VC’s with an Iberian Footprint

Episode 3 | Breega | Ben Marrel

MAXIMILIEN BACOT | BEN MARREL | FRANÇOIS PAULUS

Breega

Breega’s mission is to provide founders with fair financing, real mentoring and accessible experts, propelling today’s startups into tomorrow’s scale-ups. The founders wanted to “Bridge the Equity and Experience Gap” they saw missing in venture, which is why they called their fund Breega.

Interview

1. Can you tell us more about you (background, interests, fun facts)?

Yes, I’m Ben Marrel, Founding-Partner at Breega. Our role is to finance and help grow Europe’s brightest and best tech startups. And I’m proud to say we’re one of Europe’s fastest growing VCs. :)

I grew up in the South of France but my career to date has been pretty international. After studying Engineering and Business in Paris, I went to work for Macquarie Bank in London and then Sydney. I then made the big switch to entrepreneurship :)

I started by launching FiftyFor, the first financial rating platform for SMEs in Africa, and then, being passionate about rugby — getting paid to play at one point — I created Rugby Division, a disruptive rugby wear brand.

As an entrepreneur, I was very aware of the difficulties experienced by early-stage founders when struggling to grow their companies and looking for financing. So with my partners, Francois and Maximilien, we decided to build a different kind of VC, one that Bridges the Equity and Experience Gap we saw in venture capital. Which is where the name Breega comes from.

2. How do you describe your investment thesis in terms of geographies, industries, stage, and ticket size?

Through different funds, Breega invests in promising European high tech startups from PreSeed to Series B across all sectors. We usually sign cheques from €500 k to €10 m per round and up to €25 m in total in any one company. Nowadays we tend to invest one third of our money in France, one third in the UK and one third in Iberia. This said, we also have a couple of investments in Africa, Israel and the States. We like to invest early, where possible and help boost our startups by hiring for them and providing them with free operational tools and support of inhouse Operating team of 10 people in HR, biz dev, Legal and MarComs.

3. How is your typical investment process in terms of steps and timings (describe it briefly)?

Our process is divided into 3 phases:

  • The initial introduction phase consists of two meetings, with two different members of our investment team (so you have to pitch us twice but it allows us to gather different perspectives) and is concluded by what we call our Jedi Council (a deep dive session with all the partners and the rest of the investment team)
  • If positive, we then start the exploration phase where we meet the startup’s entire team and dig into their metrics…
  • Then the final phase: decision and due diligence. The whole process usually takes from 2 to 6 weeks

4. What are the main characteristics you look for in an entrepreneur? / In your view, what makes up a successful entrepreneur?

We like to sum it up like this: we have a VIP (Vision, Individual, Product) approach to startups :)

  • A strong Vision : founders must have a clear vision of what they want to achieve.
  • Individual(s): strong leadership and complimentary skills are key to any company’s success.
  • Product: we are passionate about tech products solving real problems and creating their own moats.

5. What are the three most common deal breakers you find after meeting an entrepreneur for the first time?

  • A startups founding team being key, we won’t invest if we feel they lack leadership, vision or drive or if the team is unbalanced.
  • When founders show poor knowledge of their competitors, market and/ or figures, a lack of ambition or dedication
  • When the market size addressed is too small, it could be an amazing business but probably not a great VC backed one

6. In your view, how much equity should the founding team own before raising a Series A round?

Having raised a successful Seed round, the founding team’s equity will obviously be diluted but they should still own the majority of their company, say 60 to 80%. This is a point that founders should watch, if they give away too much equity too early on in the game, they may not have enough to go through later rounds. Also, founders and their teams need to keep some skin in the game to stay motivated.

7. How do you add value to your portfolio companies?

We have an in-house operational team fully dedicated to providing our startups with both strategic and hands-on operational help. As mentioned earlier on, we have now 10 people providing free-of-charge help to our startups on a daily basis.

Many of our startups like to say that the ops team is an extension of their own :)

The help our Talent team provides is seen as being particularly valuable to our startups. Last year, we hired over a 100 talents for our portfolio companies, which as you can imagine is a huge time saver!

At Breega we are very committed to helping our startups grow. We always take a seat on the board and we think of ourselves more as partners providing founders with guidance, advice and concrete help and we’re always just a call or a text away :)

8. Is there any company you regret not having invested in (anti-portfolio)?

Of course, as a VC you never get it right 100% of the time, but then that’s part of the fun of the game! We look at around 10,000 opportunities per year so it’s normal to miss a few. The important thing is to be super happy with the ones you do invest in ;)

As yet, there haven’t been any major regrets except maybe for ManoMano, but our first fund wasn’t ready yet :)

9. Do you have any specific industries / sectors you are looking at into more detail right now?

Breega is a sector- agnostic fund, we get excited by a whole range of sectors from Adtech right through to AI and robotics. That said, right now, we’re really interested in the new wave of innovation around artificial intelligence and quantum computing! These are the new mobile and cloud.

10. What were the top three reasons that made you look at the Iberian ecosystem in the first place?

  • The talent pool : Spanish and Portuguese entrepreneurs are often very international with education or work experiences abroad, which is a real plus.
  • Opportunity : the iberian tech ecosystem is booming and has several future potential unicorns and favorable regulation such as Spain’s startup Act or Portugal’s tech visa and 200M co-investment fund addressing the needs to foster tech-innovation and to better support founders are incentives for foreign investors like us to bet on Iberian innovation !
  • It appeals to our pioneering spirit. As yet there aren’t many other Pan European VCs based out there… ;)

11. What are the main differences you recognize between the Portuguese and the Spanish ecosystems?

Both have great tech talent pools, particularly in Madrid in Spain and Lisbon and Porto in Portugal. Both ecosystems are very promising, growing fast and starting to attract foreign investors. We’re seeing some great products and startups emerging with relatively low valuations and both countries have great incentives with which to attract outside talent… I would say that for now though the Spanish ecosystem is a little less “early phase”, more established, and the market larger than that of the Portuguese one.

However, as Portugal is a smaller market, founders are often born with a more global mindset and tend to go overseas early on. We’ve also noticed that, in the context of a latin american expansion in particular, founders tend to favour countries where the native language is the same as their own, Brazil for portuguese startups and Mexico/ Columbia for spanish startups for example.

12. Do you value having a local co-investor on board prior to the investment round or co-investing with you?

Yes absolutely. Though we tend to lead or co-lead, we are always happy to invest alongside local VCs providing that they share our values. Having a local co-investor tells us that the founders will have access to a wider local network to accelerate their commercial development, build partnerships, hire talents domestically and have access to advisors who are familiar with the specificities of the market (culture, regulation…).

13. What is the best way for a company to apply for investment at Breega?

Given the number of decks we receive each year, being introduced to us by an esteemed friend or contact will increase chances of securing a first meeting with us. But although we do prefer introductions and referrals, success stories that began in our inboxes do happen at Breega! You can also drop your deck on our website : https://www.breega.com. We always make sure we read them!

MAXIMILIEN BACOT | BEN MARREL | FRANÇOIS PAULUS

About The Series

VC’s with an Iberian Footprint invites investors that have Iberian companies within their portfolio to share insights and industry knowledge. With each of its episodes dedicated to a different VC fund, it provides an informal, and deep look at the VC world.

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