How to best help students with their job search? Network them! NetworkMe, is the firm “handshake” that does the job. Their team has created an app-based solution for college students and new graduates who seek more than just job-hunting tips and advice. Currently in pre-seed round, NetworkMe is looking at a €160K investment led by €100K investment from Think Bigger Capital, solidly paving the way toward successful careers for thousands of students worldwide.
Q: Tell us about NetworkMe
NetworkMe is a career management platform that helps students find out what to do for a living. By doing so, we help companies to attract talent. We are doing that because we realized that young people need to make career decisions really early. What we came to understand is that young people lack in perspective and need guidance in choosing their professional future.
In NetworkMe we connect those students with different companies and different professionals. Besides companies, we focus on mentors, as well. That is, professionals willing to help and (that) have a really strong sense of social responsibility because, in most cases they have gone through the same. For instance, they were 18 years old, they were also lost at the professional level but now they are successful professionals that can spend 30 minutes with someone and help them. Just to give you an idea, we started to recruit these mentors in the beginning of January and in two months, we were able to recruit 400 mentors here in Lisbon. What we ask from these mentors is around 30 minutes of availability per month. That time can be super helpful for all the students out there.
Q: What are the things that led you to this first investment round?
This is actually a really cool question because NetworkMe was found a year and a half ago. In the beginning, we started to build an MVP with very low-end technology, it was a very simple product. By mid-2020, we realized that our business model was improvable and for that we needed to invest in technology. This is why we decided to get the investment. We realized that our -old- business model was not scalable and we needed to invest in technology in order to become a real startup. If you don’t invest in scalability and technology you’re not a startup. We wanted to invest in technology but also people.
Q: How does it feel to raise money for the first time?
The experience itself was a little bit overwhelming in the beginning. I’m a really young guy – I’m 23 – so it was a first for me. At first I was a little afraid and was not sure about the value of NetworkMe. I feel that entrepreneurs are not sure about the value they are building because the valuation calculation is difficult. But, by the end of the funding round, I was kind of excited and I was like: “wow, this is actually happening”. We are not only building this because we are creating an amazing startup or because we are helping students… but also, because we are going to be profitable for these investors. We are a good deal! And every entrepreneur has to realize that they are a good deal. You’re not trying to convince people to give their money away. You want to come to a good business agreement with them. I want our investors to have a good exit – 5 or 10 years from now, who knows – and I want them to know they “gave” us their money for something in return. Some people forget that this is a business and you have to take care of your investors. We raised €160K. 100K from Think Bigger Capital, €50K from Valutia Capital and €10K thanks to Miguel, a Business Angel from Portugal.
Q: What role are you looking for in your investors?
We look for help. It was a pre-seed round and we are first-time entrepreneurs. Their help – the investors’ help – was amazing for us to structure the company, the business model, or to sign contacts… Miguel, for instance, meets with us once a month or so and gives super valuable advice while introducing us to interesting people. About Demium’s role, there’s a lot of things I can say… they really helped from day 1. All the support from Demium’s team was amazing.
Valutia is a Brazilian company actually, and has a very important role in NetworkMe because what we are doing here in Portugal, we will – hopefully – do in Brazil too. Kiko has been introducing us to several people in the Brazilian ecosystem. Even though we are not there yet, we are talking to different universities, different companies… preparing the ground to launch a pilot in Brazil, in August. Expanding our business in Brazil will be a challenge though. It will be more difficult because of the cultural barrier to doing business abroad, but easier because of the language. We may share the same language, but Portuguese and Brazilian have different standards when it comes to business and transactions. This is why we want to do a pilot there, we are talking to some universities and companies… to show them what we are doing and find out if it makes sense for the Brazilian market.
We are anticipating that this transition to the Brazilian market will not be easy, but as soon as we begin to understand the way things are done in Brazil, I believe that the conversion and the interaction between students and mentors will be easier than elsewhere in the world.
We are hoping to come to Spain next year. We have a little barrier, which is the language, that’s why we are focusing on Brazil first. Also because of the size of the market. We are focusing on the Portuguese / Spanish language, first. People don’t realize it, but Spanish and Portuguese are widely spoken languages.
Q: What will you use the funds for?
We will use them for technology, R&D, human resources, infrastructure… We started with 2 people working with us but they were not hired full-time. As soon as we got the money we were able to sign a permanent employment contract with them. We created the whole infrastructure on the cloud. We want everyone to work full-time. Last year I had to quit my job to dedicate 100% to NetworkMe and my co-founder too. We are investing very very little in marketing but rather a lot in R&D-related tasks. For instance, if we are doing a campaign to validate some assumptions, this is more R&D related than marketing related because we want to understand why these 1000 students would answer in a certain way. Most of our investments are related to tech, people and R&D. Regarding workforce planning, we are looking for tech-related profiles. This is quite challenging and difficult, but we hired one person in Brazil. We are kind of a remote team with or without covid restrictions. We hired our team remotely, so I wouldn’t be able to tell if it’s difficult to work remotely, as I have no experience managing a team otherwise.
Q: What do you think investors value most about NetworkMe?
I believe that the first point is the founders. I think that, in the pre-seed round, when you have an MVP and not a “real” product yet, they are going to invest mostly in the founders, the projection. How much the founders can produce and how fast they can learn about the market.
The second thing they value is how big the problem is. You need to address a big problem and make sure the size of the market is as big as your problem. In NetworkMe, specifically, we tackle a global problem. It’s not something that happens only in Portugal or Spain. Every year young people will have to enter the market and every year companies will have to hire, so it’s not a problem that’s going away. The third thing they value is the solution itself. We managed to validate and build traction in a year. The solution, by the time we were raising money, was not a super “sexy” solution. It was an MVP and I’m kind of ashamed of that thing. But we were able to build a lot of traction with this “unappealing” product. I believe that in most of the calls we had with different investors, we showed them the product and mentioned how we have been able to bring 2,000 students and 14 different companies together. Imagine if we had had more funds to actually build a good product. What helped a lot was the traction that we built around that product. Sometimes when you overthink things, especially in a startup, and you don’t validate any, it is really hard for investors to make the investment call. If you have a really sexy product but nobody is using it, there’s something wrong. But if you have a rather unappealing product but everyone is using it, that is a green flag.
Q: What’s your advice for those entrepreneurs pitching to investors for the first time?
Understand that it is a business. It is a deal. You need to really understand why the investors are going to give you money. They want something in return. It is not charity. But you need your offer to also be attractive for the investors. You have to close a good deal for you and for them: a win-win situation. Maybe they are not the right investor, maybe they don’t invest in pre-seed… that happened a lot to us. I was pitching to an investor and they went: our tickets are from 200K to 300K. I only wanted 10K so they told us to come back in a few months when we are doing a seed round. Sometimes it happens. You can’t know for sure whether this investor will end up investing or not. But even if you go to a meeting with investors, ask for a lot of feedback. I have meetings with investors every week even if we are not looking for investment, but we are looking for feedback. We show them what we are doing, we talk about metrics and tell them: we are raising a seed round in 6 months, 1 year… What do you want to see by then? We manage the expectations to close a good deal. As I learned in Demium: make your company “sexy”, strike a good deal, and make it a win-win solution.
Q: How has Demium helped you?
All the investors that made investments in us, came through Demium. Demium did the introductions which is super helpful. Even though I spoke to, let’s say, a 100 investors during this pre-seed round, the ones that actually ended up investing in us, were thanks to Demium.