Lumus team chatted with Paulina Mazurek, CEO & Co-founder of BEIT, Partner & CEO at Bitspiration Boster VC, angel investor and member of the Atomico Angel Programme 2021, previously at Allegro and Google. 🚀
How did you learn about angel investing?
It was about 10 years ago when, working at Google, I set up Google for Entrepreneurs Krakow, which soon became a full-time project in Campus Warsaw. At that time I met and built a network of many people from the region that were gathering at our premises. I had to learn a lot about how the startup ecosystem works, what is important, what it takes to build a company, etc. There, I met Andrzej Targosz who was perceived as a guru of the Polish startup ecosystem, serial entrepreneur and angel investor. Later on, we have set up our own, very tiny regional VC fund to address the current issues of entrepreneurs. Andrzej approached me, he was starting his new company Eventory and asked if I would want to invest as an angel. And I was like, “yes, why not? “. It was more about building a network of angels investors in his company at that stage rather than writing large checks. I decided to join and this was my first investment and the start of an angel investing adventure. This particular investment was actually done as a convertible loan.
Later on, Andrzej introduced me to the founder of Silvair, we met and I decided to invest, too. Both of these investments happened in Poland but both of the companies were incorporated in Delaware. I learnt what does it take for Polish startups not to shut the doors to US investors.
Some time later, I was invited to work as a board member of one of the companies that one of my friends invested in, but he had no time for the board position. Having a very tiny experience in angel investing, I had an opportunity to learn how to navigate and how to become a board member, what it takes, how much time you need, what are the problems to be solved, and so on.
This was also a moment when we set up Bitspiration Booster, initially aiming to be an accelerator programme, not a VC firm. The paneuropean rules governing investing other people’s money changed at that time, so we had to go through the proper registration process and became the proper VC. Soon after, together with two of my friends from Google and one from Motorola, I set up my own company operating in the quantum computing industry, where I learnt what does it take to be on the other side - searching for investors.
Finally, this year I was invited to join Atomico Angel Programme not because of some extensive experience in angel investing but mainly for being able to see the investment process from two different angles of a founder and an investor.
How many angel investments have you done?
Two. Then I got involved in the VC fund so I did not have much time left for the angel investments anymore.
Could you guide us through your thinking here?
I will explain this from two perspectives - from the perspective of my two initial investments and then from the perspective of the Atomico angel programme, because this is a little bit different.
In the first two angel investments, the crucial part was the team. Their passion for what they are building, my assessment of their potential, and how confident I am that they can actually deliver. There is a number of things that are outside of your control. Founder's passion is the most important for me, followed by the ability to build a great team, since they will not deliver the whole project on their own.
The other thing was related to smart money - can I be of any help? I used to think that everything I know is obvious for everyone, especially to older and more experienced founders than myself. I used to ask myself: "How am I going to make any difference?''. Soon I've realized that things that are obvious to me are not necessary obvious to others.
When it comes to the Atomico Angel Programme, the strength of the team remains a priority to me when evaluating startups - their passion, domain expertise, etc. However, I'm also passionate about startups that bring positive change to the society. For example, I felt in love with the company called EZBra - a bra constructed in an unique way by the founder Efrat, who suffered from breast cancer. As a successful survivor, she decided to challenge the status quo and built a bra that is easy to put on after breast surgery. She was incredible, her story made me cry. Despite the fact this was not a technical product I usually search for, it was something so much needed on the market that I wanted to participate. Unfortunately, I was too late to join the angel round. These are the kind of projects I'm searching for - projects that make positive difference for others. Anything in bio, including biotech, medicine, and chemistry. When you invest in such projects, you can really feel that you put something of value into this world. And this feeling is multiplied in angel investing. Personally, I don’t care about services, online shopping, advertising, or social media, even though they can be demanded by users, and could bring a lot of money to investors.
How closely do you tend to work with founders when you wearing your angel investor hat?
It all depends on the needs. I discuss with the founders what is needed and what I can help with. Introductions to investors, clients, future team members, fundraising. There are particular areas where I can be useful and I made sure that the founders know that they can reach out to me anytime when they need my help.
What would be your advice to all the talented women out there who are considering their first angel investment?
I definitely think that it's worth a try! It's an exciting way to learn new skills, gain new experiences and meet some incredible people along the way. Angel investing gives you an opportunity to redefine the old and change the reality for many people.
Angel investing is also about your own development and personal learning. Sometimes it happens that lifelong relationships and friendships emerge from this experiences.
Do you have any personal stories when things didn't go as expected??
I have a story of a friend-investor. The founder was the master of marketing, able to talk for hours about his project and the product he built, which actually had some potential. We saw the final version of his product and tested it. However, the founder was not able to execute properly and he was mainly focused on marketing and fundraising. Soon, it became obvious that his goal was to fundraise more instead of scaling up the production and sales unit. It was a big learning for me - to see a startup to succeed, everything must fall into place. I realized that it all comes back to the saying I learnt at Google - underpromise, overdeliver - meaning that it's not all about making beautiful stories and marketing materials, it's about the execution and delivery.
Is there any way you could screen for that to prevent it from happening in the future?
I think it is about talking to founders early on and asking about the details of the plan. While the plans are not always obvious at such an early stage, seeing the overall approach of the founder and his potential to execute these plans lets you foresee a lot.
What's your impression of the CEE region as an angel investor?
While working at Google and Allegro, I had a lot in common with people with STEM backgrounds. The CEE especially has a strong hard sciences and math background, which still brings a lot of value. I saw a bunch of great technical founders and incredible people coming from Georgia, Ukraine, Poland, and surrounding countries. There is a huge potential for tech startups there.
From my experience, and this might not correspond with the regional data, I see a lot of potential in med-tech startups. There are also SaaS projects, which are often not so deep-tech but doing great both regionally and globally. I also saw many fin-tech projects coming out of this region. However, I'm probably very biased since I mostly search for startups in med-tech space.
I think the big problem related to this region is in bringing women to entrepreneurship.
Even though the region has many talented women with the highest education levels, currently, there are a very small minority among founders.
Another opportunity I see is in helping academics and students at the universities to create spin-offs and businesses that bring value. There is also a challenge related to the EU money for R&D projects - smart people use the money, deliver the results and then move on to another one when the funding is over. We need to come up with a clever strategy to bridge the gap and build real businesses based on this brilliant ideas.
Is there anything else that the future angel investors should know?
I think that Lumus is a great place to start and I would advise everyone to just try angel investing and not to be afraid of it. The fact is that you don't need to have a lot of money to start. Just give it a try and experience it. Once you do so, it's very likely that you will enjoy it.