A chat with Boris Wertz, investor and founder of the GrowLab accelerator

Following the accomplishments of Romanian startups Summify (who he had invested in and was recently bought by Twitter) and SunnyTrail (who recently graduated the GrowLab accelerator), Boris Wertz visited Bucharest last month to meet the local tech entrepreneurial scene.

During the “Acelerate your startup with GrowLab” event, local startups were offered the opportunity to deliver 1-minute pitches and receive Boris’s feedback. We were more than happy to help organize the event and we couldn’t miss out on having a little chat with Boris about his experience and interest in startups.

What’s the best strategy when delivering a 1-minute pitch? Does it matter where you come from?

It’s not rare that startups are offered a short time-spot to present their idea. When you have 60 seconds to talk about your startup, what pieces of info are crucial? What best catches an investor’s attention? “If you only have a minute to pitch, your pitch should focus on only 2 things: the entrepreneurs behind the idea (what have you done in the past that is relevant for the success of this venture?) and a high-level overview of the business including the problem you are solving, how you solve it and the long-term vision you have for it.” Asked about what common mistakes he noticed during the pitches he heard in Bucharest, he said: “One of the mistakes at the Bucharest pitching sessions was that the entrepreneurs rarely talked enough about themselves and their talents. The other improvement potential was usually a lack of understanding what actual problem they solved.”

I think it’s safe to wonder if the cultural backgrounds and life experiences lead to similar attributes or attitudes for startups coming from the same region of the world. When you’re running an accelerator, you get in contact with teams from various parts of the world, so I thought Boris had an advised point of view: “Good teams show interestingly enough the same characteristics independent from where they come: great technical and design skills, a clear vision of what they want to build, a very detailed understanding of the market they are in, a willingness to “hang in there” for a long time to make it work and an incredible work ethic.”

How important is the initial idea? What’s the entrepreneurial “dream team”?

We keep hearing that the idea is far from being the most important part of a startup. And looking back at the courses successful startups took, we often see them pivoting at least once. In this case, you can’t help but wonder, how important is it really to have a great idea when you apply for an accelerator? How is the initial idea relevant for a potential accelerator acceptance?  “It is pretty common for teams to “pivot” their ideas, especially at such an early-stage: 2 out of the 5 teams in the last GrowLab cohort changed their business and product during the program. This is also why we at GrowLab rather look at the entrepreneurial and technical raw talent behind a team than the idea itself when people apply to our accelerator.”

I’ve heard a “solitary” entrepreneur saying that he once got a “definitely not investing in a one person startup” from an investor. I was curious to know what Boris’s take was on this. “I personally have backed sole entrepreneurs in the past but it is not the ideal situation (and GrowLab tends to not do it) – the path to a successful start-up is a long and hard one so you significantly increase your chances if you have partners helping you along the way. A founder dream team is usually made up of people that truly respect each other and have complementary skills.”

Looking for an investor? In need for an accelerator?

If you’re looking for an investor and wondering if Boris is one of the guys you should try approaching, it’s useful to know that he usually invests in 3 areas: consumer internet (especially models that show a strong network effect), Software as a Service (SaaS) and mobile, but he sometimes likes to “take a bet on an exceptionally talented team that works on a really interesting problem”.

In the end, Boris had some very kind words to say about Bucharest: “It was my first time in Bucharest and I was stunned how beautiful the city is. Bucharest seems to have a small but rapidly growing start-up community, tons of technical talent and some really smart entrepreneurs. Will hopefully be back soon.

PS. Applications for the GrowLab Spring program are open until the 19th of March.

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