In this series, supported by Nexit Ventures, we today take a look at investment criteria that venture capitalists use to grade startups. While these are sure to slightly differ from company to company, you'll be very well off understanding the implications and criteria Nexit Ventures uses to grade their potential investments. There are six points that investors usually look at and we'll take a look at each of these in detail. The criteria are management, market potential, exit potential, business model, technology and finance.
Earlier this month we had an ArcticEvening about startup financing and investments. The event was a success and a lot of topics were covered in general, but one area that could have been discussed more is the venture capital market at large and how it is changing - or is it?
Many blogs and online media sources, especially, have mentioned that during times of economic hardship innovation tends to flourish as talented people are laid off, or otherwise take the bait for entrepreneurship. Furthermore, large corporations that usually dominate the markets cut down on investments in order to cut down on expenses to keep the companies solvent and this gives excellent possibilities for startups to take market share.
Here's the second startup in a run down of startups that I saw at the Nordic Venture Forum last week in the beautiful city of Copenhagen, Denmark. All the startups present at the forum were seeking either financing from the investors or partners for their business.
Loanland (Sweden) - Loanland is a P2P marketplace for loans, offering customers & investors new financial opportunities.
Loanland is the first P2P (social) lending site in Sweden, offering the Swedish market a new alternative to banks and credit institutes where you can decide your own terms & conditions. It is not only an alternative for people looking for a loan (borrowers) but also for anyone looking for investment opportunities ( lenders).
Loanland claims to offer all of the following:
- Letting the customer set her own terms
- Direct access to the loan market
- The best interest rate in the market for borrowers & lenders(!)
- An alternative to banks, financial institutions, pawnshops and micro loans
- A new type of investment
The company is currently providing unsecured loans to the Swedish market. The Swedish market for unsecured loans to households amount to around 160 billion SEK (around 16 billion EUR or 20 billion USD) at present and with unsecured loans to SMEs the figure is about 500 billion SEK (around 50 billion EUR or 63 billion USD). The market has grown 15% annually during the last few years. Gartner Group has estimated the P2P lending to take 10 percent of the loan market by 2010.
Loanland's business model is based on a 'reversed auction' model, where the borrower creates a loan request defining the loan amount, duration of the loan and the maximum interest rate, and then the potential lenders bid downwards on the interest rate. For this process to happen smoothly, Loanland provides the market place and assists with administrating the market, credit rating, loan agreement, reports, payments and claims. In effect, Loanland makes its money by taking a setup fee and a transaction fee from the conducted loan transactions.
Loanland is using an open source platform that it has developed, automating most of the processes. The technology is based on Java, J2EE, MySQL, Tomcat, Spring and Hibernate. The platform and auction engine allows individual and automatic bidding, electronic signatures, integrated credit scoring and efficient payments.
The company launched in December 2007 and has already over 10 000 members and 5 000 registered borrowers and lenders. They have 6 million SEK (600K EUR or 750K USD) deposited out of which 95 percent is lend out as loans. Quite significant number considering that the startup operates currently only in Sweden.
This is exactly the right time to be a new type of financial service provider in the market when many of the economic underpinnings of the markets are tested and people are looking for alternatives for all the massive lehman brothers of the world. Loanland for its part is combining the financial industry with Web 2.0 and is allowing its customers to provide and impact content.
Many of the facts and figures are from the good people at Nordic Venture Forum.
Dopplr, the Helsinki and London based startup, has secured second round financing from a very admirable group of investors including Esther Dyson, Tyler Brûlé, Thomas Glocer, Yat Siu, Aditya dev Sood, Lars Hinrichs, Joshua Schachter, Brian Behlendorf, Ami Hasan, Daniel Sachs, Joshua Cooper Ramo, Kim Weckström, and Azeem Azhar. Saul Klein, who invested in this round, also invested in the previous round together with Martin Varsavsky, Reid Hoffman and Joichi Ito.
“Dopplr is leading the way in intention sharing services online. It is valuable to know where your trusted friends and colleagues will be, and where you could meet them next,” said Lisa Sounio, CEO of Dopplr. “Partner brands on Dopplr will also give you relevant information and offers tailored to you. For example, when you tell Dopplr your plans to go to Hong Kong, you might get the latest intelligence from Monocle and offers from boutique hotels picked by Mr and Mrs Smith.”
Despite seeing a lot of attention from both the press and investors, there are some questions that people look answers for. One cannot miss the (despite somewhat questionable) data from Compete.com. According to Compete.com, Dopplr reached just over 50k UVs in August. If you're making money from commissions on hotel bookings and such, you need a lot more traffic to make the business model work and therefore focusing on such a small group of people travelling so much might be difficult. Furthermore, Mike Butcher at Techcrunch UK makes a solid point about the dilution of ownership with so many investors. It could be that once you get enough popular investors on board, the odds of you failing are smaller as these investors are looking forwards to making a return (hence they echo the name as much as possible).
Having these questions answered would be interesting, but nevertheless you have to give it to the Dopplr team for getting financed in such a tight market - we haven't heard that many similar stories lately.
The Helsinki based virtual goods operator Sulake saw a profitable first half in 2008. According to Kauppalehti, net profits were around 400 000 euros. The revenues rose approximately 20% to 25,6 million euros for the first 6 months of 2008. Majority of the sales came from sale of virtual goods in Habbo Hotels world wide. According to the company, the annual growth for 2008 will be around 30%.
This is yet more proof, that the company is being heavily pumped into IPO condition. Some sources have told us that 2009 would be the year after all, as the sub-prime crisis smashed the IPO possibilities in 2007.
Well, almost. In a press released yesterday, Apaja Online Entertainment announced that they will be launching a localised Belgian website of their Playray service with a partnership with Corelio and MTV Networks. At the moment their Belgian website is directing users to France or Netherlands, depending which language and social circle they enjoy more is asking users which language preference they enjoy (edited due to earlier mishap in the analysis - see comments).
According to Kim Lindholm, Business Development Director, the Belgian registrations in the French and Dutch services attracted so many Belgians that they had to build localised version of the service in Belgium. Despite being an area where languages mix with ease and people understand each other easily, there are a lot of differences between people in the BeNeLux countries and thus localising each service makes common sense in the long run.
A recent survey conducted in Playray revealed that the social aspects of the service are equally important to the casual games. This strengthens the latest understanding of the industry that social gaming is on the rise. Furthermore a third of new registrants are over 35 which also supports the broadening of the user base, in line with previous studies.
It remains to be seen how successful such a rapid expansion strategy is. Apaja's 2007 financial figures are still unpublished in the public listings, but looking at the 2006 results the company ran a loss almost equal to its annual revenue.
Disclaimer: I am a former employee of Apaja Online Entertainment.