The Key Take-Home Lessons from MEW (Day 2)

While  MEW’s 1st day was focused on the first challenges entrepreneurs face, “Getting Scale” (2nd session of day 2) was mainly about scaling up a business, let’s say from the first 100K to 100M in Revenues. We counted with the presence of:

  • Vasco Pedro is a co-founder and CEO at Unbabel (Y Combinator alumni, $8M+ raised), a startup empowering its clients to translate content effectively, with the help of AI.
  • Gil Belford is the COO at Hole19 ($3M+ raised), an app connecting gold players and enhancing their experience with the sport. Prior to that, he was VP of Growth at Zomato.
  • Suzy Vasconcelos is a co-founder at Movvo ($7,5M+ raised), which develops technology for retailers to better understand consumer’s behaviour in stores.
  • André Albuquerque is the Head of Growth at Uniplaces ($25M+ raised), an accommodation marketplace for university students which rapidly entering new markets. The moderator,
  • Diogo Alves co-founded 360imprimir, worked in startups and VC, and has been helping startups grow.

Let’s get onto the lessons.

  1. There are many “Growth Pains”, but having them is positive, because it means you are not dead. When at Zomato, Gil was seeing the team growing at a 100 people per week rate, bringing huge issues in terms of culture. Vasco talked about the “shock” of a team when the startup must grow up and gain more structured processes (the metaphor “changing from being a pirate to a navy”), or even him personally getting a CEO coach. André mentioned a very specific problem: hiring high-level managers (c-level). If they do not add value from day one, it is a red flag.
  2. Big challenge: being disciplined and not losing focus. Gil stressed out how everyone will suggest new directions for your product, as you can’t burn time and runway building the wrong things.
  3. Copy-paste doesn’t work. Startups must adapt to culture when entering new markets. Gil shared how, when he worked at Zomato, they faced the challenge of cultural differences on how people viewed food. Suzy’s Movvo found that it was important to have a local office to target the Asian market, and in one country, they once weren’t able to install hardware in a new store because “the priest hadn’t blessed it yet”. André’s Uniplaces faces cultural differences regarding landlords across countries. While in Spain, Diogo knocked on doors and pitched to customers (students in universities) to grow a startup. In Germany they would not even open the door”, he said in a joking way.
  4. What about “Market-Product Fit”, instead of “Product-Market Fit”? André acknowledges it is, semantically, the same thing. However, it emphasizes that market must come first, instead of trying to work out starting from the product. More than P-M fit, he believes there are 2 other key elements (channel and model) and all of them must fit at any given time. About P-M fit, Suzy stressed how, in the case of Movvo, it is a dynamic concept, because clients want customization and the market itself is changing rapidly (e-commerce growing, for example).
  5. Dare to reject an acquisition offer by a giant like Google, if it is too soon. Vasco is usually asked “will you be acquired by Google this year”? He actually rejected to be acquired (more of an acqui-hire) by 2 companies, after leaving Y Combinator. He believed the point was to be a big company, and that their clients still had problems waiting for better solutions (in terms of being a multilingual company). Nowadays, they are focused on solving multilingual customer service.
  6. Investors’ money is just a commodity. Startups are the scarce resource here. This was a strong opinion by Vasco. Investors and founders should work side-by-side, as peers at the same level. Tips on raising funds? Regardless of how big the VC fund is, at the end of the day what matters is whether the one partner at the fund believes on you or not.
  7. Working at a startup is self-fulfilling. For Vasco, all those speakers would have other career options opened for them. They chose a startup because they are not just another piece in the machine, they can add a lot of impact. It is exciting and meaningful. Even if sometimes it is not glamorous at all, leads to a lot of failures (as Suzy said), or as André put it, it is like going up and down hills all the time.

With the first session of the day, “Fintech”, we got a sense of what is happening on the field of Fintech, with insights from experienced professionals in the industry, including Fintech founders and an incumbent.

  • José Supico is the co-founder and CEO of Advicefront, a Wealthtech startup aimed at bridging new technology and traditional financial advisors. Previously, he had experience in Private Banking and Investments.
  • João Menano co-founded  Crowdprocess, a startup which after some time pivoted to be the “Artificial Intelligence for Credit Risk.
  • Maria Antónia Saldanha is the Director of Communication at SIBS, a Portuguese incumbent on the Payments field which has recently launched a FinTech Startup Accelerator .
  • Manuel Valadas Preto is an expert in the Payments field, at Mastercard Advisors, as well as in Financial Inclusion, a field in which he founded a company (M-Eskudo).
  • João Freire de Andrade is the Head of Venture Capital of Banco BIG. He moderated the session, as an experienced professional with the world of Fintech

  1. Let’s stop seeing Incumbents vs. Fintech. Maria suggested that it is not about the cool guys facing the bad guys. They can and should work together. Banks benefit from saving R&D and IT costs. SIBS, for example, now runs a Fintech Accelerator.
  2. Traditional channels and humans are still important. José believes in bridging new technology with traditional channels (specifically financial advisors). People still find finance difficult and too abstract, and it is also about emotions (dreams, goals, etc.).
  3. How to talk with tech guys in a company? João thinks it is all about aligning the lingo. For Maria, first explain the business challenge, and see how they can help you, as nowadays they are more aware of the business component.
  4. How to make sure your product has a great user experience? Give it to your grandmother, as José suggested.
  5. Behavioural change is a big challenge in Finance. It is one of those fields where people do not want to risk too much, as we are talking about people’s money. How to slowly change behaviour? Manuel’s M-Eskudo built a product that mimics a debit card, to decrease the perception of change.
  6. Selling to banks (B2B) is tough. And some tips on how to handle that. João shared a lot of insights about B2B particularities, comparing to B2C. It is hard to map out the key influencers on a buying decision, in the bank. If you don’t target the right guy (with insider’s help), you will be wasting time. We tend to think about B2B selling process as being very rational, but at the end of the day, it is about individuals deciding, and emotion plays a role. Apart from that, sales cycles are long, and there is a lag of many months between what you do and the result of that.
  7. Banks are skeptic, and sense of ownership is important. This is a conclusion for a specific experience from João. His startup, Crowdprocess, understood that it did not work to ask banks their datasets and give a final result (on credit risk), as clients did not believe in the result. Instead, they propose that banks integrate the tool on their usual workflow, combining what they have always done with the new tool. This way, they understand what is happening with the technology and feel empowered by it.
  8. Gain some traction locally before entering new markets. As João explained, first it is easier to sell where you are more used to; second, a potential client abroad would ask “why don’t you have clients in your market?”.


Tomás de Almeida

Tomás is a Masters in Finance student at NOVA School of Business & Economics. At NOVA Students’ Union, he leads the initiatives on Entrepreneurship, such as the Microsoft Entrepreneurship Week. Indeed, the world of startups and VC is one of his greatest interests. Another passion (almost obsession) always present in his life are Podcasts.

Last modified: 01/10/2017