How Early-Stage Startups Can Build Better Relationship With Investors.

Interview with Sona Veziryan, Business Angel Network of Armenia (BANA)

Episode 21

In this Episode, HyeTech Minds hosts Sona Veziryan, Deputy Director at A Business Angel Network of Armenia (BANA).  BANA provides a platform for investors to meet and cooperate with their peers, as well as connect them with aspiring startups and entrepreneurs in need of investment and expertise.

Bio

Sona is the Deputy Director at A Business Angel Network of Armenia (BANA). ISona is an investment management and Angel Investing Enthusiast, with a strong background in working with startups on their business development.

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Interview Highlights

Narine:  Hi Sona. Welcome to HyeTech Minds.  How are you doing here in Yerevan? 

Sona: Very happy to be here. The weather is very great. Actually. We are sunny. What about you, how you’re doing?

Narine: I wondered if you could first start with just telling us what is BANA and what role you have there? 

Sona: BANA center network of Armenia is the first and currently most active and on that work. We connect startups with angel investors. And my position is Deputy Director. I’m basically very connected with all the activities that BANA does.

Narine: So, BANA is the 1st Angel Network in Armenia that connects investors and startups in Armenia. Being the first Armenian angel investor network I’m sure you had to  overcome a lot of challenges on your road to success? How were you able to build your investor network?

Sona: Yeah, there were a lot of challenges back in 2017, and the network started, as the angel investing culture was new for the local investors. It was a process and I believe it still is. We organized experience sharing events and training for the new angels. Also, we manage to have diaspora Armenians who are experienced angel investors and also known Armenians, that we’re joined by and we’re ready to share their experience with the new and new starting angels. And I believe that having that organic mix of both experience and new angels throughout the years, gave us this group that currently is, is active and they are each learning from each other. And there’s good synergy.

Narine: So you said, you have investors from Diaspora, investors with different backgrounds? Do you have any particular focus for your investors?  

Sona: We have several investors that are very focused, for example, they want only this sector only like hardware or they want to invest only in b2b startups. But I would say mostly investors are very diverse and open to new opportunities, regardless of the field. In terms of BANA, we don’t have any limitations. We work with startups. Any kind of start without any limitation?

Narine:  I mean, Undeniable getting investments continue to be top chlannage for many startups. It was fascinating when I came across the data that shows only 0.91 percent of startups are funded by angel investors, while only 0.05 percent are funded by VCs. 

 When it comes to picking startups to invest in, What do you look for in a startup as you evaluate it for a potential investment? What are some of the top criterias you’re focusing on? 

Sona: Sure. There are several things regarding the stage. We want to start that already have its MVP, and preferably, generate its early initial projections to be better fit for banner. After that, to work on the team teammates, who are the founders, we try to do due diligence on Team first and then we We ask friends or banner members who have a specific expertise to look into the startup and give us a feedback, maybe on technology on market, depending on what type of startup it is. And after having the full picture and internally deciding that the startup is good enough to show to the investors, we present them.

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Narine: You clearly have an incredible knack for picking people and founders.

Sona, Before introducing startups to investors, do you run any specific programs to prepare those startups for better relationships with investors? 

Sona: Sure, we have more structured programs like business incubators that startups can join. And that’s definitely like one of the subjects they are going to learn there. But regardless of that, we also work on the pitch with the startup pitch deck, we have sort of our templates that we try to follow every time and it proved to be more efficient work. 

So there are several points that are mostly missing, like the roadmap or financials that we try to focus on and have the pitch deck ready before presenting to, to the investors. 

Regarding the negotiations and communication with the investors, I believe this is true for the pitching as well, it all comes with taking it seriously, you need to just sort of be brave and go there, do it and with experience of bringing the time you will become better and better. 

And it’s always a learning process sooner that started better for you. So there are some tapes available online. I’m sure if you search, we will find a lot of materials on it. But I believe practice is the best way to learn.

Narine:I agree with you. I’m glad you talked about pitching. 

When a startup is looking for investments, they pitch their business plan to convince investors to put their money in theri venture. 

 What do you think the angel investors expect to see in a pitch deck?

Sona: I believe, clearly want to know what have you done? Maybe this is Armenian specific, I don’t know. There are sometimes startups or they don’t consider this as a future thing to put what they have done properly, like well presented, that they have already gone through this path. So it’s important to show what you have done and what your plans are. A roadmap is very important to give the listener understanding of where you’re gonna be in six months in a year. And I believe when they have proper financials like a calculated how much they want, how much is needed, and it’s going to spend on what exactly and, for instance, they say we’re going to develop this feature, and they also have some backing with what why that feature is important, what competitive advantage is going to give to them and how it’s going to increase their sales.

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Narine: Sona, are you also asking for financial projections. I think it would be difficult to showcase financial projects, specifically when the revenue model is not entirely clear yet?

