startup ComplyAdvantage, and community forum The Student Room
"Starting a company requires a maniacal focus on a single industry and problem over a very long time. The intellectual promiscuity investing permits is refreshing.
"Looking at other industries and companies helps to benchmark your own experience around team formation and dynamics, metrics and increase your ability to learn, and therefore hopefully improves your ability to operate your own company."
"Building a company is a collaborative team sport, and it's a marathon rather than a sprint. Too many people read the Steve Jobs biography and assume that you have to be arrogant, domineering, and blinkered, set on a vision that the founder alone is capable of understanding.
"The best investors can choose to work with anyone, so listen to what they have to say and try and learn from their perspective and experience."
Julian Teicke, founder of insurance firm Wefox
"I decided to move into investing when I realized that the only really helpful advice I ever received was from founders that had built bigger businesses than I had until then.
"You should give the founder freedom, share some of your learnings or help only when asked to do so … Many investors create a negative impact in my opinion as they do not understand their role properly and how to empower and help.
"It's not about impressing investors. It's about becoming more resilient and better every day. It's about understanding that your own limitations are what is limiting the organization to grow to its potential and that you need to work on yourself.
"If you believe in your vision and never ever give up everything will come together — including attracting amazing investors that appreciate you for the person you are."
Sean Phelan, cofounder of Multimap, which exited to Microsoft
"I often recognize aspects of my younger self in the entrepreneurs I work with, though usually when they are making the same mistakes that I did.
"When I find myself in another dysfunctional board meeting I'm reminded of how many equally pointless meetings I imposed on my long-suffering directors, way back when."
Audrey Mandela, the other cofounder of Multimap
Portfolio includes: Data science marketplace Pivigo, waterless toilet manufacturer Loowatt
"I personally prefer to invest in founders who have experience in the sectors in which they're building a business. So my advice for young founders is to get some experience first.
"For others, investors are impressed by strong teams; a deep understanding of the business's costs and revenue models, realistic forecasts; and an ability to scale."
Andy Ayim, cofounder of Mixtape Madness and the Angel Investing School
"Being an investor comes with great privilege and responsibility, as you can have a direct relationship and impact on the startup's strategy, decisions, and culture from an early stage.
"I see it as a great opportunity to use my experience as an operator to add value beyond the capital I invest."
Wil Benton, former CEO and cofounder of livestream service Chew
Portfolio includes: Vegan food delivery startup Allplants, challenger bank Monzo
"My time as a founder was some of the best — and worst — I've had, both professionally and personally. Being able to use that experience to support the next generation of entrepreneurs, helping them with the wins and losses I made during my time as a founder, is almost as rewarding as running a business in itself!
"Being a founder can be a pretty hard job at the best of times, so doing what I can to provide support is really important to me. My early-stage investors got me through the tough times so I'm keen to repay the favor where possible."
George Spencer, founder of rental firm Rentify
"I was very fortunate to have remarkable angel investors when I started, but with a few exceptions, none of them were product-focused founders. I got a lot of great advice about ops and finance, but often wished that I had some capable people on my cap table whose ear I could bend.
I don't anticipate that it's going to make me especially rich, but hopefully I might be able to help good people avoid some of the hilarious (and mitigable) catastrophes I endured as a young founder."
Tim Sadler, founder and CEO of cybersecurity startup Tessian
Portfolio includes: Lawtech startup Nomio, cybersecurity platform Senseon
"That initial phase, when a concept becomes a company, is one of the most energizing things for me and it's a privilege to help other founders on this part of the journey.
"As a founder, you have to stay laser-focused and committed to building one thing over a 10-plus year period … I see angel investing as a way to live vicariously and get exposure to other founding teams and their growth. I also get to learn a lot from the people and companies I invest in which, then, helps me develop as a CEO."
Yi Luo, founding exec at FreeUp and angel investor
Portfolio includes: Micromobility startup Beam, time management app Daybridge
"I genuinely think the only way to impress investors is to be yourself. I believe an investor and founder relationship is very much like a marriage, only when you stay true to yourself, can this be a long-lasting relationship. Make sure you do lots of homework, on the investor and your USP.
"It's the same to impress someone in speed dating."
