2020 Reflections from Four European Founders — Lessons & Tips

Sam Ahmed
Sam Ahmed
Dec 17, 2020 · 7 min read
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2020 was a lot of things to many of us — for better or for worse — but more than anything it was a year reflection, resilience, and growth.

To wrap up the year, we wanted to share leadership lessons and tips from four European founders who adapted, grew — and successfully raised funding in an unprecedented year.

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Founder: Salim Elkhou, Onna

“I have often been given advice about prioritisation and being totally ruthless about it but it is probably the thing we need reminding most about.”

2020 has been a huge year for us — we secured our Series B funding round; hired some fantastic leaders into the business and doubled the size of our team; have been developing new products; and secured some of the world’s biggest brands as customers. All of that during the pandemic has meant we’ve had to do a lot differently but the Covid crisis hasn’t slowed us down.

I have often been given advice about prioritisation and being totally ruthless about it but it is probably the thing we need reminding most about.

Undoubtedly, the biggest leadership (and ‘life’) lesson has come from how much significant global events can shape our lives. Covid has shown us that we ‘can’ work anywhere, be a fully remote business and achieve great things but in-person and social connections with colleagues are so important. I want to be able to hug all my colleagues… until HR tells me not to!

It is obvious to say that founders need to keep creating value for customers, but maybe less obvious is being able to constantly demonstrate that value to anyone that may be thinking about investing in your business. Existing investors can help with that and should be seen as part of the team to go through that journey with you.

About: Onna integrates all your workplace knowledge platforms together, allowing you to — for the first time — unify, protect, search, automate and build on top of your company’s proprietary knowledge. Onna can be integrated with any cloud or on-premise application, including Slack, Dropbox, and Salesforce.

Location: Barcelona and New York 📍

Last funding round: $27M Series B raised in June 2020

Investors: Atomico, Glynn Capital, Nauta Capital, Dawn Capital, Slack Fund

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Founder: Andrea Oliver, Emjoy

“I learned to lead a team and hire remotely while adapting quickly to the circumstances.”

Our major milestone was to launch Emjoy worldwide in January 2020, triple our paying subscriber base during the lockdown and close our €2.5m seed round led by JME and Nauta in September 2020.

This year I have learned to give constructive feedback to my co-workers. Last year, I feared that employees would get upset. However, I have realised that constructive feedback is essential for improvement and that my co-workers really appreciate it because it helps them grow and understand their objectives better.

I learned to lead a team and hire remotely while adapting quickly to the circumstances. Initially, we wanted to raise a bigger seed round but with Covid we had to adapt to the circumstances and raise a smaller round.

To a founder who is fundraising, I would advise her to start talking to investors early, and to narrow down the number of investors based on their investment thesis and interest on the business.

About: Emjoy is an audio-based intimate wellbeing startup founded in January 2019 by Andrea Oliver Garcia, CEO, and Daniel Tamas, CTO. Emjoy’s mission is to close the orgasm gap by enabling women to discover their bodies and (re)gain confidence in their sex lives. With a library of 150+ audio sessions and sensual stories, developed by its in-house sex therapist and sexual wellbeing experts, the app provides a holistic solution to reduce pleasure inequality and help its users get in the mood.

Location: Barcelona 📍

Last funding round: $3M raised in September 2020

Investors: JME Ventures and Nauta Capital

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Founder: James Henderson, Zephr

“The key is to be resilient and to remember if you hear no, it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.”

We’ve had a tremendous year with closing Series A round, to opening our first office in NYC, doubling the size of our team and recently releasing a new product feature, Zephr User State Map Beta. It is a true testament to the journey my co-founder, Chris and I set on just a few years ago to build a product that actually solves a problem with how businesses are engaging and offering their digital products to their customers.

Be ready for anything and adapt!

The most important leadership lesson I learned in 2020 is to really focus on patience and compassion. As new ways of working changed, so did the way we all communicate day-to-day, the importance of staying close to employees to ensure they are armed and equipped to do what they do best became ever-more important. Our employees are Zephr — without them we have nothing.

For founders fundraising next year, I would recommend to start out with the intention that it is a grind and be prepared for a 6-month journey. The key is to be resilient and to remember if you hear no, it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. Stick to your plan, stay consistent and persistent in the process. And be prepared to make lots of revisions to your deck. The story will get sharper and stronger as you do. It is hard, but the reward is well worth it in the end.

About: Zephr is revolutionising the subscription economy for the world’s leading media and publishing companies by providing everything from paywalls to identity management tools. The company’s intuitive, no-code platform, empowers teams to create, tweak and implement effective data and paywall strategies in minutes.

Location: London & New York 📍

Last funding round: $8M raised in September 2020

Investors: BDMI, Knight Capital, Nauta Capital

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Founder: Paul Schwarzenholz, zenloop

“Building up a sustainable network of long-term contacts, even if you don’t profit from it, is worth it.”

Closing second financing round in the middle of a pandemic and emerging from the most difficult period with more customers than before and without a single employee on short-time work.

Investing early into a bunch of home office desk chairs for the whole team ;-)

Building up a sustainable network of long-term contacts, even if you don’t profit from it, is worth it. I strongly believe that the startup ecosystem should not be driven by egocentric maniacs who only do things for their own advantage. I also think the often-used cliché that VCs are primarily out to make a quick buck is outdated. My personal experience shows that the opposite is true and VCs are also interested in long-term partnerships.

It’s hard to pick out a top tip as there are many things to consider when raising funding. But If I had to give one advice, I would say: ‘Commit yourself fully to the task at hand and trust your team to make the right decisions in everyday business for you.’ Oftentimes, founders feel the need to stay in the loop in all halfway relevant business decisions all the time. My personal experience shows that speaking simply from a time management perspective, this is not possible when raising funding. Trust your team — if you hired right, you’re not that important. For anyone interested: My co-founder Björn recently wrote down his top 10 lessons from 10 years of fundraising in this article. For entrepreneurs planning to raise funding soon, I think it holds some valuable learnings.

About: zenloop is the leading integrated experience management platform (IXM). The SaaS solution automatically collects customer feedback through various channels along the customer journey, analyzes and clusters it, and derives tailored measures to retain satisfied customers as well as win back churning customers.

Location: Berlin📍

Last funding round: €6.1M raised in June 2020

Investors: Signals Venture Capital, Piton Capital & Nauta Capital.

Ps: For the latest news, insights and updates from Nauta and its 50 strong portfolio founders, sign up to our quarterly newsletter!

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Capital-Efficient Foundation for Global Disruptors: Nauta…

Sam Ahmed

Written by

Sam Ahmed

Head of MarComms @NautaCapital into startups, venture capital & brand storytelling

Nauta Capital

Capital-Efficient Foundation for Global Disruptors: Nauta backs entrepreneurs that share our vision to create global disruptors, in large spaces, where technology has had limited impact.

Sam Ahmed

Written by

Sam Ahmed

Head of MarComms @NautaCapital into startups, venture capital & brand storytelling

Nauta Capital

Capital-Efficient Foundation for Global Disruptors: Nauta backs entrepreneurs that share our vision to create global disruptors, in large spaces, where technology has had limited impact.

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