Marco Pieters


Marco Pieters

Co-founder Slingshot Ventures

Partner Involved Investors

Co-founder and CEO T4 Media

Slingshot invests in consumer digital startups with unique brand positioning in Europe. The most recent fund is €65 million and is supported exclusively by entrepreneurs. Investments include VanMoof, Chronext, RideCheck, Boldking, Wasteless, Temper, Swishfund, Stox, Naduvi, Versa, Wundermart and Wild Cosmetics.

What factors determine the success of start-ups?

There is really only one: the entrepreneur himself. It matters little what the idea or plan is, the execution power of the founder determines success. You often can’t figure out the quality of the team until you’ve been on board for a few years. During due diligence, you can gauge whether the company has its act together. Whether the presentation material is good. For example, we look at the quality of the (monthly) reports. Do they offer both overview and detail? Does the report give clear direction on where the start-up wants to go and how it will get there step by step? Reporting should be understandable to all and shared with everyone, including internally. Because then all the noses will be pointed in the same direction and the start-up will fly.

You notice soon enough if someone can inspire. If the person cannot, then it is quickly finished as far as we are concerned.

We also examine whether founders use data to make decisions. Many entrepreneurs do think ahead, but reason from intuition. You can measure the quality of a team by assessing the work they have done so far. If you schedule several meetings with the founders, get to know them. Ask questions and see how they respond. Everything in the world is energy and so are people. Listen to what they say and especially how they say it. Do they know what they are talking about? Does the founder inspire by the way he or she talks? You notice soon enough if someone can inspire. If the person cannot, then it is quickly finished as far as we are concerned.

A good team often consists of several people with complementary qualities: someone who inspires, someone who talks to everyone (the salesperson) and the tech guy (the hacker).

I once told a student entrepreneur with sales skills that he could go drink beer with his cool friends, but if he wanted to start a successful business, his time would be better invested in the nerds at school. Because together with them you create a strong and diverse team. Something similar happened with a participation of ours,, where Steye Kaersenhout (a real salesman) teamed up with two tech guests to develop a top software product (an app).

You can go drink beer with friends, but it's smarter to invest time with the nerds at school, because then you create a strong and diverse team.

Which start-ups generally don't make it?

Growing hard and disappearing often go hand in hand. After all, you can grow too fast. If as a start-up you are still experiencing problems with the product you are bringing to market, then scaling can actually become a problem – you are scaling a problem. After all, you are not solving the core problem, which is only getting worse. At the same time, the market (and investors) expect great growth. And that’s where things go wrong. As far as we are concerned, you can only grow if the foundation is in order.

We believe in strong brands with satisfied customers and healthy margins. Platforms we invest in achieve a margin of around thirty percent. A direct-to-consumer brand must achieve at least a 65 percent margin to make a healthy profit. And that has to go even toward eighty percent across the chain if you’re going to sell at retail.

Take Check, the shared scooter platform that also operates in the Netherlands. We also looked at competitors at the time of investment. But Check had by far the best unit economics. The technology was ten times better (built in-house) and the company was tightly managed. The reports were sublime, everything was right. Today, they are the market leader in the Netherlands and I think they are one of the few profitable platforms.

How do you evaluate a start-up?

Beyond the things I’ve mentioned above, we are mainly looking at strong consumer brands and platforms operating in Europe. Like Stox, a high-tech compression stocking manufacturer. They were the first to make compression stockings hip. The socks are functional, with a proven medical effect, and fashionable at the same time. VanMoof, another early investment of ours, did the same thing: they made electric bikes trendy. Before their time, only elderly people used the electric bicycle. Nowadays, everyone uses them. We are looking at start-ups that put a spin on an existing product and thus tap into a new market. Then we can turn on the marketing machine. In retail, it’s all about marketing and execution.

We are looking at start-ups that put a spin on an existing product and thus tap into a new market. Then we can turn on the marketing machine.

You get to see a lot of pitch decks, what does a good deck meet?

A pitch deck should be visually appealing. It should be fine for the eyes. It should explain quickly and clearly what you are looking at. Within five seconds, you should understand what the company does. Even on the first slide, you can read what problem the company solves and what value it adds. A good pitch deck is BAM! The strength of a good entrepreneur is that he can tell in one sentence what the start-up does. The story captures the imagination.

How do you determine a start-up's investment opportunity?

Of course, the company must fit within the investment criteria we have set. Slingshot selects potential holdings on (among other things):

  • Team: an ambitious and passionate team with the right chemistry, complementary qualities, integrity and talent.
  • Disruptive: the potential to capture an existing market with technology and innovation.
  • Traction: a marked acceleration in sales of the product or service due to proven market demand.
  • Scalability: local and international potential.
  • B2c/d2c: direct contact with consumers.

The stage the company is in must also fit (which is early stage, sometimes seed stage). Finally, the size of the investment must be right (ticket size).

We ask ourselves the question: can we see 10 times the return on investment over a period of four to six years? It depends on several factors: valuation, market size, quality of the team, ability to scale, margin and the amount of money it will cost to scale. For us, capital-hungry companies are less interesting. As a rule, they need several rounds to become ten times larger (money is needed for production capacity, inventory, personnel). The more efficiently the start-up can handle money, the fewer rounds will be needed in the future and the less our interest will be diluted.

Field hockey stick growth? Divide the turnover figures by two and then take half, and you will arrive at a realistic number.

How do you look at the financials and valuation of start-ups?

We look at several drivers of growth. These are the factors that help enable growth and profitability. Consider the gross margin and contribution margin a company makes (does it keep money when selling its products?). We look with extra attention at unit economics: a summary of costs and revenues per customer or product sold.

If no data are available because of the stage of the start-up, then the estimation of the market size is the only thing we can manage. We regularly see field hockey stick growth pictures come up. This is the situation where sales are accelerating after a hesitant start. How we look at this? Divide the turnover figures by two and then take half, then you will arrive at a realistic number. Especially for start-ups, no one can predict the future, but one thing is certain: field hockey sticks do not exist.

In the end, it’s all about feeling good. Experience gives you feelers for the right participations. We get about two thousand deals a year. Of these, five to 10 go on.

Finally, looking at the valuation of companies, investors are often afraid of being diluted if the start-up raises money in the next round. Good to realize: the valuation of the company is not important and neither is the dilution. What matters is the price per share. As long as that one goes times ten.

Success factors of start-ups that emerge:

  • Team composition
  • Ambition and dedication
  • Executive
  • Scalability
  • Innovative product
  • Unit economics
  • Traction