Autobutler and the Creandum investment criteria

By Christian, August 6th, 2013

We are pleased to announce that Creandum has invested over USD 5 million in the Copenhagen-based start-up Autobutler. Autobutler is our second investment in Denmark over the last 12 months – the first being the social wine service Vivino. Our investment frequency is a testimony to the growing tech start-up scene in Copenhagen and the rest of Denmark. We are continuously looking for exciting Nordic start-ups and we are planning on making 15-20 new investments over the next few years. We would like to use this opportunity to shed some light on what we look for when evaluating potential investments. By putting it into the Autobutler context I hope it will become more practical what we mean.

You have probably heard it before: Venture capitalists look for Product, Market, and Team. If your start-up has all these elements then there is a good chance that you will be successful in your fundraising efforts. Obviously this is a simplification so please don’t sue me if you check all the boxes but can’t get funded. Remember that venture capital is not the only option. This is just an attempt to explain why we invested in Autobutler in the context of what we generally look for.

Product

Autobutler is a reverse auction site for car owners and a CRM system for car mechanics. Car owners can easily create a car repair job and receive bids from car mechanics. The car owner then has full transparency to price and quality of the car mechanics and can make an informed choice of where to get their car repaired. Car repairs are a large cost for many car owners and finding a quality mechanic for a reasonable price is an arduous task. Autobutler makes this easy. Car mechanics, on the other hand, do not have access to effective CRM tools and have a need to fill available capacity in their workshops. Autobutler also solves this. In other words, Autobutler creates a product that benefits all parts of the value chain. The best indication of a great product is that you have paying customers. Autobutler has a lot of these – 1,400 car mechanics and 90,000 completed jobs. It is also always a plus when the product (like Autobutler) is scalable and has built in network effects.

Market

Car repairs are a huge market in Europe. In Autobutler’s 7 core European markets there is an estimated 140+ million car repairs/services annually.  This is equivalent to a market size of around USD 700 million per year. Each repair job costs an average of USD 500 and therefore saving 30-50% on your car repairs is a huge deal for most people. Car owners are willing to spend time to save 100s of dollars and car mechanics are willing to pay a small fee to generate new customers. In a large market there is a higher probability of becoming a big business. Let’s say that you built a great product for the segment “15 year-old Swedes with an interest in cats” then your market size would be 20,000 people (I just made that number up) with an average disposable income of USD 100 per year (I also made that number up). Even if you have a great product that achieves a 50% market share that your customers are willing to pay 5% of their disposable income for your service, then your annual revenue would be USD 50,000. Venture capitalists are looking for businesses that have the potential to become billion dollar companies if they are successful.

Having a great product in a large market is not always enough. It is also important that the product that you are offering the market is unique in some way. Most businesses quickly lose their uniqueness when copycats arise. In this situation it is important to be the market leader with your unique value proposition. Most businesses have some sort of scale benefit so tackling an incumbent who has exactly the same product as you is a risky proposition. That does not mean that it is impossible to outcompete incumbents (!!) but it is important that you have a product or go-to-market edge that justifies why you will outcompete them.

Team

This point always seems like a cliché but it cannot be stressed enough. A strong team is one that has the competencies to execute on their vision. This competency can be demonstrated through experience or by showing execution power. For example, if your name is Mark Zuckerberg and you have an idea for a new social service then there is a good chance that a VC will believe that you can execute on the vision. On the other hand, if you have worked in shipping your entire life and now want to create the next Angry Birds then it is less likely that a VC will believe that you have the necessary competencies. To all you shipping people out there with mobile games ambitions: The best way to prove a VC wrong is to just do it. Build the product, get some customers, and show that you (and your team) have the competencies to execute. At that point investors will be lining up at your door. The Autobutler team did just that. Christian Legêne and Peter Michael Oxholm Zigler (the co-Founders of Autobutler) assembled a team and built the leading car repair marketplace in the Nordics. This shows execution power but also the necessary tenacity to build a big business.

We are very pleased that Autobutler chose Creandum as their investor. We look forward to helping the team execute on their international expansion plans. As always, there are big risks but the pieces of the puzzle are in place for a successful Nordic company. We look forward to finding the next one.

