Read the Dutch version on Emerce.
In this How I Invest, I interviewed Jeroen Bertram – an experienced marketing specialist and a true enthusiast of the startup scene. Jeroen tells a story of his investor debut and explains what appeals to him in young ventures.
Hi Jeroen, who are you?
After studying economics, I started working as a marketing consultant. In 2000, in the middle of the first internet hype, I was in New York for an assignment and there I came into contact with all kinds of startups. That immediately attracted me. Pretty soon I decided to start a company myself. I set up a few websites, with varying success, which I sold between 2005 and 2008. Then I started to focus on advising companies on online strategy and writing books about online marketing. The money I had earned from the exit I partly invested in VC funds. From 2012 on, I increased my direct investments in startups. Nowadays I spend two days a week advising large and small companies on growth and innovation and the remaining time supporting the startups I invest in. And on writing books, including my recently published book “Startup: from idea to exit”.
Why do you invest in startups?
It’s incredibly fun to help people make their dreams come true. Working with startups generates a lot of energy. But it’s also about getting returns. Ultimately, you want the companies you invest in to be financially successful.
What is your background?
Initially, I invested in companies through VC funds. It happened that I recommended a company to such a fund, but eventually, the fund didn’t go through with the investment. When that company became a huge success later – and that happened quite some times – it could be frustrating. But the opposite also happened: I advised against investing in a specific company, and then it happened anyway. After which the company went bankrupt within a year. In short: I thought I could do it all better. Then I started with direct investments myself. But it turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. Almost all of my first investments failed. In retrospect, I’m glad I did it. The faster you make mistakes, the faster you learn. It has led to me being able to say “no” to startups a lot easier. It has to be because I receive about 10 decks a day.
It’s incredibly fun to help people make their dreams come true. Working with startups generates a lot of energy.
What is “smart capital” in your opinion?
It’s about being an investor who can really contribute to the (rapid) growth of the organization in the broadest sense of the word. Whether it’s finding the right people for the company or suggesting potential partners. Often it is about networking: bringing the company into contact with relevant people and companies. But often it is also about knowledge in specific areas, for example, pricing, business models and cohort analysis.
I always try to make agreements with a company beforehand: how often do they want to be in contact with me and how do they expect me to contribute? Sometimes companies don’t want any involvement at all (after a while). You have to respect that.
What 3 tips would you like to give a wealthy entrepreneurial Netherlands to invest (more) in startups?
It is incredibly fun to do. You come into contact with young entrepreneurs, you can (if you’re smart) make a nice return, and you expand your network quickly. In a way, it is almost addictive and that is a big danger. You must be extremely careful, especially when you just start investing. You need to keep in mind that a large proportion of startups do not become a great success.
What are you looking for in startups?
For my book “Startup: from idea to exit” I spoke with almost twenty founders of successful Dutch startups including WeTransfer, YoungCapital, and Bunq. When you speak with them, you can feel the energy. These are people who are passionately working to grow their businesses. They are able to get things done in almost military fashion. This is exactly what I look for when I talk to founders of startups: execution power. The power to get certain things done with an ironclad focus. It’s much more about the team than the product. A bad team can make an excellent product flop, while a strong team can still make a mediocre product become a market leader.
Of course, there are more things I look at, such as traction, competition and market size. But the team is at the top of the list.