It was the disconnect between what Neumark saw at home and what he knew was possible that lit his entrepreneurial fire. “I come [from] a simple family” in the Brazilian textile business, he says. “One of the biggest problems in Brazil is access to credit for small and medium businesses. I saw this with my own father.” After an almost fatal plane crash, he left behind an investment banking career at Credit Suisse to help both entrepreneurs and funders.
All three young founders agreed that execution is far more important than ideas. “It’s 100% execution,” said Unsworth. “Ideas will continue to evolve the more you tweak them and the more you learn.” But Neumark pushed it a step further, noting that “perseverance is more important than either. It is the biggest factor in success of a startup.”
Recognizing the role, potential and pitfalls of raising capital was a key theme among the panelists. “We didn’t know anything,” admitted Reynolds. His first funder was the U.K. government for $150,000; to date they are at $20 million Series B. “It’s easy to use financing as excuse, but if you believe in what you’re doing and prove your product to the market,” you will get funding. “We didn’t want to be seen as a small U.K. startup.”
Unsworth chimed in: “We are in hardware so we needed quite a lot of cash. We bootstrapped the first 18 months, built it all in-house.” Revenue from their first 200 products sold was used to pay back suppliers. “Our proof was that we already went to market.” Vinaya has secured $5 million in funding. “I have good relationships with most of them. They are people I like as opposed to just taking their money.”
South African entrepreneur Bheki Kunene proclaimed the value of bookstrapping. “I grew up selling peanuts, graduated to fruit and vegetables and then graduated to own my own business. Where I come from poverty is real. Starvation is real. I want to build an international global brand that helps people change their lives for the better.”
Vardi’s best advice? Too much funding in the beginning is death. The trap is that founders will spend too much and not focus enough on income. “When designing the amount of money you want to raise, try to think 18 months or 2 years,” he said. “More, and it will explode your financial bladder and you will use the money too fast.”