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Startups, This Is What You Should Be Asking Investors For Outside Of Capital

By Luisa Rubio Arribas

You’re probably well aware that we’re in the midst of an investment boom. A whopping $288 billion was put into markets in the first half of 2021 alone, while deal flows have been through the roof. While celebrated, this rush also means that investors with limited ticket sizes have struggled to be heard amid all the noise.

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But investors without deep pockets can be just as (if not more) promising than those with big checkbooks. Founders need to look for an investor’s value beyond dollars; from an impressive professional network to a user base that can get companies brand recognition early on.

Luisa Rubio Arribas
Luisa Rubio Arribas of Wayra X

Through my time as head of business development at Wayra, and working closely with founders in the Wayra X portfolio over the past year, I’ve pinpointed what value looks like to founders, and how investors can provide and maintain that value.

Here’s what I learned startups should be asking from investors other than capital:

Help scaling into new markets overseas

With more people online than ever before, modern startups need to be 100 percent digital (or at least have a digital way of working) and ready to internationalize from Day One.

Investors should show how they will support you when scaling: whether through their global network; learned wisdom from startups in their portfolio that have successfully scaled; or tools they have that can confirm product-market fit.

At Wayra X, we take care to introduce our founders to our lead investors in a variety of markets so they can get capital from local players and local know-how when launching there. We also help build partnerships with startups in markets where we have a strong presence. By introducing them to new users under the umbrella of Telefónica, startups can leverage the trust we’ve already established and their entry can be smoother.

Likewise, because we have an office in Spain—and many of our team members are from other Spanish-speaking countries—we can facilitate startups looking to expand to Europe and Latin America. By putting in the effort of understanding the language, regulations, cultures and user expectations and behaviors, we ensure that startups are prepared when they land in new markets.

Access to knowledge and R&D resources

Founders shouldn’t rely on the resume of the investor alone. You need to assess the skills, expertise and tools of the people in their network, too. Your investor should have an extensive pool of connections and be able to provide you with access to an expert in the areas that are strategic for the startup—and even if they don’t, they need to know someone who can point you in the right direction.

I’m not a gaming expert, but when we brought an AI-powered gaming startup on board, I reached out to engineers in Telefónica who are well-versed in the gaming sphere, and they recommended industry names that our startup should be talking to.

At Wayra X, we also hold open roundtables with founders and experts, where they can address challenges and discover how to best overcome them. On one occasion, founders voiced that they were struggling with the hybrid shift, so we brought them together with seasoned entrepreneurs who have built all-remote companies, as well as experts in organizational psychology to work on solutions.

On top of match-making, an investment organization’s own lab and technology resources have proved important to startups. We recently launched Next Trend Beta Testing, a platform where new products from the startups in our portfolio are shared with customers. Via the platform, startups can test new features and receive feedback from people in real-time.

Startups shouldn’t be afraid to request these kinds of tools from investors, even if they have traditionally been reserved for the likes of Fortune 500 companies.

Far-reaching brand recognition

Social proof matters for companies just getting started. It’s more impactful (and cheaper) for you to leverage the reputation of your investors than to build a presence from scratch. It’s also part of the reason 75 percent of startups enter into partnerships with corporate businesses.

Startups know that being backed by established brands can help them raise more money down the line because they’ve essentially received a seal of approval from industry giants. Your investor should therefore tie your startup to their brand as much as possible: Tag you on social media, bring you to events, integrate you in marketing campaigns, and generally let their consumers know that you’ve been vetted and are trustworthy.

In the capital rush, investors’ wallets have lost their might. Startups need to be asking for investors’ expertise, tools to scale and brand weight, in order to serve needs that go beyond the financial. If an investor can’t provide these things in 2021, they shouldn’t be on your radar.

Luisa Rubio Arribas is head of Wayra X, Telefónica’s digital innovation hub which offers funding, support, and access to its extensive network of experts, partners and clients to B2C startups solving problems related to 5G, e-health, e-learning, smart homes, entertainment, mobility and the future of work.

Illustration: Dom Guzman


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