Sona: It’s not some financial in terms of two years spreadsheets telling, like how much revenue they’re going to have from what sources, of course, it’s very good. Pre-guessing more than just more than the prediction for the startup. And yeah, that’s not a requirement, what I wanted to say is more like a clear path to see financially where you are going to be and having some maybe historical data or maybe some data from their competitors. In market data that is taking your suggestions will be good.

Narine: You know we always like talking about what makes a great pitch. 

What do you think are some of the common mistakes early-stage startups do while pitching? 

Sona: There are many mistakes, I believe. Putting too much information distracts from putting not enough information. They are focusing something like focusing more on tech. But when your audience is our investors, they mostly want more business aspects of the startup, not like 10 slides on technology. Right? Yeah. Probably the biggest advice or like how to structure your deck, try to put yourself on the investor shoes and look from their eyes and see like, what they want to notice is this really important point to have there to talk about because your time is limited, so you need to be critical in what you’re saying?

Narine: that’s true. Sometimes they put too much data and information. It can be overwhelming. 

So BANA focuses on Angel Investors, but you also have experience working with VCs. Are there differences in the pitching strategy for angel investors and VCs? 

Sona: We recently started a new VC fund. In our case, investors, we do like the next level of investment, the next stage of investments. So when the startup has already gained some Angel investment and is showing progress. So they are the perfect speed for the VC investment, I believe the main structure would be the same for both and is the same. The progress you need for startups is showing more progress because they are in a later stage. And it’s important just to be able to present your results in an understandable and appealing way somehow. Just as you have more data to back. I believe the startup can have a better pitch for the VC compared to and around.

Narine: Sona, what are some of the success stories you can share with us today?

Sona: Recently, we closed our first syndicated deal. We managed to gather together 18 people and they joined the syndicate. I mean, this was a little bit tougher legally and for us, but for the startups. It was really easy because they were getting one investor and no Having like 80 people on there, on their cap table. So this was a really good experience. And I believe we would have more syndicates like that in the future. Currently, we are at the very least, as the last stage of negotiations and contracting with one of the tech giants to have their startup program in Armenia, this is going to be very big news, I hope no secret. I cannot disclose it right now, because it’s not final yet. But I haven’t there in a couple of weeks, we will be able to announce it. So stay tuned. for that.

Narine: What has been the biggest investment that BANA was able to deliver? 

Sona:  I will give you some numbers in terms of every day, like I guess that was that. The question regarding the angel rounds, it really varies here. But I would say on average, it’s from 100 to 200k. And startups get it’s I believe all the raw Anto rounds are pooled investments, where they get their investment from various sources. Then, we also have some cases where startups were raising 500k more than a million dollars, but I believe the average Yeah, that’s the third, these are really good cases. But the average is still from 200 to 200k. 

Narine: That’s super awesome. Armenia is a pretty small market. 

Sona: Actually, there are a lot of benefits of starting your company as a startup in Armenia, because there is a low cost of living. And so you can develop that there are some consequences for death that you can hire a high-quality specialist with comparatively low expenses. So you can develop your MVP way cheaper than compared to some big tech hubs in the world. So there are benefits and there are some benefits for investors because of this. And maybe some other factors, the startup valuations for early stages are comparatively low. So investors who are investing in the early stages in Armenia, are already gaining because of the law violations.

Narine: I’m glad you talk about doing business in Armenia.  

In the recent several years, Armenia’sstartup ecosystem has been exceptionally growing in the recent several years. It all credits to our affordable and skilled tech talent, and of course diaspora plays a critical role in Armenia’s tech ecosystem.  

How can we attract more investors and entrepreneurs from Diaspora to come to Armenia and start their business? 

Sona: I believe we will like the country or take tech ecosystem PR in the world. Overall, people need to know about us. There are good companies that are born in Armenia, and that there is a good Armenian talent, tech talent that they can start their startups here and it to be more directly answer your question, I believe, we need to showcase what we have. And yeah, because most people don’t know that. That’s sad to say, but there is a lack of information. There’s a gap of information, I believe about Armenian tech

Narine:  You are right. Sometimes I talk to people, they do not know if Armenia is a country.

I think we need to talk more about Armenia, our tech potential, success stories. 

Sona: Definitely configuring

Narine:  So, Sona, what is the easiest way for founders to get in touch with you to learn more about BANA and its programs? 

Sona: We have a website, it’s called bana.am You can find the contact information there. We also have social media accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. So personally, I’m available if I can be any how helpful. I don’t know. Should I share my email now or should I just 

And I believe I’m the only one with this last name. Please find me. I would be happy to help to answer your questions to give you more information.

Narine:  Well Sona, Thank you for a great conversation. Enjoy spring and stay safe 

Sona: Thank you. It was a pleasure to serve you too.

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