Xeneta – we love shipping

By Fredrik, April 11th, 2013

We’re happy to announce our seed investment in Oslo-based Xeneta AS. Xeneta is a cloud-based service that brings price and performance transparency to the USD 150 billion container shipping market. Container freight rates are a complicated matter: thousands of routes, complex pricing, and volatile rates over time. Shippers, freight forwarders, and shipping lines use Xeneta to see real-time container rates on any route and can easily determine the competitiveness of their prices.

Xeneta collects container price information directly from freight buyers and feeds back real-time price benchmarks. The information can be segmented on a detailed level to provide the most relevant price benchmarks. Xeneta brings value to players across the shipping supply chain:

  • Shippers (freight buyers) can use the price information to monitor their supply chain costs and it provides actionable data to negotiate freight prices
  • Freight forwarders can use the data to demonstrate their competitive freight rates to their customers and ensure that their prices are best in class
  • Shipping lines can monitor how competitive their price and performance is relative to the market. Xeneta’s vision is to make the global shipping business more transparent thus improving efficiency for everyone.

Today Xeneta covers 95% of trade routes between the Far East and Scandinavia and is rapidly growing its coverage elsewhere in Europe and overseas.

The business exhibits many of the traits that get us really excited, for example:

  • Addresses a huge market which is still relatively untouched by the internet
  • Exhibits substantial network effects: the service is increasingly valuable the more participants are on the service, sharing, and receiving price information
  • Provides immediate, actionable value to customers
  • Has a top end user interface which customers understand intuitively and start using immediately
  • Founded by a complementary team with experience both from the freight industry and online businesses

Creandum has a history of investing in successful Nordic B2B software companies such as Cint, iZettle, and itslearning. Xeneta is the first Norwegian investment in the third Creandum fund and as a result Creandum III now has invested in all the Nordic countries and Germany. We would like to welcome Xeneta to the Creandum portfolio and we look forward to working closely with the team.

Check out Xeneta’s blog for news about shipping rates. You can read more about the Xeneta investment here: Techcrunch and Marketwatch

Why we are investing in Vivino

By Christian, December 12th, 2012

We are delighted to announce that Creandum are investing in the Copenhagen-based social wine service Vivino. The Vivino app allows users to easily remember and rate the wines that they drink. Vivino automatically recognizes labels and matches them to their extensive wine database of nearly 500,000 wines. Users can then remember their favorite wines, read wine reviews, and follow other people’s Vivino activity to discover new wines. Vivino is the world’s best tool for wine drinkers (amateurs and connoisseurs alike) and as a result has become the fastest growing wine app in the US and globally. We believe this provides a platform for Vivino to revolutionize wine eCommerce on a global scale.

Vivino has all the characteristics of a great investment and we are therefore very proud to back Heini Zachariassen, Theis Søndergaard, and the rest of the Vivino team. They have developed a product that consumers are adopting at an increasing pace. In November, Vivino was downloaded almost 100,000 times and user engagement reached an all time high with the average active user scanning 6.5 wine labels per month. Vivino has been the #1 most downloaded app in the food and drink category in 11 countries (incl. Brazil). In addition, the wine market is very attractive with a total size of USD 125 billion that is well suited for online retail. Most importantly Vivino has an exceptional team lead by Heini Zachariassen who previously had success building Bullguard from 3 to 100 employees. We look forward to working with Heini on making Vivino the largest global player in wine ecommerce.

Online wine retail is already between 4% and 8% of the global wine market and Vivino will make it even easier to buy wine online. Imagine that you’re at a restaurant and you taste a fantastic new wine. You scan the label, rate it 5 stars, share it with your friends, and then you see that the wine can be bought at a great price in an online wine store. You click the buy button and order a case of 6 bottles, which arrives at your doorstep the next day. We believe that this type of innovation will help wine eCommerce grow even further.

Vivino can become a sales generator for its affiliate partners and we believe that this part of the eCommerce value chain holds a lot of potential. The retail part of the value chain is becoming increasingly saturated thus increasing pressures on margins and commoditizing more and more market segments. This makes it particularly difficult for etailers with small home markets (e.g. the Nordics) to become large global players. However, Nordic companies with successful affiliate offerings have the potential to become a global success – JustEat being the most recent example. Stay tuned on this blog for more insight on the Nordic eCommerce ecosystem.

