“Try to get not similar but totally complementary skilled Angels”
Bogdan Adrian Nicoară- Founder and CEO, BrightSpaces
During what phase of your startup development have you started to work with angel investors?
I started discussions with Angels right after we decided to start Bright Spaces as a tech startup following the path of subsequent funding rounds. We first wanted to understand how things should be done when going for a pre-seed round here, in Bucharest, and we had a lot of Angels answering even the most subtle questions (thank you: Adrian Erimescu, Ilinca Păun, Dragoș Nicolaescu, Mihai Guran, Sergiu Neguț, Sebastian Cochinescu, Mihai Dârzan, Mihai Rotaru, Alex Boghiu)
Did you choose your angel investors? What were the thinking and criteria behind it?
I believe we were lucky enough to get to that point where we could choose our Angel Investors. We chose Growceanu Angel Investment and Ilinca Păun next to our pre-seed Lead investor VC: Sparking Capital because we felt they have the ability to help us quickly assimilate the market-related knowledge (we had no experience in working with real estate specialists) but also in creating and scaling a Saas.
Did you choose to work with one or with more angel investors?
Both in our pre-seed round in 2019 (€185,000) and in our seed round in 2021 (€1,5M) we opted for a mixed strategy, VCs+Angels because we needed a lot of real estate knowledge fast. Now our cap-table has 3 international VCs (Sparking Capital from Romania, Axeleo Proptech from France, and Pi Labs VC from the UK) together with 20 Angel Investors from Romania and the UK organized in 3 SPVs.
Looking retrospectively how was your cooperation with the angel investor(s)?
Way better than what we imagined. Maybe we were lucky enough to get on board the right Angel Investors or maybe this is the rule, but we have great chemistry and all of them help us immediately if we need something. I wish we had more time to invest in this relationship and make the best out of it because their input could be much more than what we manage to absorb from them today.
How did the angel investors contribute?
From leads to great know-how about the market, hiring, pricing, product development, positioning, and marketing, we see almost an infinite amount of knowledge we can reach at any time, at least for the first phases of the development of Bright Spaces (pre-Series A). I know that as we grow, our needs will be more international and VC-focused, but even then I am sure that, at a certain level, the relationship with Angel Investors will bring surprising results. This is because they are not only invested financially but also emotionally with the Founders and they will do whatever they can to help the team evolve and the company scale.
In what areas was the cooperation the most useful?
In our case, the best results we had with Angels were leads and funding know-how. But I think each founder should define their strengths and weaknesses because an Angel Investor can act exactly as an outside force filling the gaps in your set of characteristics. For some it may be the market-specific know-how, for others, it can be networking and lead generation, while for others Angels can act as mentors and advisors for Product Development or building the team. If the founders are true to themselves then they should try to get not similar but totally complementary skilled Angels. This will help them grow faster and accelerate the development of their teams’ skill sets.
In what areas you couldn’t get specific help from your angel investors?
Bright Spaces was created in a very new market – proptech. This means that the combined know-how of tech & real-estate would be the most desirable when it comes to picking the right Angels, Advisors, and Mentors. But, as this is a very new vertical all over the world, not to mention Eastern Europe, we were mostly able to get separate knowledge for the tech part and for the real estate market. However, because some of the Angels started to invest in more proptech startups and some of them began to work in projects with a proptech dimension, we soon started to receive valuable info from them regarding the new proptech ecosystem.
If it would be to start all over in this relationship, would you do the same? What would you change?
The only thing that I would change in Bright Spaces’ relationship with its Business Angels would be to be even more engaged, create a better strategy to access their knowledge and network faster. Even if this means hiring a salesperson way earlier or getting a COO so that I can dedicate more time to this, I believe that this could have paid off.
Would you say that the angel investors supported you in a significant way, or it was difficult to gain access to them as a resource?
Bright Spaces got a huge amount of benefits from its Angels and we still do. Everyone is fully committed to helping us get to the global level we imagined ever since the beginning.
Do you have now a preferred way to work with an angel investor?
I am still building this :). In theory, I believe that when a person offers their help, you should have the power to get as much knowledge and network as possible. In reality, operations take a lot of the founders’ time & focus and we sometimes forget the huge source of help we have at an email or a phone call away.
What advice(s) you could provide for a startup looking to find angel investors?
Any founder who wishes to get in touch with Angels now has the most elaborate systems to do it. From tens of pitching events to groups of angel investors like Tech Angels, Growceanu Angel Investors, Transilvania Angel Investors, and many others, Romania becomes a very interesting market for early-stage startups. I wouldn’t even stop here, as borders seem to be disappearing when it comes to funding. More and more foreign Angels and VCs are looking at Eastern European countries to diversify their portfolio with teams willing to go that extra mile in order to become the greatest in their domain. Getting from a good idea in a big-enough market together with the right team to the successful startup we all hope for has never been easier. Nobody knows if this is a bubble and how much time this will last, so the best thing to do is to bring our best game, to push as hard and as fast as we can, to create those extraordinary products that will define the categories we stepped into and to gather the results. I am truly optimistic that many good startups, together with great partners, Angels, and VCs, will become the next global solutions in the following years. And yes, coming from this part of the world is currently not a disadvantage anymore, but, in the right circumstances, it may even count as a strategic advantage.
Once they identified the investors, what would your advice be for your fellow founders to engage with angel investors?
Create that authentic, truthful relationship because only this way you can harvest the best results. Consider your Angels almost as being part of the team, not in the operational sense but as very close Advisors, Mentors, and Referrals.