Great founders determine the success of the business – Interview with Triin Linamagi

Building startups is a hard, messy process with no shortcuts.  Triin Linamagi has been involved in building startups for 11 years, since graduating University. She co-founded two companies and was part of founding team of three startups. She was heading ecosystem at Startupbootcamp FinTech accelerator and is now looking after investments at Founders Factory, a highly active early-stage investor in London.

Please introduce yourself and tell us about what you do? What is your connection to startups?  

“Currently, I am working as part of the Investment team at Founders Factory – a highly active early-stage investor in London backed by seven leading international corporates. Aside from that, I am helping startups to scale in the UK and beyond, I’m also part of British Estonian Chamber of Commerce. I have helped to establish a handful of technology businesses and been involved in several side-projects, in financial services and HRTech.

I think today entrepreneurship represents a real career path, whether you decide to leave your corporate job or after graduating from university.”

You were a founder/co-founder in several startups, could you speak about that a little? What was the motivation? Where did the ideas come from?

“When it comes to motivation, I believe that I have entrepreneurship in my DNA thanks to my parents who are both entrepreneurs, and I always wanted to build a business rather than work for a corporate. I think the best ideas tend to come from personal experience and recognizing a gap in the market.

When I was still based in Estonia and I was looking for jobs in London, I felt like there is a gap in the recruitment market and this came from a personal need/experience. For an interview I had to fly over to London which was not very efficient considering there are multiple steps in the hiring process. So, I thought it would be much easier if employers could ask candidates to take interviews over video as a first step. I happened to have quite a strong tech team who believed in the idea but what I did not have was funding. I was introduced to someone in London who had started a very similar business but needed help in developing the technology. This is how I got involved in a video interviewing platform Jobatar.

I came up with the idea for Bahoui because I was passionate about marketing, and I wasn’t the only one. We found there were a lot of small offline businesses who had not yet taken advantage of digital marketing and did not know how to build a digital identity for their businesses nor choose the right channels. We wanted to help them. “

What types of obstacles did face at the beginning? Do you think they would have been easier to overcome as a man?

“Based on my experience the main obstacle is always fundraising at the right time or running out of cash. Another obstacle I encountered was that the market was not quite ready for the product, and of course, finding the right team members. Recruiting the best team is probably the hardest in the very early stage of the company. Fortunately, I did learn from these obstacles and I’m much better equipped for the future”

I was always building the businesses together with male founders, so I would not say that it had anything to do with gender. I think it is good to have a balance in terms of diversity. There are areas that women can tackle better and others where men have the advantage.”

Did anyone try to talk you out of working with startups or in business, simply because you are a woman and they thought you will not be able to handle it?

“No, not because I was a woman. My family tried to talk me out of this, just because they thought it was too risky. Also, everybody knows that startups are not the most reliable income source. My friends could not always understand what I was doing for work, some people probably still don’t. Luckily I did not hold back just because I was a woman.”

As you work with other women founders, what would you highlight as the positive aspect of a woman becoming a startupper? What are their strengths and advantages?

“Today women are strong enough to prove they can build solid businesses and thankfully the ecosystem is catching up. This helps women to have more faith in themselves and to take the leap. To build a strong business you must have the right skills, talent, education, and background. It does not make a difference if you are male or female!”

You have the luck to see startups from both sides. In your opinion do you think that investors take women founders as seriously as they do men? What should women concentrate on when speaking with investors?

“I do not think any investor rejects a great founder just because she is a female.

Let me bring you an example: Let’s say your investment focus is deeptech, AI, fintech and life sciences. You will find some great startups but the founders are predominantly male. There are just more male founders in deeptech and FinTech today and more female founders in marketplace or e-commerce businesses. Therefore, I think it depends on what the investors are looking for, from an investment interest perspective, not from a gender perspective. I think today many funds take female founders seriously, but you need to be a strong and determined founder to convince the investors.

It is true that women sometimes have to prove themselves more than men, especially if they have a family but I have met some really great female founders who are building great tech businesses while being moms.”

What should women concentrate on when speaking with investors?

“You should consider pitching as if you were interviewing for a job (your deck is your resume and your pitch is your interview) – do your homework and be ready to answer ALL questions! Know who you are pitching to – how much industry expertise they have. Do your market research.  

There are quite a few funds out there today who want to invest in more female-founded businesses, which is very encouraging! Do some research on this and find them.”

How would you rate the British startup ecosystem from a women’s point of view? Do you know any associations which specifically help women in the startup ecosystems?

“I would rate it 7 out of 10 compared to some other ecosystems, just because I believe there is a lot of support here offered for women. Multiple organizations springing up who focus on helping and promoting female founders. There is a lot of improvement to be made but in general, I would say it is evolving in the right direction.

Yes! We have Accelerate Her as part of our group who is addressing the underrepresentation of women in technology. There is also Circle Community, advancing women’s careers. Blooming Founders supports entrepreneurial women along their startup journey. Women Who Tech challenge is supporting female founders in finding investment through pitching competition and mentoring. Women in AI is aiming to close the gender gap in the industry by raising awareness and educating women on AI. There is also a group for women in VC which is more informal gatherings for women in investment. Finally, Girls Who Code and more similar organizations aiming to support and increase the number of women in computer science.

At Founders Factory we often organize Female Founders Office Hours to offer mentoring and advice for female founders and find more female-founded businesses. Or simply get in touch with me”

What do you consider as a great accomplishment in your carrier and as a woman?

“I think the fact that I have had a chance to build more than one business and use these learnings to build next ventures and further on to use this experience to develop my career is for me a great accomplishment. Being a hustler has helped a lot to push myself to the limits, and build a strong network. Also being open to taking risks and adapting fast in new situations. It is important to learn to say ‘yes’ rather than ‘no’ to new opportunities, even if you are not completely sure you can make things happen. It is surprising how much one can learn about her self when she steps out of her own shade!”

If you would need to give advice to a young woman who is planning to launch her own business, what would it be?

“Build a strong fortress of network around yourself! Be open to opportunities that come to your way. Learn about your competition. Don’t be shy to ask around if you need help with something. But most importantly, be yourself and learn how to use your strengths to your advantage. There is no such thing as a perfect startup but there are great founders who determine the success of the business.”