The story of a young entrepreneur from Brazil, who decided to set up his first startup at the age of 21. Felipe Vieira, a multi-faceted Civil Engineering and Management graduate, walks us through the ups and downs that brought him straight to sheer success. NetworkMe, his bright idea for a startup meshes talent, crystal-clear vision and sales skills. Felipe has an eye for business, a natural knack that helped him shape up a superb team and a state-of-the-art product.
Q: Tell us about your startup | give us your elevator pitch
What NetworkMe basically does is to connect students in search of employment. We consider ourselves to be a career management platform and we gamify the transition to make it fun and easy. For instance, if you’re a management graduate looking for a job placement, we’re going to create a roadmap for you to follow. The end of your journey will be your internship program. We also help companies get you to this point. In other words, we enable companies to track and hire skilled/competent professionals and engage with them, while allowing students find their dream job. Our current MVP platform cannot gamify this process yet. But we’re consistently raising the pre-seed round to invest more in technology and data. Our business model at this time is based on B2B subscriptions. So far, we have 14 companies working with this system, worth to mention that Deloitte is one of them. Two of the rest are from Brazil as we’re looking to expand there as well.
Q: Tell us about your journey to first investment – how long has it taken and what were the key milestones that led to your investment round.
At an early stage, our main setback was having to work on something we had never worked before. Diogo, our Head of Incubation, has been of great help! We managed to get through and prepare the perfect pitch to attract investors. Teamwork made the dream work and the presentation design looked ace! Once we had the material ready, Demium came into play. Their mentoring role was key, training us to deliver our pitch. But it was more than that: they gave us the confidence we needed and a bunch of insightful tips which enabled us to express our vision and what we aim to accomplish with NetworkMe. I almost got cold feet the first time I spoke with our investors but I quickly got the hang of it and I feel much confident now, which speaks volumes of the team I have had behind all this time. It was an eye opener for me: NetworkMe was finally happening and had tons of potential!
Q: What do you look for in investors?
I look for people who are able to help me and that, I learned from Demium. It’s not only about the investment, more so about the advice you get, and that’s priceless having just set off on our journey.
Q: What do you find investors value most about your startup?
Our vision, for sure. Knowing what we want to achieve and how scalable it is. We’re building a global platform and that’s very important. Team is another factor investors have highlighted. We are young, passionate entrepreneurs, working hard for what we set our minds to. There’s a family vibe about us too. And interpersonal relations are essential to strong teamwork. We encourage investors to come and spend time with them every Friday. We call that the “Hora Feliz”. We hang out and have a good time. Investors who joined us say they’ve been able to see the human side of the project. Overall, I would say investors value our company culture and vision; and these two components are what a startup is made up of.
Q: What role are you looking for your investors to play in your startup.
We meet with our investors on a daily basis. They share their advice, tips and overall opinions with us, which we find truly helpful. What we value most, is their active participation in our project. Having them stand by us is reassuring and encouraging.
Q: What advice would you offer to other entrepreneurs looking for first round funding?
I would urge them to talk to people and be everything but shy. Connect with everyone on LinkedIn, talk to everyone, schedule 50 calls a week or so. You never know when you’re going to strike gold. My first investor, currently one of our clients, was a SONAE board member. They saw our work and reached out to us, telling me: “Okay Felipe, I know what you are doing, I really like it and I would like to put a small ticket to be an investor and be there with you”. So, we sat down and had a conversation. Nothing falls from the sky; you should talk to everyone.
Q: What will you focus your initial funding on?
We’ll be spending a 35% of the funding in hiring IT specialists and head of departments. Being a young team, we feel we need people with expertise as we are building a technological company, in other words we’re compiling data. So, there will be the two main areas to focus on. We don’t want to increase the expenditure in marketing, for instance, as we are lacking information in that aspect and I don’t think it would be as helpful at this stage. Others would use the funding during pre-seed stage, but I don’t think it’s the right move for us. It will benefit us more to invest in people. What we want to achieve is related to improving the product, the company, but not necessarily scaling. We plan to tackle that in the future, with a series A round.
Q: What role did Demium play in your first investment round?
My relationship with Demium is kind of crazy because we are like a family. I call Léo Capelossi, the Head of Talent here in Lisbon, my “old brother” because we have a really good relationship. He actually introduced me to a lot of investors, he came with me to some meetings… Diogo Patão, the Head of Incubation, also helped me a lot with the structure of our validation process; learning why we value what they value, was a key point. Overall, he helped me a lot with mindset, gain confidence and know that we are going to make it. Without Demium we wouldn’t be here and that’s a fact.
Q: Think about where you were before you started with Demium, and tell us your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs or someone considering starting their own thing.
My advice would be: pre-idea, pre-team. Just like Demium. If you want to be an entrepreneur, first of all, find a problem you want to fix.
I believe that every startup is set up to do exactly this: bring a solution to the table.
Think of something that really bothers you and ask yourself: why hasn’t anyone solved this yet? That’s how I came up with the NetworkMe idea. Then, find the right people for the right job, people who believe in you and your project; people willing to solve the exact same problem you’re trying to solve. One thing I know for sure is that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the first person who joined the NetworkMe team. You’ll need both aspects to succeed and make a change in society. Along the journey you will learn a lot, you will adapt and pivot, but the problem, the vision and the people are the foundation.