Creandum has a history of investing in successful Nordic ventures such as Spotify, iZettle, and Wrapp. Vivino is Creandum’s first Danish investment in the third fund, which we are actively investing from. Martin Hauge, General Partner at Creandum, will join Vivino’s board.

Let’s talk about the exit

By Daniel, September 14th, 2010

Isn’t it ironic. One on hand, VCs stress the importance of building great companies and on the other hand they want to discuss potential exit paths even before they have invested.

This slightly schizophrenic situation is according to my experience pretty correct and I’ll try to explain why:

At Creandum we don’t believe in building hype companies or quick flips. We will only invest if we really really think that we can help build a great company.

And great companies are bought, not sold. This means building a company that has a sustainable business model and can control its own destiny and thus preferably choose the timing for either an IPO or a trade sale.

This takes time. In our study of 300 Nordic technology exits, the average time from when the company was founded until there was an exit was close to 10 years and increasing over the last 5 years.

So why are we talking exit scenarios with entrepreneurs even before we have invested?

It is important that the entrepreneur is aware of that eventually we need to sell our shares (usually this means a trade sale of the company). It is sort of an acid test that the founders are at least thinking through what it means to bring on a VC.

Another aspect is that talking about potential exit paths actually is a really good way to understand the market dynamic and the value chain. It also helps us to learn if the entrepreneurs have a good grasp of what value they can add to the value chain and if we have the same view.

Specific questions could be:

  • What position is strategically most important in the value chain and why
  • Where will existing players move and what will this mean
  • Is there a risk that we’re heading towards a position where there will be fewer exit possibilities
  • How could our business model or sales strategy affect the value of the company (e.g. licensing out technology vs product sales; perpetual license vs monthly subscription)

Some of the above questions relate more to competitors but often entrepreneurs omit the long-term competitors that lure in the background (e.g. Google, Microsoft etc) or get stuck in discussions about what the competition can do today rather than what they will do tomorrow. As these companies however often are thought of as exit candidates it is sometimes easier to have meaningful discussions from the exit perspective to understand the drivers that can make them competitors as well as acquirers.

Finally, we believe strongly in establishing a joint ownership plan between all owners (founders as well as investors). As such, it becomes inevitable to talk through various exit scenarios. Are we aiming for an IPO? What’s the time frame, what needs to be achieved? What strategic decisions might affect the company value? What capital requirement do we think we will have in building the business? All these questions are tightly connected to questions about exit expectations and are very useful to talk through already during the investment period.

We have invested in It’s Learning

By Daniel, July 13th, 2010

We have just finalized an investment in the Norwegian software company It’s Learning. This is the first investment we’ve done since the summer of 2009 so we’re really excited about finally getting the deal in place.

It’s Learning is one of Europe’s fastest-growing software companies and a leader in the LMS (Learning Management Systems) sector for the educational sector with millions of users in Europe and the US.

There are several reasons why we decided to make this investment.

First of all, they have a very strong team led by Arne Bergby who’s a serial entrepreneur and an experienced company builder.

There’s a lot happening in the educational sector and the transformation to web-based tools for digital learning is accelerating. The Nordic region together with UK & US are the leaders but many other countries are starting to jump on board as well. It’s a pretty fragmented market with a few large leaders with international presence and lots of small local vendors. However, as with many software companies, you need scale to be able to keep up with the heavy investments in product development so consolidation is already ongoing and will continue to take place.

We also really liked their product and product vision. It’s Learning has focused hard on building a great product that is easy to use and supports the learning process of students instead of only focusing on administrative tasks. What is also very clever is that they have built a very open system which allows users to easily plug in 3rd-party products like social media tools, Microsoft & Google products, and external educational applications.

It’s Learning has a very attractive business model. It’s a Software as a Service model with a subscription per user which enables high level of recurrent revenues and great scalability combined with pre-payment contracts.

The investment was done together with Norwegian venture capital firm Viking Ventures.

