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Startup Advice with Jacopo Derba

What are the biggest mistakes that founders make? And what makes pre-seed ventures more attractive to investors? Jacopo Derba is a Startup Advisor and Mentor. We sit down together to speak about investment process and give advice to starting entrepreneurs.

Please tell us more about yourself.

My previous experiences are in Top Strategy Consulting and Financial advisory Firms. During my work experiences I have specialized in driving innovation in companies through my ability to discover the strengths and unique values of companies and understanding how new technologies can bring benefits in existing and new business models. I personally have a strong interest in entrepreneurship. I hold a MSc in Management and Organizational Change at Bocconi University of Milan, with the maximum grade 110/110. I am goal oriented, motivated and adaptable to change, and most importantly, a team player who strongly believes in the value and importance of teamwork in order to achieve goals and results. I am a Native speaker of English and Italian. I thrive in multicultural environments, having grown up in two different countries, Italy and USA which are diverse in terms of culture and lifestyle. This experience has helped me to become a flexible and open-minded person, able to easily adapt to new situations and to work well with people of all backgrounds.

Lastly and most importantly, I believe that top quality business and ideas are generated and better implemented through the blend of different cultures, personalities and am keen to continue to learn and acknowledge all the aspects of multiple perspectives in order to develop further know-how.

What do you usually want to see in a startup before you decide to look into it further?

The most important aspect (specialized in early stage startups) is the team behind the startup. This is extremely important because it is this that helps me understand if the opportunity has the right skills to succeed. I am also interested in knowing the person behind the professional and understanding their stories, besides their education or work background.

Based on your experience what are some of the frequent mistakes that startups make in their first steps?

Some of the most frequent mistakes are :

building a solution that is not addressing a real problem in the market or not building the right kind of solution for the target customer;

underestimating finance, hr and strategy topics;

not being frugal.

What is the most interesting aspect of your job?

The most interesting aspect of my job is continuous learning. Not only because we live in a world and marketplace that is VUCA (Volatile,Uncertain,Complex,Ambiguous) but also because as a startup advisor it is extremely important to create value for clients every day and in the long period, and this is possible only through continuous improvement.

Is there a trend that you have observed in the recent years in terms of the direction the startups choose to take?

My personal opinion is that the unicorn model for startups is overestimated. Indeed, I prefer other interesting models that are starting to be theorized... I actually prefer companies that have the ambition to achieve a positive impact on the lives of 1 billion people instead of companies that reach a market capitalization of 1 billion $. My personal opinion is that sustainability has shifted from a"nice have" approach (of a couple of years ago) to a "must have". This is the direction I would advise to take.

What are the top 3 traits that startups should have to be more appealing to investors?

Expressing my personal preferences, the top 3 traits that startups should have are:

  • Humility;

  • Resilience;

  • Passion.

How can startups in the Pre-Seed stage increase their chances of attracting investors’ interest?

My personal opinion is that the chances of attracting investors' interest increases proportionally to the capacity to be authentic and getting to meet people. The world, your neighbor, your friends, your family and yes.... also investors need our authenticity. So founders should not be afraid of being truly themselves, with simplicity and transparency and getting "out of the building" (Cit. Steve Blank) and getting to know people.

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