Enso: The challenging path taken by visionary startups
A pre-seed stage deep tech software startup’s journey
When I first met Wojtek, the founder and CEO of Enso, he had a big and bold idea. But the big concept, the leader, plus a tiny technical team was all there was. Today, we’ve progressed a step further: Enso has just announced a significant new round.
Looking back, Innovation Nest was the first investor in Enso, and I had the honour of becoming Wojtek’s mentor and coach, a position I still hold today. Working with a startup has had its ups and downs, from profound faith to doubt to deep faith again. It was a fantastic adventure that came to an end when the company progressed to the next stage.
I want to explore the hurdles for deep tech software firms in their early stages. But before that, let me tell you about my experience with Enso.
Three initial ingredients
The first ingredient is a large yet concrete and convincing vision.
Marek Kapturkiewicz and I met Wojtek Danilo a few years ago when he came to visit our Kraków office.
We had an interesting discussion. Wojtek stated that the way code is written is fundamentally flawed and that it was past time to make a change. The vision was massive. It was on the verge of being unbelievable, but something tangible, down-to-earth, and sincere in Wojtek’s demeanour convinced us. That was the beginning of a long and tortuous journey of cooperation.
Wojtek is a convincing person.
He is a natural leader since he believes in every word he says and communicates a lot of positive energy because he is an expert in his domain. Wojtek has thought through his pitch thoroughly, and his knowledge, diligence, and hard work have prepared him well for both broad and specific queries. I admire his instructional and instructive approach; he doesn’t have to hide behind a crystal castle of expert knowledge.
The second ingredient is a knowledgeable and convincing leader.
Exceptional engineering abilities are required to create exceptional technology. Wojtek and his initial team member, Piotr, have these abilities. People who are ten times faster at thinking and coding than skilled pros are the key. Also, people with the creativity to make something unprecedented. It necessitates taking risks and adopting an iterative mindset, even when starting from scratch.
Ingredient number three is superior technical ability.
It is not always the case that a startup secures its first substantial investment with an investor who shares the vision.
Innovation Nest invested in Enso as a first investor a couple of years ago, and the multiple on the first money that we invested in the company is well above 100x. So Enso is already a ‘dragon’ for Innovation Nest Fund 1 (a company that returns the whole fund).
What made us invest?
The vision and the leader. These were the specific reasons. Others were more speculative, though some were potent, such as the opportunity to enter a massive market; after all, the way code gets written is an enormous business.
In terms of product and strategy: There is no defined product vision, no clear business plan, and no clarity as to which precise market the organisation wishes to pursue. Furthermore, the estimated time to create the product in any form was extremely long, and the product’s risk was significant.
The team: The leader lacked managerial and entrepreneurial skills. Except for leadership and technical talents, the team lacked the specific skills required to establish the startup. Looking back, I believe Wojtek would agree with this judgement.
Pre-seed investment is about strengths, not weaknesses. So we acknowledged the strengths and then chose to invest in Enso.
The company accomplished a few important goals when still in stealth mode. Hard work and iterations contributed to the accomplishments. Many errors were made, but eventually, one by one, breakthroughs were achieved.
As often is the case with core technologies, the product development effort was twofold.
The first part was the backend, the essential element of Enso. Building this part took much longer than expected, but surprisingly the engineering assumptions of this part have not changed much from the very beginning. The key achievement is that the core technology is up and running.
The Enso team went through several approaches before eventually finding a product proposition that clearly defined the target customer segment and identified the value delivered. Altogether, the vision from the beginning has become a reality as far as a product, business model, and place in the technology landscape are concerned.
In terms of the team, there were two significant changes. The first concerns how the technical team collaborates and oversees software development progress. It used to be a bunch of individuals; now, it’s a team.
The second aspect is founder cooperation and the complementary skills they bought to the table. The alliance achieved over the last two years is the strength of Enso.
Solid round from Silicon Valley
Enso recently announced that the company had raised over $20 million from top investors, including Silicon Valley’s Signal Fire and Khosla Ventures. It’s a significant step forward for Enso on its path to becoming a unicorn and, according to our shared ambition, a decacorn.