Venture in 25 years

By Daniel, April 21st, 2010

Tomorrow I am joining a panel discussing where Nordic venture capital will be in 25 years. The reason for this is not by any means that I would hold the answers, but rather that at least there is chance that I would actually still be around in 25 years. And although the time frame of course is ridiculously long (especially considering how young the Nordic venture industry really is) I have put together some thoughts on the topic.

On a very high level, I think there are a few general areas that will determine how successful venture capital will be in the next 25 years:

Good entrepreneurs & companies to invest in

Most important area and I think this will improve in the next 25 years. The situation today is better than 10-15 years ago. More people are interested in entrepreneurship. Founders are the new rock stars. There are more serial entrepreneurs with experience & capital to build new companies. People have more international experience & exposure. Eventually regulation will improve (even politicians will realize that we cannot rely on old, large companies or public sector for growth & job creation).

Exit market

There will always be good and bad times but I think the landscape will change. The default exit route for larger exits of Nordic companies have by default been to US or maybe a local IPO, but given time India and China will become more active acquirers also of tech companies (they’re already active in traditional industries). But it will still take time, companies in these countries don’t have the experience of US firms to acquire innovative, fast-growing companies and initially there will be lots of failures.

I also think that there will be a diversification of exits. Unless a company is riding the hype-curve optimally, it will be difficult to get large exits (> €100M) without significant revenues. This will most likely mean that it will take longer to get to a big exit. On the other hand, there will continue to be plenty of tech exits w/o significant revenue picked up for their technology or products with good multiples for investors if they didn’t invest too much. This is something investors must adapt to.

Financial markets

Usually there’s financing for good companies as well as top-performing VCs. But general access to and the price of financing will go up & down. Maybe we won’t see capital ever being as cheap again, but I still don’t think that there will be long-term major changes in the coming years.

Better VCs

It takes time to build good companies but also to build good venture investor teams. We need to learn from mistakes and also find the right mix of senior, experienced investors and young, hungry go-getters. With venture capital being out of fashion, there is plenty of risk that the venture capital industry is being hacked before it has really matured.

Threats

For Nordic venture capital, I see a few threats:

  • Increased regulation - politicians seem to have a hard time to understand the difference between valuation arbitrage and value-creation and are now on a rampage to regulate anything involving risk & investing thus pushing hedge fund-related regulation on to venture capital.
  • Lack of critical mass - the Nordics is a small market and there are definitely areas within the eco-system where there are just too few professional investors. Also, the gaps between various type of investors are sometimes too wide meaning that companies get stuck or die on the way.

My bet is that there short-term will be a continued shake-out of institutional, classic VC-firms with the Nordic region as an important focus. However, the ones that survive will mid-to-long term have improved performance. I also think that there will emerge other types of investors to cater for the needs of a complete eco-system.

Finally, a note on what I would like to happen within the next 25 years.

Firstly, I am convinced that the best way to create a good venture capital industry is to provide the best possible framework to build great companies. This means more favorable regulations for startups & founders, promotion of success and acceptance of failure, and tax-incentives for angel investments. This is more important than the regulation / conditions for venture capital companies.

Secondly, I hope that VCs can really prove their worth for good companies. The role of the VC is not only to provide financing for companies that otherwise would die or never get off the ground, but more importantly to be considered a natural choice as part of creating great companies.

Tech Tour Nordic June 15-17

By Daniel, March 23rd, 2010

Tech Tour Nordic is an event that tries to bring out the best and most exciting Nordic technology (defined as pretty much everything except life science & bio tech) companies to an audience of local and international investors. Our experience is that it is definitely one of the best opportunities to present your company wether you’re looking for money now or in the future.

To register, please visit the Tech Tour website

Johan Brenner joins our team

By Daniel, March 10th, 2010

We’re really happy to announce that Johan Brenner has joined our team. Johan is an experienced entrepreneur and investor in technology and growth companies.

Recently, he worked as a General Partner at Balderton Capital (previously Benchmark Europe) and was involved with Nordic and European investments such as LiveBookings, Habbo Hotel, Rebtel, Zopa and others. Prior to joining Balderton, Johan has been involved in building several successful companies as an entrepreneur, investor and board member, such as Jobline, E*Trade Nordic, DIBS and Tradera.

