An interview with Robert Ługowski - CEO of Cobin Angels, Poland's biggest professional business angels club
By Kasia Pieniądz
Robert, you are the CEO of Cobin Angels, the largest Polish professional business angels club. I know you deal with many startup pitch decks every day - how to choose the best ones? What should a startup put in its proposal, and what, in your opinion, is entirely not acceptable?
There is no one simple formula to choose the best pitch decks and this is just the beginning of the investment process. After all, angels invest in companies and founders, not PowerPoint. The purpose of the initial presentation is to get a meeting or call. Thus, it should be short, concise, easily digestible and professionally looking. In Cobin Angels, if we see that the market is big enough and the solution has the potential to deliver value in a unique way, we give it a go for the next step of a process. As for the proposal, the only thing that a startup needs to deliver before the meeting is a short pitch deck. On average, VC investors spend about 3-5 minutes looking at a presentation. Our best advice for founders would be to answer all the important questions in your deck within this timeframe. There is no need for a lot of details at this stage, it is important that the reader can understand the concept and the intentions of the founding team.
For angel investors, we suggest setting some initial criteria in order to be able to quickly review a larger number of decks instead of focusing on just a few of them at this stage. If you are part of a business angel club like Cobin Angels initial screening and matching investors with startups is typically done for you by the club’s team. Much more preparation is needed for the first meeting. This is a crucial stage of an investment process where details of investment proposal are discussed, both parties want to understand how value can be created and expectations aligned. Cooperation between the investor and the startup after concluding the transaction is at least a few years. Therefore, it is worth making sure that both parties understand each other well before entering into a transaction. Unclear communication of expectations or hiding information is therefore a mistake that may disturb further cooperation.
I am curious what branches and types of ideas are the most common in startup pitches? Are you able to identify an undisputed leader?
The great thing about startup ideas is their variety, across business models, technologies and approaches to solving problems. CEE region has strong engineers and developers. Hence, many successful projects in enterprise software. This sector is leading in the region. We also see many highly technological startups applying cutting-edge AI/ML to different industries like healthcare or fintech. Surprisingly, the greatest Polish successes like DocPlanner, Booksy and Brainly are none of those, but still very successful. You have to keep your mind open to all opportunities.
The startup universe is highly competitive. Do you remember an enormously good startup project that impressed investors and won a lot of funding?
Cobin Angels bring together investors with very different backgrounds and investment strategies. Every month, we present our investors with at least a few projects from various industries. Hence, a situation where one project will delight all investors is rare. After the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, med-tech projects such as Hashiona, Prosoma and CliniNote aroused great interest. This year, the largest investment was achieved by the Mentorist project, which develops applications that summarize bestsellers in business, leadership, and personal development and facilitate the application of the knowledge.
Cobin Angels operate in Warsaw, Poland. What would you tell about the startups that send you the pitches? Are they from Poland too, or is it an international environment?
Cobin Angels work with private investors and private capital only. Unlike many Polish VC funds, we are not restricted to investing only in Poland. We focus primarily on CEE and deliver the Smart Money component to early-stage projects in the region. We have also investments in the UK, Germany, and US. Still, the majority of deal-flow is coming from Poland.
I can not mention blockchain startups-they are very important for SPBA and our readers. The crazy ride of Bitcoin price brought a boom in startups that were leveraging blockchain technology. Do you also see the increasing number of pitch decks from this area?
Indeed, blockchain is on the wild ride. We happen to see more and more projects in this area. However, we believe the trend is still in its infancy. Web3.0 will bring a major shift to the internet as we know it and give birth to quite a few unicorns, including some from CEE. In Cobin Angels, we anticipate more high-quality projects in this area.
Cobin Angels comprise savvy investors. What is their opinion about blockchain and fintech startups? Are they interested in putting their money into this sector, or are they skeptical?
We have a very diverse group of investors in the club. Everyone has personal goals and investment strategies. Many try to invest in projects where they can really help with knowledge, contacts and skills. Others are building portfolios across several verticals. That said, we definitely have both believers and experts in the field, as well as some skeptics. That is also the value of the club, meaningful discussions by the professionals in various domains breed the best judgment.