Simon Squibb, serial entrepreneur
Portfolio includes: Spanish ride-sharing startup Cabify, email software startup Dyspatch
"I honestly don't think you should be allowed to invest in an early-stage company unless you have been there and done it yourself. I have so much empathy for founders because I've been one.
"Founders should make sure they have a strong purpose in their business. It will ensure you can follow through on your idea and will attract the right type of investors, staff, and clients."
Duncan Cook, founder of digital agency 3 Sided Cube
Portfolio includes: Food delivery service Bother
"A founder's idea needs to be based on some deep level of experience or a small problem that will become big in the future.
"If it's just based on what's happening now (i.e. COVID), 100,000 other people around the world will have the same idea and a small percentage of people will have had that idea five years ago and have been working on solving it ever since."
Ryan Edwards, founder and CEO of music streaming platform Audoo
Portfolio includes: Charity fintech For Good Causes, ride-sharing app Skoot
"It's strange being on the other side of the table.
"I'm used to getting grilled, so have made it my mission to always be kind during a conversation. I'm also open during the first meeting with the amount I'm looking to invest, if I like the pitch. I know what it's like to have investment conversations drag on, so I try to achieve a quick turnaround."
William Reeve, LoveFilm cofounder and now CEO of proptech platform Goodlord
Portfolio includes: ID verification startup Onfido, music events startup Sofar Sounds
"My first investments produced decidedly mixed results. Some fell flat on their face and others took way longer than predicted to scale — so these first forays were incredibly useful in helping me understand the angel process. It took seven years from my first investment to see any returns.
"The main lesson I've learned is that relationships with founders are critical. Building a strong rapport with people of talent and integrity is more important than any paperwork or terms that might be negotiated.
"Without this trust in place, founders won't share the critical information you need to offer the right advice and financial support."
Frederik Hjelm, CEO of scooter startup Voi
"I have been founding and helping startups since I was young and started to put money into them more recently as I got some liquidity.
"I am so much on the founders' side and see myself more as a part of the team than an investor demanding things from the startup.
"I'm an operator in heart and want to contribute to scientific and humanitarian progress which is the reason I run companies and invest … Never give up!"
Chris Tottman, partner at Notion Capital, and ex-CCO of cybersecurity firm MessageLabs
Portfolio includes: Gifts startup The Book of Everyone, B2B fashion search software startup snap.vision
"Every day I get a deck from my team and it's like a complex puzzle to solve – I love that.
"I've got unlimited scope to explore the possibilities that founders are wrestling with. As a founder, I was more of a machine focused on execution, high replication, and scale. This is a very different life."
Nicolas Brusson, cofounder and CEO of BlaBlaCar
Portfolio includes: Payments firm Stripe, ID verification startup Onfido
"I always navigated between the two worlds. Being a startupper, a VC, a founder and now mixing both founder/CEO and angel activities. I love the ability to meet great entrepreneurs from the investment side and am always looking at new trends and taking bets on great people as well as future trends.
"But I miss the action, the ownership, and the people side that being a founder or CEO brings. To me, being an angel is like being a talent scout and coach. Being a founder or CEO is more like being the athlete playing on the pitch.
"My advice would be to impress them by having a founding 'team'. The biggest mistake I have seen have been from founders pitching alone, however smart they were."
Anil Stocker, CEO and founder of MarketFinance
Portfolio includes: Construction hire startup Skrap
"Founders should spend a lot of time figuring out product-market fit, and trying to get traction early and on a shoe-string budget.
"You can launch a business very cheaply these days, so there's no excuse to not make progress before you need to raise external money. You don't need to impress investors, you need to find the right investors for you. Try not to raise money as an end in itself, figure out why you need the money and what you will do with it."
Simon Duffy MBE, founder of men's skincare firm Bulldog and oral health firm Waken
Portfolio includes: Food delivery service Bother
"It's far less nerve-wracking being on the investors' side of the table!
"I know from experience that fundraising can be one of the hardest challenges for new entrepreneurs to overcome. Normally it involves many meetings and many knock-backs. On this basis, even if I decide that I don't want to follow my interest with an investment, I always aim to be positive and helpful."
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