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Ask HN: How do we find an investor in the EU/UK for something very technical?
41 points by tluyben2 on Jan 19, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 37 comments
Some history:

We have spent a large portion of our daily company time developing something like Apportable for apps, not games. We tried Apportable on multiple occasions and it's too game focused. Our clients all want Android apps but basically don't want to pay for them or spend time on them, for them, iOS is the first class citizen, Android comes far behind that and the rest is usually not even mentioned. Especially line of business apps are very much like: make the iOS perfect and 'the rest' (as much as you can do fast/cheap) should be done, but don't bother us with it.


We compile the iOS apps we build to Android and release them; we currently also have alpha versions for WP8 & HTML5 which work well enough. But we need to do it (just like Apportable by the way) currently; we 'fix' our library when there are methods / classes missing. We allow, in quite intuitive ways, to use the native API's where clients want/need to.


We would like to finish this so it can be sold online, maybe as a service or download; currently it's sold together with every project we build and that works well but the money from that is not enough to 'finish' this into a product. To finish that entire phase and start selling worldwide (instead of project based, which, by the way, is still a lot cheaper than doing an Android implementation yourself) we need more money then we can fund ourselves. We are situated in Europe and the investors (mostly angels) we speak to either have no clue what this is or how much upside it has or offer far too small amounts for too much % (usually actually less money than we can make ourselves selling it in a month or two which is just not enough to invest in it).

What would be a good route for us to finding the right people? It does not have to be in the EU/UK, but that seems the most likely option.

I can't actually help you directly with your request, but stop telling yourself that you're building something "very technical", at least to the extend that it's an impediment to articulating the business value of your product.

You're solving a real problem for a real market. You will help thousands of app-developers reach a wider audience with a better product. You're selling shovels to golddiggers, you're not digging gold - that's a good business proposition. Do some back of the envelope math to figure out what the market is worth, and come back with the question "How do we find an investor for a great business?"

That is excellent advise and we are really doing that (to the best of our abilities :); on HN I just want to be honest that then people talk for a while they push through that onto the tech and then they get slightly lost. So the part between 'this is for the millions of app developers' (tech without saying it) and 'compiling against a library' (tech and saying it) is where it gets a bit hairy.

This isn't exactly an answer to your question, but a general piece of advice: you might have more luck if you take your "very technical" product and explain it in a way that others can relate to more easily. Something like "We've built a service that allows programmers to create Android apps from their iOS applications automatically." And then follow that up by explaining that typically building an Android app takes a full-time engineer 6 months at £XXXX/month, while your product makes that unnecessary, so you think you can charge developers £XXX to use it.

When you give a bit of context to what you've accomplished, it shouldn't take someone with a BSc in CS to understand what you're talking about.

All that said, sometimes the best way to find good investors is to just go where they are, as others have mentioned.

EDIT: sibling comment by mseebach beat me to this point by about 5 minutes

This. If investors are struggling to see the value of your product, it's because you haven't developed enough of a commercial pitch.

The technical aspects that matter (unlike other solutions to developing for multiple platforms, ours lets iOS developers write native iOS apps the way they normally would; our solution takes their code and makes it work on Android, the web and other tablets) really shouldn't be difficult to grasp anyone that's remotely serious about tech investment. They need to establish your product has a market and that you're capable of marking it work; technical benefits matter but implementation details are secondary.

They do need to know who will buy your product, why, what evidence of success of similar solutions exists and why yours will be better. They need to know you've implemented large parts already for paid client work, and the clients were impressed because none of the other dev shops they talked to could clone iPhone apps for Android that quickly or cheaply. They want to know you have an idea how you're actually going to sell this, and at what price to what sized market.

If that interests them, that's when you can have all the nice conversations about your innovative ways of using APIs and why this manual aspect of your current process can be automated; you might even find they've got a friendly techie to do that as part of the due diligence.

Get lots of meetings and shake a lot of hands. It's hard work and takes a lot of time.

You could try and shortcut this by using Seedrs or similar, but you're going to be a more compelling investment if you've refined your pitch.

Inbound contacts from VCs are worth more than when you make first contact yourself, but you need presence and externally visible momentum to get those.

Also consider going to the US. Money is easier to get hold of there. You could make an argument that EU investors are just more choosy, but I haven't seen any stats to indicate a higher typical return. It also helps to talk to an investor who knows the space.

Maybe someone else has an easier path for you... I've done this but I don't know everything. Some days I don't know anything.

Why does everyone think its easier to get hold of money in US? My friends in bay area do not know any investors at all. How does one go about this in the US? Which meetups should I go to?

