Looking to win serious investment? Ben Grech shares his seven essential steps
Uniplaces is creating a global brand for student accommodation from their office in Tower Hill, London. The company, which is only two years old, received a £2.2 million investment from Octopus Ventures, Zoopla and LoveFilm founder Alex Chesterman and Rob McClatchey last month.
Co-founder Ben Grech shares his advice for creating a start-up that appeals to VCs and winning investment that works for everyone.
1. “We put a great team together…”
For quite a long time it was just five of us, doing everything. We had to work hard and learn quickly but when we started recruiting, there was more room for each one to focus on what they were best at. That’s what really made us grow: having the right team is the best “growth-hack”.
I’ve always thought start-ups should aim to have a global perspective. Based on this, we built up a very international team. Now we can pick nearly any market and we’ll have someone who understands the language and the local culture. This has been critical to help us expand.
2. “…and focussed on the big picture”
From long term strategies to day-to-day calls, every decision we took was weighed with the bigger picture in mind: Uniplaces is creating the trusted, global brand for student accommodation. Every step we took needed to take us closer to our vision, no matter how hard or challenging it was.
That’s still very much our philosophy. It unites the team by making it work for a common goal, helps us grow and really struck a chord with our investors.
3. “We made the business scalable”
Funny thing is – to make a business scalable you need to do a lot of unscalable things. Big things start small. There’s a lot of talk about scalability without even understanding what that means. I think it is tempting and easier to look for inherent scalability in business models, marketing channels, etc.
Often the real opportunity is making something scalable that doesn’t seem to be scalable at first look.
We had a problem that we wanted to tackle. We didn’t gather around the table and come up with a scalable model. We worked hard at solving the problem, making the lives of students and landlords easier. We did plenty of things that everybody said weren’t scalable. As we grew, we had to find a way of scaling each one of those things. It was a real challenge – but it’s where the value is.
4. “We attracted the right calibre of investors”
We needed to captivate VCs. We had an elevator pitch ready to use on all the potential investors we met or that we were introduced to. We had a good idea to present that had a place in the market – plus we had the results to show for several months of hard work. This definitely helped us to attract a few VCs.
5. “We pitched right”
We introduced our business model and proved that we understood the market we wanted to break into. We knew just how big the market was, and its enormous potential to grow.
I know I’m stating the obvious, but investors are first and foremost exactly that. They’re people who want to put money into a business and make a profit out of that. So if you want to attract investors, you need to show them that your business is a great investment.
On another level, they are human. They feel the same attractions and appeals that everybody else does. For example: we have a really strong vision, that everybody in the team shares: investors were really excited by this vision and our confidence.
6. “But we knew when to say no”
We were approached by investors that had the money but didn’t have much more. As a start-up, the biggest mistake you can make is also the easiest. You’ve got this big dream you’ve poured months of your life into, you need money desperately to kick-start it and somebody comes up to you with the cash attached to a few strings.
Knowing when to seal a deal is only as important as knowing when to walk away.
We look at our investors as more than just a source of funding. We chose investors that got “It” – the vision that moves us, the chemistry of our team. We wanted smart investors on board who provided strategic value, credibility, and the money of course! Most importantly we chose investors we’re sure are ready to support us through ups and downs.
7. “We took our time”
We never tried to rush the funding round, I think it pays not to. Funding rounds are notorious for taking longer than people expect and we know a lot of examples of start-ups that suffered because they left their funding pitch for the last minute.
We pitched in June and closed in September, which is quick as these things go. From the first meeting it’s not uncommon for a round to take nine months to close. We were able to go through this round so quickly because we were already familiar with our investors. Our vision and our objectives were already very aligned from the beginning!