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Martin Bjergegaard talks pitching new ventures, multi-million dollar exits

Martin Bjergegaard

Martin Bjergegaard was an unknown name to me, till some few weeks ago. His profile, at the time, included him being the co-author of Winning Without Losing and being the co-founder of a startup accelerator called Startup Bootcamp. That alone, aside from the fact that he’ll be in South Africa next week, was enough for me to want to find out more.

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Bjergegaard built the Startup Bootcamp as well as Rainmaking, which is dubbed a ‘startup factory’, and was part of two multi-million dollar exits at the age of 35. At both Rainmaking and the Startup Bootcamp, Bjergegaard and his co-founders managed to build an ecosystem that supports startups and builds relationships with investors. They have built a portfolio of eight successful startups with a total of US$50-million in annual revenue, 100 employees with offices in London, Copenhagen and Berlin.

I requested some time to ask him questions about pitching new ventures to investors, building a startup with an exit plan in mind and whether they plan to bring the Startup Bootcamp to South Africa.

Ventureburn: You’ve been building your own startups to later being the co-founder of a startup accelerator. In your experience, what do investors look for?

Martin Bjergegaard: When asked, most investors will tell you some criteria that sounds smart, rational and insightful. However, investors are human beings too and what they are really looking for is the “wow-feeling”. When investors love a team and a project, they come up with a lot of seemingly rational reasons to invest. The opposite is true if you don’t impress them. It doesn’t matter how well you tick all the boxes – at the end of the day – they are not going to invest.

How do you impress an investor? That, of course, changes from one to another and in my view it’s actually just as much an art as it is a science.

At the core, it is like any other sale; you need to understand your customer (investor), build trust and curiosity, and have the guts to close the sale.

VB: Where do most startups fall short in pitching their ventures to investors?

MB: Most pitches are simply not good enough. The storyline is weak, the arguments are not compelling, the ask not specific enough and the presenter hasn’t practiced enough. To raise your bar go to a Demo Day in Startup Bootcamp and you’ll see what I am talking about. These teams practice their pitches for about three months with some help from – both each other – and a wide range of mentors.

Seeing such professional pitches has surely raised the quality of my own pitches. I think most entrepreneurs will feel the same after a Demo Day at a top-tier accelerator.

VB: Startup Bootcamp grew from being a startup itself to now having over 500 mentors across Europe, some of whom are investors. How did you convince the first few mentors and investors to participate?

MB: Nowadays it very easy, it almost seems that everyone wants a to be of the success and traction Startup Bootcamp is experiencing. In the beginning it was a lot harder. We did it like every other entrepreneur where we took it one step at a time. We struggled to get the first “yes”, we then used the first person’s involvement to get the second person and slowly built the foundation and our momentum.

VB: What goes into creating the ecosystem that you have built at both Rainmaking and Startup Bootcamp?

MB: First of all, a lot of talent is key. We were lucky to have a story, at both Rainmaking and Startup Bootcamp, that people could really relate to and felt they were called by. Our talent inflow has been growing along the way and, from the beginning, we received enquiries from very skilled and passionate people who wanted to join our mission. Based on my experience, I would advise anyone to choose a mission that is truly exciting, something everyone in your ecosystem can be proud to be a part of.

VB: Have you got plans of bringing the Startup Bootcamp to South Africa? What would it require?

MB: We would love to. It requires a great team on the ground who can execute it. In 2013 we are running seven programs, in seven cities across Europe, thereby helping – and investing in — 70 startups in just one year. Our goal is to reach 20 cities around the world, within the next five years. It is crucial that as we grow, we retain the highest quality. So we spend a long time getting to know potential local partners before we take the leap.

VB: You’ve been part of two multi-million dollar exits. When building those startups, did you do so — from day one — with an exit plan in mind?

MB: Yes, we did. We love to start and we don’t particularly enjoy to govern the businesses when they are bigger and more mature. For us, it has always been a natural part of our thinking – being open to exit.

VB: What is your Winning Without Losing presentation about, aside from the book itself? Why would one want to listen to the talk instead of just reading the book and vice versa?

MB: The talk is a compact, personal and fun way to get some tangible input for how to optimize your own business success and personal happiness. It’s also an opportunity for me to engage in person with people — whereas the book by definition is more a ‘one-way’ kind of communication.

Bjergegaard will be in South Africa presenting his insights on starting up and building high-growth startups. You can catch him in Johannesburg at the Jozi Hub on 9 July and in Cape Town at the Bandwidth Barn on 12 July. Have a look here to join the Johannesburg leg of the tour.

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