You might get lucky but meetups seem like a hit-and-miss method to meet investors. Pitch them. Be transparent and professional, and they'll probably appreciate it.

Simply because there are more investors in the US.

This touches on an interesting conundrum: I was one of the founders of zynamics (exit to Google in 2011), and I have been looking for attractive angel investment opportunities in Europe for a while - and also have tried to volunteer some time to do startup mentoring.

At the same time, I still have a day job - in Zurich - so I can't go to the various "startup meetups" or whatever and waste time there :-)

So - how does someone with experience starting/running a very technical company with an interest in doing some angel investing get in contact with people in the EU that are promising? I haven't found a good way outside of asking around via email ...

Did you give a talk in Cambridge a few years ago? I went to a Zynamics talk and it was absolutely fascinating - really cool stuff you guys did.

Yep, that was me :-) - although already post-acquisition. Alan Mycroft had invited me over, I really enjoyed the visit :)

are you a member of a swiss business angel network ? any preferred way to contact you ?

thomas followed by a point followed by dullien at gmail.

Check out Cambridge, UK and network with the companies/investors there. ARM, Bromium, Geometrics and quite a few others are all companies that are based there and are very technical.

While you're there, get in touch with the Cambridge Angels. They won't be scared by very technical ideas (as long as you can prove the market etc. etc.), but are extremely rigorous.

I work with Accel Partners in London (http://www.accel.com/#people/adrian-colyer), and after many years in CTO roles, I'm certainly not afraid of technical subject matter. A quick read through some of my recent blog posts should demonstrate that: http://blog.acolyer.org. There always has to be a good business opportunity too though, not just good tech. We help our European portfolio companies establish a US presence and grow the connections etc. that they need: Accel has been operating in the valley for over 30 years! Without passing judgement on this particular opportunity, I'm always happy to hear from anyone in Europe doing interesting things with technology, aspiring to build a significant business around it, and potentially looking for VC investment. Our recent investment in Weaveworks (http://weave.works/news/seriesa.html) is a good example.

Good advice from mseebach and kcorbitt still holds true though...

I guess the best answer here is to talk to people. But if you truly know no wealthy people in technology, that might be hard. Wealthy people usually have wealthy friends, and they tend to invest together (risk spreading).

Pure technical products are usually harder to find investors for, but regardless, you should focus on results/value. If getting an average app developed costs you $20k on iOS, and $20k on Android, then show investors that by using your technology, the second $20k for the Android app can be saved. Don't talk about technical stuff, such as classes/methods/blabla. They won't care, unless they're a software guy themselves.

A question: How does the user experience of these apps feel, in comparison to a native Android app? I can see this idea working perfectly for games, but for apps?

Do you have any sample apps?

What do you need the money for?

- For your kind of $20k + $20k evaluation; we can do most Android apps from iOS in a few k, so yes we have a good show case for that

- The user experience, out of the box, is just identical to iOS with a few Android-isms; one of the goals is to make it more 'Android' look & feel if we have some time (and thus money); to be very honest and i'm not sure if that's different in the US; for non-consumer facing apps it is actually better to have WP8/Android 100% the same as the iOS app as it actually annoys companies to have elaborate helpdesks who have to check what device you have and for consumer facing apps at least our clients generally (and there are some very large ones there) really have no interest in the look & feel of the Android app. They present the iOS app to the board / investors / users / etc, the Android app is an afterthought usually. That said; it is fast (native), it looks good, you can specialise graphics / animations and even specific views to be more native in their look & feel; this does not take long to get it feeling solid

- Example apps; Yes, we can/have show(n) enough

- Using the money; mostly for completing our roadmap which is for 2015; we have 2 roadmaps; for internal and external. The internal roadmap is for when we just go along as we are which is ok but a real shame from my perspective; I think many people/companies would benefit here. And of course if we wait to do this organically we stand the chance of being too slow. My preference would be to do the external roadmap which is focused on making this a sellable toolkit / service. While selling it to clients at the same time (again, I believe what Apportable was/is doing).

Not to mention ; it is not too hard to get games running as well; they are done partly but not running fast enough as we don't do many games so not much need to optimise.

You could try http://www.kima15.com although ceding 15% might be too steep for the amount they invest given you have a working, sellable prototype (I have heard Kima say they are sometimes willing to negotiate on this figure though).

You could also try posting to angel list (not easy to get noticed there though unless you already have a bit of a network).

good idea :)

As a startup it's your job to convince investors about the size of your market. When a FoodTech startup or FashionTech startup pitch to investors they don't assume the investor will have an in-depth knowledge of their market, they have to demonstrate through data what the market-size is.

