How I Got Investors Interested In My Startup
When I look into who to bring into my startup InstaShop, as an investor, I see it as the start of a long-term relationship. Numbers are important, but integrity, trust and a common feeling of fairness and respect is what I believe success should be based on. I ask the questions: "Is this is the type of a person I want to be handing over my baby business to? Do they understand my motivations behind this enterprise?"
InstaShop is blessed to have on board top class investors; this is one of the greatest assets we have. We work together as one team, and we enjoy amazing synergies from the past experiences and connections of both Jabbar Internet Group and VentureFriends in the ecommerce realm, as well as in the overall entrepreneurial ecosystem. For me, this is, by far, the greatest value our backers bring into our company- cash is just the means to achieve our shared vision.
Many ask me about how I managed to secure funding for my enterprise, given that, in the Middle East, getting smart money into your company can turn out to be a bit of a struggle. There are, however, a few things that I've realized can create sparkles in the eyes of investors and bring them onboard. Here are the top five points that matter, in my opinion:
1. Operational excellence
At InstaShop, we offer a 30-minute grocery delivery service in most high density areas in Dubai, serving many thousands of orders, and as many may realize, this comes down to tackling a great logistical challenge. The easiest way to prove that operations are smooth enough is to showcase a good user retention rate. Investors will then know that you are capable to handle the complex operations.
We started in June 2015, and with lots of hard work, our team created a product that has resonated in the lives of our users. Ten months after product launch, we have loyal users that have each placed hundreds of orders. That's what I look at to understand whether the business continues to grow and stay healthy: with a staggering ~80% user retention, I can confidently say that our team is on the right track of keeping our users happy.
2. Team chemistry
Most of the founding team members are people I have known for several years. We know our chemistry blends, and our relationships have survived through rough times. This good chemistry reflected in your meetings with our investors prior to the deal, and I do believe that investors notice those subtle hints that show whether the team truly coheres.
3. Industry attractiveness
The industry you operate in is an important factor: investors will ask about how large the market is, and what the competition is doing. Be ready to answer these questions realistically. Currently, the on-demand delivery industry is on fire, and the competitive intensity in our market is low, so this fact surely played an important role in the investment decision.
My advice in this regard would be to encourage entrepreneurs to target investors that are closely related to the industry your startup is operating in. The reason is that investors will ask themselves whether they like that industry and if their expertise truly adds value, so you save them the time by being part of an industry they are already engaged with. The second reason for doing this is that through this way, they would be much more likely to be passionate about your startup, and dedicate more of their time to help you grow, since it's more of a natural inclination.
4. Proof of concept
A key factor that investors will consider about your startup is the traction that you are able to achieve on your own, before asking them to put their hands deep in their pockets. Very few investors would spend time on your idea until they see some numbers and they feel confident that you've been giving everything you have to see it take off. Both Jabbar and VentureFriends were aware that we had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars of our own money into the company to build the technology and the team, and at the same time, InstaShop was more than doubling its orders month-on-month, so this criterion wasn't an obstacle.
5. Showcase professionalism
Investors are very sensitive to interpersonal signals, especially at the beginning of the relationship when they are just getting to know you. Little things, like answering emails quickly and with clear arguments and facts, or being on time for a pitch meeting can be determining factors that can make or break a deal. All they need is the confidence that you are a reliable founder to count on and that you are facing this project with the utmost dedication and seriousness. In the case of InstaShop, the fact that we already had a close relationship with VentureFriends accelerated the path of acceptance and trust between us and Jabbar Internet Group.
These factors, along with some luck to get the connection, would be my best breakdown of the ingredients needed to on board a value-adding investor. But most importantly, it's all about the team, and our team just loves creating things and making them fly. It's with the support of Ioanna Angelidaki, my co-founder and long lasting friend, that we kicked this project off, and it's with the love and hard work of the whole team, which is now counting 20 members, that we are taking it high, in what is turning out to be the largest on-demand grocery delivery service of the Middle East.