Interview with Pedro Marques de Carvalho

With our funds ISTART-I and “Inovação e Internacionalização” investing in very early-stage tech companies, we added a new pre-requisite to the check-list we use to determine if a company is “investable”: the need to have a business angel investing along us — someone with real experience of leading a venture project, and willing to share his experience with other entrepreneurs.

One of the first business angel to work with us was Pedro Marques de Carvalho, director and co-founder of Novabase (NYSE Euronext: NBA), a leading Portuguese IT.

We asked Pedro about his previous experience breeding Novabase, and this new role in supporting the growth of young companies

Armilar Venture Partners: Pedro, what was like to start your company, 26 years ago ?

Pedro Carvalho: Breeding Novabase was a huge challenge that allowed me to experience several difficult situations in my professional life. Novabase started as a seed company with only 10 000€ of capital. At the time, I was 24 years old. My main idea was off course to make money, but I also had a dream to create a space where everybody could be happy working in a competitive environment, sharing part of the profits, and reserving part of the results to invest in the future of Novabase.

I remember we acted like a family and everybody worked as hard as they could, by objectives. We saw several economic and political crises that threathned our growth, but we always found a solution to go ahead. We had critical challenges with some important and big customers in the public sector and financial sector that demanded from us the best we could deliver, in order to meet all the projects’ goals and milestones. We spent several months working 7 days a week and sometimes 24 hours a day. We learnt how to manage projects with hundreds of people and with several partners each with its own agenda. I organized several team building activities, called “Novabase Radical” meetings, to maintain high motivation levels among all the employees. We celebrated each team member anniversary as if we were a whole family.

One of our goals was to be part of the IT companies’ first league. And for that we had to take risks and assume huge responsibilities during our course, such as commitments that if they were not achieved could bring down a government or large fines a day if we do not meet the stipulated deadlines.

As I remember, my happiest professional life was during the first 10 years of Novabase. It is amazing what we learn when we have to start from scratch and build everything according to our needs.

AVP: So you went through all that once. What motivated you to accept our invitation to invest in startups and, in some way, start al over again?

PC: This previous experience at Novabase was crucial to my decision. In fact, accepting your invitation to invest money in some startups and help them in their growth process allows me to join two great goals I had for long time: the chance to give back to society part of the knowledge and money I earned in a hard but delightful way, and to give the same chances I had to other skilled people who needed seed money and support to fulfill their dreams.

And this is also a different situation. This time, I’m not leading the companies, but supporting the leaders with advice, experience, and providing any other kind of help that can be useful for the companies. So I act more “on demand”, despite never deter me from giving my opinion , whether pleasant or not.

AVP: And what is your balance, until now ?

PC: Very positive. In my first investment, in Feedzai, I had the luck to meet amazing people, and was a pleasure to help them in the first years of life, which is the most difficult phase of a company. They were able to gather the right pieces to succeed worldwide: skilled and highly motivated people, an outstanding value proposition and an excellent software prototype. So I am proud to say I am helping, this time with a small contribution, the success of another Portuguese company. Today Feedzai is in on a more mature stage, but still with a long way ahead.

Besides Feedzai, I am also working with two other great Portuguese startups, helping them to achieve success in the near future.

Today, my main goal is not to make money with these new investments, but to allow people who have an entrepreneurial mindset to show the world how good they are. Of course, the return of investment will be important because it will be the only measure of the company success, and it will allow me to reinvest in new startups.

AVP: what would you describe as the key requisites for these small companies to succeed ?

PC: I think the most important thing we should look for is related with people. So, in the first place, the company should be leaded by highly motivated entrepreneurs, with the right ambition to succeed in their lives. And they should have the capability to hire and build the right team. The culture of a company is the sum up of individual contributions, and strongly influenced by the company leaders

Second, their founders should thing big. They should be addressing a relevant global problem, providing the best solution or product — today, it is crucial to think in solutions for the whole world right from the beginning, or risk ending up with a local and small business.

And third, they should be highly focused on delivery.

Finally, founders should be able to seek financial support and advice from experienced entrepreneurs — which is strongly dependent from the three previous requisites.

AVP: and here is were you can help, and we are very thankful for that

PC: Yes, me and you, guys.

I feel that I should stress that Armilar plays an important role in our society, being one of the most proactive venture capitalist in Portugal to help new startups to grow. The lack of knowledge and experience that most new business owners have in different areas of a company is huge, and simultaneously hard and expensive to overcome. You not only invest money in companies, but you also have an important role in supporting its management, both directly with your team, and indirectly, trying to find someone with experience in the field, willing to co-invest and support those companies. It is extremely important, for young companies success, to allow the exchange of experiences between those who “have already done it” and new entrepreneurs.

Pedro Marques de Carvalho