You can do this top-down (what's the size of the market for iOS-to-Android porting by agencies servicing line of business apps) and bottom-up (you spoke to 50x agencies in this market; 40% want to buy your product and were willing to pay X). But you need to have evidence to back your claims.

You can very easily explain what your product does without having to go into deep technical detail. Use your story to explain it: "Converting iOS apps to work on Android was costing us around 150k a project; we've built a product that allows us to bring the cost down to 20k by automating away most of the work. We now want to bring this technology to other agencies."

I don't understand why you couldn't just start selling it, considering:

* It could save developers many thousands of dollars.

* There's presumably a big market for it.

* The product is apparently already built and would be difficult for someone to clone.

It will be a lot more attractive to investors if you already have revenue and a plan to scale it. Especially in EU/UK.

We have revenue and we are doing exactly that, but now I compare it to something like a 'half product' where we sell it and spend 1-2 weeks 'tweaking' it. We have a great roadmap which would not only allow us to sell this online but, coming from this, introduce a number of products, partner programs and services. This is all not possible without taking a big step for the product technically, branding wise and marketing wise.

Edit: but yes, if we cannot get a partner / funding partner, we definitely will take a small part of the roadmap and turn that into a niche product.

Try to pitch your business as solving a problem and don't pitch as "this is very technical".

I have found if you start by saying to a customer/investor "this is very technical" they have often decide they are not going to understand what you are about to say before you have even tell them details. Think about it as a magic potion, your service is a magic potion that ports apps between platforms. On the outside, that's your biggest message and the details can come afterwards if they are needed.

Hi, I am working in a tech incubator located in Paris. I think that first, you should build a kickass executive summary, and target key micro vc/ angels in your sector. Then, try to get intros with them via your network or contact them on linkedin. Don't forget that you won't have a second chance, so target them well, and get ready before meeting them ! Good luck !

Honestly, I ended up moving to the US. Depending on what exactly you want a good option may well be to spend 3-4 months in an accelerator in North East US or SV and then take a view on the long term. A lot depends on where you see the market. This route will expose you to the eco-systems and give you a good sense of if you want to stay the course in the US and seek venture funds.

Add a capable person to your team who's sole task it is to find investors for the visioned expansion. Its a full time job, especially with such 'raw product'. A person to work out the numbers (investment needed, market size, product placement, target price level), contact VC's, setup/lead meetings etc. Maybe even on no cure no pay.

I've forwarded this to a company that does lots of mobile (and invests too). Best of luck!


If you already have a decent consulting business I would try to get it into shape where you could make it publicly available and see if there's demand.

Have you looked at some crowdfunding options, like seedrs, crowdcube or others? Those could work supplementary to 'traditional' investors.

In short: forget it. Go to the valley or to China. The situation is ridiculously bad in Europe.

And once you solve this, how will you meet the people who will eventually make the biggest investment? (The acquirers.)

Being in the right part of the US, you can meet all three - future employees, investors, the decision makers in charge of acquisitions, valuable introducer middlemen, while you're at the park or chatting with people at meetups or anywhere. Amazingly, you can meet them just like any other normal people at any stage.

You may aim to strike the "best of both" by staying in EU. Very unlikely. The extremes wind up being far easier and more enjoyable than trying to balance something in the middle.

You are assuming acquirers are based exclusively in the US, which very much isn't the case. B2B software product that makes it easier to develop apps? I can think of a lot of large EU corporations that would be just as interested as US based companies to acquire (SAP, anyone?).

Furthermore, you don't need to be US based to be bought by a US company. A product like this probably will need a US presence at some point, since it sounds quite sales/evang heavy. But again, that doesn't mean you need to start in the US.

I think you might be viewing the world through fairly rose tinted glasses. I suppose I could meet a "valuable introducer middleman" while I'm in the park, but given SF it's probably more likely the stranger I just met in the park wants to tell me about the forthcoming alien invasion.

To use an analogy: if you want to be the film business, Hollywood is by far the most popular place to be. But that doesn't mean that being in Hollywood makes it any easier: there are more connections and more opportunities, but there's also far more people trying to use them. To that end, many successful people and companies in film are based outside of Hollywood. The Bay is the same: it's the place to be for tech. It's not the only place, and while there are advantages to being based there, there are also disadvantages.

Numbers talk, bullsh*t walks. Please tell me where your suggested EU city / region ranks among this bar chart:


Numbers, please? It's not rose tinted, for the time being it's still a massacre.

You guys that try to lure clueless young people into your small town career death traps are the worst kind of manipulators. Disgusting.

Do you have similar numbers that are adjusted for "amount of money in the acquisition / IPO" ? (genuinely curious)

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