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Investor Profile: Dan Călugăreanu - Early Game Ventures

Bianca Iulia Simion

Investor Profile: Dan Călugăreanu - Early Game Ventures
The three partners of Early Game Ventures have an impressive experience in technology and investments. Dan Calugareanu, one of them, joined us for an insightful talk about their investment criteria, how VCs can add up to the success of a startup, about smart money and start-up investors expectations.

Early Game Ventures (EGV), a venture capital investment fund active on the Romanian market, has up to 28 million euros for innovative companies, financed mainly by the Operational Program Competitiveness 2014-2020 and co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund. 
The three partners of Early Game Ventures have an impressive experience in technology and investments. Dan Calugareanu, one of them, joined us for an insightful talk about their investment criteria, how VCs can add up to the success of a startup, about smart money and start-up investors expectations.

You’re a key member of Early Game Ventures. If we could map your investment criteria, what it would look like?

Generally speaking, investment criteria must show that the founders are building a company; not a friendship, not a product, but a company. Basically, at EGV we are analyzing a start-up on 9 pillars. These are: Team, Pain Point, Value Proposition, Product, Go To Market, Customer Traction, Competition, Business Model, Funding Strategy. I won't go through them all because it would take us a long time, but I will stop at the three I consider the most important: 
Team - any founder must understand that it is not him, but the team that is important. Founders need to demonstrate the ability to attract people and develop a team. 
Next, the value proposition - if you find it rightly then the growth comes naturally. The proposal must also be like a punch in the face. 
Finally, the technology should be excellent for today but, at the same time, ready for the future.

How many investments does Early Game Venture makes per year?

Minimum 10, maximum 15. In the beginning we were always the first institutional investors, but now we have a mix of being first investors and participating in rounds together with other VCs.

In what companies have you invested so far?

We are vertical agnostics, but we stay within the geography of Romania. It is clear that B2B is better for today's typology of founders - given their technical background. Here are some examples: Bunnyshell - DevOps Automation platform for SMBs (think DevOps as a service) covering 3 pillars: Infrastructure management, App Management, and DevOps tools; Druid - an award-winning enterprise-level chat-bot technology provider; Coda - cyber-security company (with offices in Bucharest and Boston) who enable managed service providers (MSPs) to offer security assistance to their end-users. 
This does not mean that we do not invest in B2C - here is an example: Underline is a mobile app dedicated to readers (think Strava for readers).

How did you add to their success?

Ohhhh, there are many things we can help with. Not letting them make the mistakes we have already seen in other start-ups, is a very important one. Shaking them when their hope weakens is also priceless. Helping them to build a next round is very common and necessary. I considered money a commodity.

What expectations do you have from a start-up after investing? How often do you think start-ups and their investors / funds should get in touch?

I expect to see a lot of work from all founders we invest in. I expect them to learn continuously and to have speed in execution.

Personally, I am very close to the founders and meet with them once a week.

Conventional wisdom holds that it’s better for VCs to have entrepreneurial experience because they will understand better how start-ups are built. What do you think - do ex start-up founders make the best venture capitalists?

I am a former entrepreneur, or rather I am still an entrepreneur because running a VC is also an entrepreneurship; you have to raise money from LP, make quick decisions and negotiate investments with the founders. I think ex start-up founders are good venture capitalists, and they have many traits to become the best. One thing is for sure, I learn every day and I try to get better every day!

Do VCs have empathy? Do they know their own limitations?

Ha, ha, ha! Yes, we have a soul, we have emotions. By definition, we should be cold and think only about how to multiply LP's money, but we are human and we make decisions based on emotions, too. Given that we are an early stage investment fund, it is hard to believe that we have only metrics; we also have emotions and we also have chemistry with the founders.

You’ve invested in Milluu twice. What are the most important short-term and long-term goals for Milluu?

Milluu needs to consolidate their presence in Romania, to accelerate growth and become a leader on the apartment rental market. On long term, we would like to see Milluu expanding their services and solutions in the CEE region.

How will you help Milluu achieve these goals?

Firstly, we help them with money. In fact, Milluu has raised from SeedBlink, Angels and current investors, a total of 884.000 euros in less than 3 hours, shattering all records. Then we help them understand what went well and what didn't (so far), we help them understand what the competitors are doing, and give them tips on how to prepare for the next round.

How would you define the ‘Smart Money’ concept?

It is a natural concept for an institutional investor, we don’t bring to the table only money, but also our experience and our network formed by those who invested with us.

From your perspective, what role does SeedBlink play in the tech start-up ecosystem?

SeedBlink came in to complete the ecosystem, to cover the market section of investment democratization. SeedBlink came in at the right time and has exactly the needed ingredients to cover this market section right now. I hope you’ll get to cover the free minority share market, in which countless players will appear.

What differences you’ve noticed between investing via an angel vs investing through SeedBlink?

Angels are closer to business and more interested in the evolution of the business, especially when it follows same path of their previous investment experiences. SeedBlink comes with a mass of people who invest smaller amounts and can't all participate in building the company. I hope that as the amounts and start-ups will grow, we will see many more SeedBlink investors adding value to the companies, either in the sales or marketing areas. In general, companies have a lot of technical knowledge but they are less knowledgeable in the business area. Here is room for the SeedBlink investors to get involved.

Thank you for your time!

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