Product + Networking + Blogging + Luck = Angel Investment

Last week got an angel investment of $200K USD. Our backers are StartupLab FoundersFund (a Norwegian early stage fund) and a group of successful founders and CEO’s from Zendesk, Unity, TAT, SiteCore, OnlinePizza, and Just Eat, all organized through Nordic Makers.

Our investors have been a part of building companies that have a market cap of $9 billion USD in total.

Having two groups of investors which are both highly experienced and well connected has already proven incredibly helpful.

How we got the Nordic Makers investment is an interesting story though, as it involves all the following ingredients:

  • doing side projects
  • building an awesome product
  • blogging on Medium
  • networking on Twitter
  • a stroke of luck

In this article I’ll explain exactly how it played out.

Our product: Scrimba

But first you need to know what we’re building. The product is called Scrimba and it’s a new video format for conveying code.

Think of it as coding screencasts where you can pause and play around with the code. Check this demo screencasts to better grasp the concept. Note that all this is still in beta.

The birth of the idea

To get to the roots of how the investment happened, we have to rewind back to February 2016.

At the time, I wasn’t a part of Scrimba. It was an idea Sindre Aarsaether was playing around with in his spare time. He wanted to improve the documentation of Imba, his self made programming language for the web.

He got the idea after trying to create video tutorials, and experiencing all the hassle involved with creating high quality educational content using this format. So after a few frustrating attempts at doing screencasts, he started hacking on the first prototype of Scrimba.

Side projects and Medium blogging

At the same time, I was doing a side project together with a friend. The product was called BugRex, and it was on-demand chat for software developers in the need for help. We built and launched it in a weekend, then wrote a few articles on the experiment to gain exposure — mostly for fun and to practice launching products.

If I hadn’t done this side project — and written about it — Scrimba wouldn’t have gotten an investment from Nordic Makers a year later.

Let me explain how.

Getting lucky on Twitter

The reason why BugRex was so important was that it allowed me to connect with Emil Wallnér. Emil is a designer, developer, and entrepreneur who had been following the BugRex story. He liked what we were doing and wanted to connect.

We scheduled a chat on Skype and got along very well. Though we didn’t find a way to cooperate directly, we decided to keep in touch.

As you’ll see a few paragraphs down, being contacted by Emil was a huge stroke of luck.

Lesson learned: by sticking your neck out, you position yourself to be connected with interesting people. That’s always a good thing.

Launching fast

In the summer of 2016, Sindre asked if I wanted to join starting a company around Scrimba. He had a functioning prototype and Kjetil Holmefjord in StartupLab FoundersFund was interested in investing. To make a long story short, I said yes, quit my job and started working on Scrimba full time in November.

We decided to launch a beta version as soon as possible in order to get feedback. So by early December we sent invites to everybody we thought might like it.

The crucial tweet

This included Emil. He tried it and loved it so much that he tweeted it out to a bunch of relevant people he wanted us to connect with.

This tweet opened up more doors than we could have ever imagined.

It lead us to Nordic Makers and three other potential investors, and also lead us to what’ll likely be our first paying customer.

The importance of a great product

Let’s stop up here for a moment and look at what happened. Getting the beta in the hands of Emil turned out to yield great returns. So there’s a strong case for for showing your product to as many people as possible, rather than being secretive.

But this wouldn’t have worked with just any product.

By impressing Emil, he was willing to actively involve his peers on Twitter.

So it ultimately boiled down to the quality of product. Had our beta version been a landing page or an InVision mockup, this strategy wouldn’t have worked.

Lesson learned: a great product opens doors. So if you have one, share it with as many as possible. (And don’t ever try to force someone to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement!)

Also, I don’t want to downplay the fact that Emil himself was learning to code, so he was in our target market. People who are technical or have tried to teach or learn coding resonate much more with Scrimba than those who don’t have technical insight.

This has also played out in our fundraising.

If you want investors for a dev tool product, seek out people with a technical background.

Technical investors are almost always more interested in Scrimba than non-technical ones.

Emil → Joel →Nordic Makers

Anyway, the first person I connected with from Emil’s tweet was Joel Larsson, managing director of the Fast Track Malmö accelerator. Even though it wouldn’t work for me and Sindre to relocate to Malmö and potentially join their accelerator, he graciously offered to help us anyway he could.

One of the things he did was to introduce us to Hampus Jakobsson, a partner at Nordic Makers and the founder of TAT (sold to BlackBerry for $150 million USD).

We scheduled a Skype with Hampus and were blown away by the enthusiasm and thoughtfulness he had for the product. It immediately became clear that we wanted him onboard as an investor.

We soon scheduled meetings with some of the other partners in Nordic Makers: Benjamin (who runs NM’s day to day operations), David (Unity), Alexander (Zendesk) and Lars (SiteCore). For every meeting we were grew more and more sure that we wanted these guys onboard. By the end of January, we reached an agreement.

Getting a warm intro

You could claim that we might as well have emailed Nordic Makers directly, but that probably wouldn’t have worked as well. They state on their home page that it’s better to get an intro through someone they know, and Hampus also writes this himself.

This is actually a test for many investors. You should be able to network your way to them.

It actually makes sense: you’ll face much bigger challenges as a founder, so if you can’t network your way to an investor, how will you overcome all the hurdles you’ll face when getting your business off the ground?

This can seem discouraging for many developers, especially if you prefer writing code over social gatherings with potential investors. But networking can be done in many ways. It doesn’t have to involve going to startup events every week. A good start is to share your work online and write about it. By doing this you’ll automatically attract interesting people. For us, Twitter and Medium turned out to be enough to reach Nordic Makers.

Finally, it also mattered a lot that we got along with Hampus on a personal level. In other words, remember to be nice. You’re much more likely to get an investment from someone you get along with.

Summing up, I’d say the lesson of this story is:

  • Stick your neck out
  • Connect with interesting people
  • Be a nice person
  • Build a kick-ass product
  • Spread it to as many as possible

This way you’ll position yourself for a little bit of luck, which everybody needs from time to time.

Thanks for reading! The Scrimba team is in San Francisco this week, so email me at [email protected] if you want to meet us for a coffee!

Cheers,

Per