Why investors gave us $7 million

I recently joined an on-demand direct sales startup called Universal Avenue. As you can read about on Techcrunch we just raised another $5 million, bringing our total seed pot now to $7 million.

Prior to joining Universal Avenue, I had some background building startups and had raised some money for those, so I discovered first hand how gruelling the process can be. Even in this day and age where there is an abundance of early stage investors and support for those looking to do this, lets be honest… it’s still bloody hard.

So how did Universal Avenue cruise in, one of the newest kids on the block within the Swedish startup scene, and close such a whopping seed round from the likes of Northzone, Salesforce Ventures, and MOOR? Heres my honest breakdown of the top 5 reasons those investors invested in us, gathered together from both what they told us but also a few deductions of my own. I hope it helps.

1. Team, team, team, and a bit more team.
This was a unanimous message from all of our investors so far when asked about why they invested. Frankly, it’s one of the major reasons I joined the company myself, because the team was so damn strong. By strong, I mean that first the two co-founders and early hires are extremely smart and experienced, but have diverse enough personalities and skill-sets to compliment each other. By strong I mean that the early team has that rare gift of being experienced enough to challenge each other on a daily basis, but at the same time getting on as friends. I know it’s a cliché, but being at Universal Avenue feels like being part of a growing family, and thats rarer than you may think within the startup world.

2. The Brand
We are the first startup I have seen that has been so focused on our brand identity at a really early stage. In the age of the ‘lean startup’ its common to find startups building early scrappy minimum viable products (‘MVP’s) and worrying about branding much later down the road. We havn’t had this approach, and the investors we have had to date have told me on a few occasions that the fact the team had put so much thought into this was a big reason for them investing. Universal Avenue is disrupting the sales industry and providing a new way for sales people to work, but also a new way for brands to acquire customers. As with all new things that are disruptive and shaking up an old industry (AirBnB, Uber, and going further back, even eBay) this requires trust. You can gain trust through a strong brand and we put a lot of thought into this from how we communicate externally, to what our culture feels like on a day-to-day basis, for example we work very hard, but we play hard too! This has made our user acquisition, hiring, fundraising, PR activities and many other areas of the business much easier from day one.

3. We’re hiring aggressively, raising aggressively and growing aggressively.
At a previous startup of mine we raised $1 million over a period of a year or so, and spent that money slowly (and painfully!) over 4 years. Looking back, I wish we did things differently. I wish we had spent the money faster, scaled faster, and raised larger sums of money via our new found traction and growth. As the saying goes, fail fast, or die trying. Come our Series A, we didn’t have the scale we needed to raise more. I’m not saying rasing more and spending more is the only way to build a start-up (and until the model ‘clicks’ would probably still encourage an ‘lean startup’ approach) but for us when it did click, we went all-in. Its paying off so far.

4. We pivoted until it worked.
Yeah I know, pivoting is so 2014 right? Many people don’t know this but Universal Avenue existed in another form before. It was called ‘You Planet’, and was a product helping people to travel around the world. One of the things that the team tested at You Planet was a set of features that allowed sales people to work the way they wanted to live, earning money by direct selling innovative digital brands at physical venues. They were paid well to do so in a transparent way and therefore it fuelled their lifestyle decisions and travel desires. Back then, VC’s such as the soon-to-be investors Northzone knew about us already (a takeway here, start building those relationships as early as possible!), but weren’t convinced on the business model and market being addressed. Then the team pivoted, doubling down on the aspect of the business that worked best, on-demand sales, then BOOM, it all happened.

5. We’re solving a big problem in a market ripe for disruption.
As Techcrunch confirms, B2B services make up a trillon dollar market. The sales industry specifically is one of those industries (like accommodation and transportation was) that had been relatively untouched until the tech startup boom came along. We are fast entering a new generation, where millennials who have the education, disposable income and opportunity to work on things they believe in are craving to do so in a way that gives them freedom of lifestyle. Whilst this new generation emerges, the sharing economy and on-demand movement has finally started to take off, and many believe, (us included!), that the way people do work will look very different in 10–20 years time.

But as always when raising money, now the hard work begins, and I feel very lucky and excited to be a part of the journey that we are now embarking on.

If you’re interested in hearing more about Universal Avenue, want to work for us, become a brand ambassador, or have us help your brand to grow, you can drop me a tweet at @jasondainter

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