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Notes on making investment in people profitable
Panda Training blog

5 lessons from raising close to $1M

1. Why (not) to raise


I am the CEO of Panda Training and with this article, I am happy to announce that just last week we closed the pre-seed round of $621K. We gathered investors from all over the world, with major checks being from Gorilla Capital, angels Dirk Freise and Martin Ostermayer, and Business Finland. Throughout the history of the startup, a total of $882K was raised.

This might sound somewhat ironic as my most popular article to date spells “Don’t raise money. Don’t hire. Don’t build. Sell.” However, what I tried to say there is that we got it backward: startups start with sales, not with an investment. And I still believe that investment is only a proxy for success and a dangerous one at that.

Money is not “good” or “bad”, it is a catalyst. If the engine is working well, it will accelerate progress. If there is no product-market fit, it will only make the downfall harder to escape.

2. Why should anyone invest in you?


To be honest, when I co-founded a startup 5 years ago I knew almost nothing about how the “game” works. I didn’t know why certain things were more likely to work than others. As a result, I was wrong about my own “brilliant” ideas, and couldn’t convince investors to believe in them. Part of the recipe here is practice.

Another piece of constructing the narrative is facing the uncomfortable truths. Most of the startups are very risky. Your job is not being “super safe”, your job is being aware of the risks and betting big on your strengths.

Let’s take the example of Panda Training. The narrative is simple, it has its strengths and risks. Research shows that business coaching is effective. We make business coaching 100x cheaper by using AI to replace human experts with a chatbot. We see huge corporates like SAP, Universal, KONE paying for pilot projects related to change management and L&D with the intention of scaling. We don’t know if we can scale beyond the pilots (yet). Invest and let’s find out together: if we get 3–5 clients using us with 500+ employees within a year, we are onto something!

3. Investors actually do invest in the team


Courtesy of sirienjunkies.de

It’s somewhat a cliché that investors invest in teams. I didn’t believe it when I started because I thought: “well, I am good, and they didn’t invest in me, so this cliché must be wrong.” It isn’t. I just wasn’t that good.

A recent study on startups from the book “Super Founders” reveals that one of the very few things that makes a startup more likely to succeed is serial founders.

Exits are not the only thing you can showcase, though. In our case, our CTO is an ex-founder and worked at Amazon. Our Head Coach is certified by the most credible coaching certification worldwide (ICF), twice. Our COO works in VC and has a background in social psychology. I worked as a management consultant for some of the top Finnish corporates. As you can see, beyond just individual achievements, our background fits well with what we are trying to build.

We have put our team on slide 2 in the deck, immediately after the title slide. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, is your team the right team?

4. Practice selling


It was surprising how many investors complimented my charisma and ability to sell our vision. This was one more way we were able to showcase our team. Do I happen to have a knack for selling? I don’t think so. I think it comes from the practice of selling for the past 5 years.
The dark side of it is that you should be aware of the story you are painting in the minds of investors. Do they expect something you won’t be able to deliver? Show the risks your venture is exposed to because creating wrong expectations can be toxic in the long run.

5. Governance


Getting $1M+ committed was the easy part. Closing the round and getting through the due diligence was more challenging. I suggest solving the “legal debt” before going into fundraising to save yourself time, money, and stress.

It’s a party!.. and action points.


Courtesy of vice.com

Would you like to celebrate with us? We are organizing an online party on gather.town on the 27th of October at 7-10pm EET (Helsinki) / 9am-12pm PDT (San Francisco). Add the event to your calendar using this link.

Beyond that, we are hiring 5-6 developers worldwide (more info here), we are always open to new clients and are looking for seed investors for our next round. Don’t hesitate to get in touch at dima-syrotkin@panda-training.com