Once upon a time in the Founders Foundation, two young, entrepeneurially-minded mathematics students chanced upon an industry-expert who had a specific business idea: to optimize cost savings for companies. There was real economic tension between the three of them and so they decided to make that business idea happen together. What followed, was an exemplary journey through all of our education formats – almost like a fairy-tale.
How Did You Met Your Co-Founders Ingo and Thorsten and How Did the Three of You Launch Valuedesk?
I already knew Ingo long before Valuedesk. We studied mathematics at the university together, we shared an office, and we gave tutoring courses together. In fact, we already were into entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship at the university. We even founded an e-commerce company during that time. That was in 2016. We weren’t sure whether we would do a PhD or whether we should think bigger and continue as entrepreneurs. Back then, there were barely any startup opportunities in Bielefeld and only a handful of people who had made some effort to immerse themselves in the topic.
Torsten was also a participant at the Academy. We hit it off right from the start. Torsten had the advantage that he came from the industry and had found a problem to solve: industrial companies are not able to efficiently manage cost savings. For that, he wanted to build a solution himself.
So, the three of us met each other coming from different perspectives: Ingo and I as uni-hustlers who had some experience with startups and the passion to build something and Torsten from the industry, with a well-grounded idea. We decided that we were going to try and launch a company together. To this day, we are still happily working together. That worked out really well!
How Was the Founders Foundation Able to Support You During the Launch of Valuedesk?
Especially at the start, we needed a location where we could meet like-minded people. We wanted to find people who could prove that it’s not crazy to do your own thing, and were working on crazy things themselves. It was also important to us to become part of a community where we could learn how to build a startup and all the other facets of building a startup. This physical location gave us the feeling of belonging, of solidarity. That was really important at the start. If you work on something that might be a bit crazy and you don’t have any support otherwise, you’ll find a community with the Founders Foundation that keeps pushing you, that you can work together with, and in an atmosphere that makes work fun. That was the most important aspect during the founding phase. Even today, we still have a lot of contact with the Founders Foundation and its two founders. Of course, the Hinterland conferences are always cool. We can go there to network and to showcase the company and our product.
You Need Resources to Build a Successful Startup. How Did You Finance Your Idea?
At the start of our launch phase, Academy mentor Jan Brinckmann more or less implicitly said that he liked our idea and that he wanted to invest. He was our first business angel and so we were able to launch our startup. We approached VC companies relatively late. Initially, we focused on working with business angels but always according to the venture capital principle. Apart from Jan Brinckmann, we had a local entrepeneur and a startup scene investor from Berlin who invested during the pre-seed phase. I think we basically took the classic startup road.
How Did the Funding Go After the Pre-Seed Phase?
The next round of financing was the seed-round in early 2020. Many entrepreneurs went into survival mode at the start of the corona crisis, but we decided to see the crisis as an opportunity and position our idea even more strongly. During that period, we already had half a million euros from our business angels, among them successful angel Daniel Holz, the current lead of Google Cloud’s Europe division. We really approached some high-caliber investors. Initially, we wanted to do the second round of financing with business angels again; that was roughly around the time of the last Demo Day at the Founders Foundation. We wanted to contribute there and had already started working on a pitch deck. Incidentally, UVC Partners had contacted us already and we started talking to them.
We already knew UVC Partners from the Hinterland conference a while back. UVC Partners asked us why we didn’t want to do VC at that point and why we were still limiting us to angel investors. So, we decided to do both and chose UVC Partners as our partners. They are our lead investors now. Such a round of financing can really gain a momentum of its own.
So You Decided Quickly to Go with UVC Partners as Investors – What Is Most Important When Choosing the Right VC Fund?
I like saying that you don’t choose the right fund, you choose the right partner. In Ingo Potthoff we have a really good partner. We also connected really well on a personal level. Another criterion was that UVC Partners already has a similar companies in their portfolio. Which means that they know the market and they can assess the sales-cycles. Consequently, they can give us really good advice. Meaning: It’s important that your VC partner understands your industry sector.
What Are Your Next Steps with Valuedesk after the Successful Round of Financing?
Our core concern is now to scale our sales model and to hire more team members. We built a solid product and now it’s all about expanding – expand sales and marketing and continue investing into our product.
What Advice Do You Have for Aspiring Founder Teams Concerning VC Funding?
My first pointer: Be well-prepared. You might be surprised how many people don’t do their homework. Try to cluster everything you have into your pitch deck but keep the information density to a manageable level. Do a few feedback rounds with your pitch deck, get feedback from other founders. Schedule talks with partner you don’t necessarily want to work with first. You can still get a lot of feedback from those. Get a good business angel on board at the start, they can help you open the right doors. But the best piece of advice is still: build a good company. If your company is good, you can have a horrible pitch deck and a bad story – people will still want to buy your product.
Dennis' Advice for Founders
If you are in a hole, stop digging.
You tend to do more of the wrong things, because you have tunnel vision and you are addicted to keeping busy. You should take your time to reflect upon your work. If something is not working, accept that and find a new direction.
2. A solution for everyone is a solution for no one.
You should try to be the biggest fish in a small pond and slowly extend that pond instead of jumping into the largest pond straight away. Meaning: Define your target group, create a good solution for that group, and continue expanding that solution.
You want to know more about our teams?
Then check out the concept our Lab team Reportio is working on and which business co-founder Dirk is already running successfully.