‘Do your research’: How start-ups can stand out to investors

3 Mar 2022

Image: Deepali Nangia

Speedinvest’s Deepali Nangia gives her advice for founders looking for funding and explains what she learned about entrepreneurship from her father.

Deepali Nangia joined Speedinvest as a partner in January 2022. From the tech VC’s base in London, she has focus on finding, funding and supporting women and underrepresented founders.

Before joining Speedinvest, she was an investor with more 30 portfolio companies led by women. She also co-founded Alma Angels, a community set up to increase the number of women angel investors in Europe who fund women-founded companies.

‘Do your research rather than sending your pitch deck to everyone; avoid the spray-and-pray approach’

In your opinion, which areas of science and technology hold the greatest scope for opportunities?

I like to invest in companies that are dealing with society’s large problems, lowering access and cost of healthcare while improving access and outcomes.

In particular, I’m interested in companies that are regenerating natural resources and reducing our reliance on them, as well as those that are focusing on financial inclusion and democratising access to education.

What are the qualities of a good founder? Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

In my experience, a good founder is one who understands their strengths, recruits for skills that they don’t have and builds a healthy company culture where everyone can thrive. They are quick on their feet, resilient and not afraid to pivot when they need to. Motivating and nurturing employees is a key skill, as is the ability to pitch and fundraise.

I grew up with a man who was a natural-born entrepreneur – my father. He was constantly thinking about new ideas, even after he built a successful business. He was also a very nurturing leader who constantly thought of aligning his staff through equity and employee benefits. He was not afraid to try, and he was not afraid to lose.

In my view, you are born with some of these characteristics and others can be self-taught, but ultimately your environment has a huge impact on whether you become an entrepreneur or not. While I do believe that entrepreneurs tend to have a higher threshold for risk taking, I also think that if you don’t have to worry about surviving, there is a higher chance that you might pick entrepreneurship over a job.

What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day? What tools and resources are a must?

They need to build, break, build and break. They need to listen to customer feedback and test their willingness to pay. They need to sell their business idea and they need to pitch their company. They need to recruit and motivate teams. They need to receive ‘no’ as graciously as they receive ‘yes’. They need to build trust with investors and convince them to part with their money. Lastly, they need to take care of themselves – this is just as important as the business they are building.

Being a part of a group of others who are going through the same journey, having advisers and confidantes you can reach out to, having investors who will help not just in good times but also in bad. Also, taking some time out for yourself and your family, spending time with friends, playing a sport, meditation or yoga, given that they live such hectic lives. Lastly, celebrating all the small and big successes is very key.

What is the critical ingredient to start-up success?

Resilience. Business is like a marriage; you need to plough through the bad times and celebrate the good ones.

How can founders assemble a good team?

Recruiting those that they know and trust. But it is also important to have an open mind and recruit outside of their traditional circles. Adding diversity to their teams is important – diversity of gender, ethnicity, thought, leadership, amongst others.

What advice do you have for founders who are starting to look for investment?

Do your research on the best founder-investor fit by looking at fund sizes, past investments and what other founders say about these funds. There is plenty of capital out there and you should look for value-add capital. Do your research rather than sending your pitch deck to everyone; avoid the spray-and-pray approach.

Whether it is seeking a warm intro or a cold email, make sure you describe your business with a blurb and detail the stage and amount of capital you are looking for, along with a background of the team (very key) and a pitch deck when you email funds. You can use tools such as Loom videos or Notion pages that might help stand out from so many pitch decks that funds receive every day.

Not everyone can give you capital, but everyone can give you feedback. If they don’t, please ask for it.

What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?

Overestimating market size and willingness to pay.

What are your views on mentorship and the qualities one should look for in a mentor?

Mentors tend to be good listeners who empower you to get to the right decision. They might be more experienced than you or sometimes even less. They tend to be patient and tend to be ‘givers’.

What’s the number-one piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs?

Investing at the early stages is so much about the people. Understand your audience and the psyche of the person you are pitching to so you can build trust quickly.

Do some research on the type of investor they are, what kinds of companies they like investing in. Try and build a common connection, be it a person, be it a sport. Do due diligence on your investors like they do due diligence you, and it will help you find the right one.

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