At MOHARA we have a venture side to the business where we partner with startups in return for equity. There are a set of ingredients we look for in startups we partner with. In this article, I’m going to break down the type of startup we can add the most value to – if your startup meets these criteria we should have a discussion.
We look at four main areas:
- Deal Size
- Sector/Technology Requirements
- The Founder
- Market/Team View
We tend to get involved with startups at a relatively early stage, normally when there is a degree of product risk attached to the business. For example, perhaps a startup has launched with only a basic MVP but is showing some traction; we are perfectly placed to help that business navigate the pitfalls of delivering an exceptional product.
Generally, our holding in the business is aligned to the level of risk. If a business is early stage and there is little or no product development, we will take a higher stake to reflect the risk we’re taking on and the amount of work required to bring the product to fruition.
We also get involved in businesses that are further along in the lifecycle. Here the risk is lower and the roadmap more defined; our expertise helps make sure the business lands at series A in the best possible shape.
Our typical startup deal involves:
- £750k to £1m valuation;
- Average 15 percent holding, vesting over three years;
- The startup has begun the product development process but needs to make sure that the execution is perfect; and
- Start-up is open to advice and learnings from our years spent working with and in start-ups.
We look at businesses from the perspective of tech complexity and number of businesses in the sector. There is a direct correlation between complexity and number of businesses – the more complex the tech the fewer businesses playing in that space.
We don’t operate at the end of the market where the technical challenges are minimal, MOHARA needs to be working on projects that have a certain degree of technical complexity.
We don’t work on projects that require very deep specialist technology capability in a field like AI or Machine Learning. Normally if a founder doesn’t have deep personal expertise in these areas they’re unlikely to bring a great product to market. We’re happy though to connect into existing libraries or frameworks to leverage these technological capabilities.
We have a large sweet-spot in the middle. Anything that has a moderate to high degree of technical complexity is where we can add the most value. This tends to be B2B and B2C SaaS and marketplaces, built using web applications and native apps.
For these businesses, the MOHARA team of developers, designers, product managers, seasoned entrepreneurs, technology strategists, UI & UX specialists and researchers come together to deliver the maximum value.
We’ve done a lot of these projects so we’ve built a robust playbook on how to get SaaS and marketplace businesses ticking.
We’ve had success with founders that tick certain boxes, so naturally that’s what we look for in a partner.
We first look for an alignment on how to build product, and we ask that our founders adopt an agile mindset to building products. They don’t need to come to us with the perfect mindset but once we’ve discussed it the project will only go ahead if we see things the same way.
The agile mindset is about the whole organisation thinking about building a product that focuses on outcomes, primarily taking the user from where they are now to where they want to be in the future. We ask our founders to be open to challenge and open to testing assumptions regularly.
Once there is alignment on approach to the project we look at sector expertise. From experience, we know that founders with a deep understanding of both the problem and the prospective buyer have a great chance.
We don’t obsess over founder track record and we’re comfortable working with first-time founders. However, it’s crucial that founders understand the market they’re operating in and can demonstrate this clearly.
Finally, of course, we look for the usual stuff like drive, willingness to put in the time, leadership, resilience and sales skills, etc.
In the four scenarios above we generally work with companies in ii to iv with iii being our sweet-spot.
In scenario i, the interest from investors is high and the team have the resources and know-how to bring the product to market. We could undoubtedly step in and do a good job but they are already resourced well so have less of a need for us. We will support these businesses as extensions to their product teams, but we would not typically take an equity position.
In scenario ii, the companies are strong but have a gap in their capability to execute product; we are an excellent candidate to fill that gap but strong investor interest can reduce our holding to a level that isn’t interesting. In this scenario too, we can deliver the product side but without equity.
Scenario iv (I‘ll come on to iii at the end) is high risk. With no capability and a small market, we usually need a large holding to make this worthwhile. If the founder is exceptional we will consider companies with this profile, but usually the risk is too high.
Scenario iii is our sweet-spot. Unlike many investors, we are happy to work with businesses operating in a more modestly sized market. Not every business needs to be a unicorn. There is usually less competition, a great chance to own the market and with our product execution expertise, we can build market-leading products efficiently.
In these investments, we are happy to hold stakes for the long term and realise a return through dividends. It is also less risky. Lots of companies attack large markets which introduce competition and risk, and it’s very easy to spend five years or more with nothing to show for the efforts. In more modest markets the trajectory of the company is much easier to predict.
We’ve briefly covered the four strands, so let’s finish with the ideal company profile for a MOHARA partnership.
- Valuation of £750k to £1m;
- Holding of around 15 percent;
- They have built an MVP and addressed some assumptions;
- They are aiming for a series A or have a plan to reach a sustainable level of revenue/profit;
- They’ll have some customers using the product;
- Resourcing the next stage is difficult with the current team and financial resources; and
- Investors are asking to see more in terms of product and traction for the next funding round.
With these companies, MOHARA can add significant value by providing the infrastructure and expertise to take the product to the next key milestone in the business, whatever that may be.
Our unique model of partnering with startups and early-stage companies is incredibly popular with founders. We don’t provide money and ask companies to go and find solutions. We work with the company to make sure they get to the next level and beyond. Companies can (sometimes) get capital or pay for expertise but it’s been impossible to find a partner with the skills and experience to deliver a world-class product – it isn’t now.