Thoughts from the US

By Daniel, February 24th, 2010

A few week backs I spent some time in Boston and New York with fellow Nordic VC colleagues meeting US investors, VCs, entrepreneurs and academia. It was a great week and here are some thoughts and remarks from the trip.

The state of VC

In general, the views on VC is pretty pessimistic. As in Europe, US investors and VCs are debating the poor returns from VC during the last 10 years: on average, VC returns have been zero or worse.

There are several explanations to the situation, the most common one being that there’s just been too much money injected into the VC market. Many VC firms grew in fund size and many average VC firms received lots of capital as well (the total amount of yearly VC investing doubled or tripled from mid-90s to mid-00), while at the same time the IPO-market has been much worse compared to the boom years.

Most agree on that what will happen is a healthy readjustment with fewer, smaller funds & teams and total VC investment levels down to what they used to be before the millennium.

There’s also self-criticism on behalf of how the VCs have been investing, throwing money at companies to grow (too quickly) and get a quick exit. Now, the VCs are now even talking about finding capital efficient companies.

Capital efficiency

Maybe not something you would expect to hear from US VCs; it is often said that European VCs are not providing enough capital for the companies early enough but there’s definitely much more focus on investing in capital efficient companies. Or as Axel Bichara at Atlas Ventures put it: Prove-Build-Scale.

The LP (VC investor) perspective

The classic VC approach is to have a few home runs providing the returns and cover for the bad ones. However, this approach has meant high volatility (how much the returns fluctuate) with a few good exits creating almost all positive returns. So when the exits weren’t as many and as big as before and the failures increased, it became difficult to get consistent, good returns. From an investor perspective, this creates a problem because they want consistent, good returns. As a result, LPs are more and more appreciating stable returns and fewer failures which few VC firms have provided, alas LPs’ appetite for VC has gone down.

Dare to invest early

I was surprised to find that most of the VC firms we met (large, top-tier funds) still are doing early-stage investments, even seed investments. The problem is normally that when you have a billion dollar fund, it is hard to justify small, early investments because of time and resource aspects - it is more efficient to invest large pools of money at the same time. So it was very encouraging that the VCs are still regarding it important to continue to do early deals as well.

Terms

A typical A-round is 1x participating liquidation preference where the VC invests x dollars on x pre-money valuation. This means that the VC owns 50% after the investment, the founders 30% and 20% is usually allocated for options. This is quite different to the Nordics where VCs typically would own less after the first financing round and where much lower amounts of shares are allocated to options (partly due to tax issues of course).

Here’s a good article about what’s wrong with the venture capital.

Seedcamp & 10 good tips on building a great company

By Daniel, February 9th, 2010

The Seedcamp season is in full swing with events happening around the world. For the Nordics, this year’s event is held in Copenhagen May 27.

One of the mentors at the New York event was Jonathan Klein, co-founder of Getty Images who presented 10 tips on how to build a great business. And one of the participants was Emi Gal, CEO of Brainient, who wrote about Jonathan’s presentation here.

There are plenty of very good advise from Jonathan; from a Nordic perspective I would particularly like to emphasize point 3 & 9 as these are oftentimes much more important than one might think and really critical when scaling up an organization.

Here’s the list as noted by Emi:

1. Raise more money than you think you need. If you’re on to build a large business, dilution doesn’t matter anyway. You’re in the business of minimizing risk.

2. Cash is the only thing that matters. That should be your focus. Create an automated, scalable business model that will generate cash.

3. Invest in your company’s culture. It works as a filter for making small, easy or complex and tough decisions.

4. The two most important things in your company are: your employees and your customers.

5. Be honest, transparent & realistic. Especially with yourself.

6. Decide fast. It’s better to be wrong and fix it than sit around for 3 months and miss on opportunities.

7. Wrong decisions are OK. As long as you’re wrong really fast!

8. Focus, focus, focus. Say NO to stuff. Constantly.

9. LEAD. People are crying out for leadership. Know where you’re going, and they’ll follow. You can find Jonathan’s leadership principles here.

10. Have fun every day. Sometimes it’s even black humor“, he said.