“All companies should surround themselves with good advisors from the start”: Interview with Magda Lukaszewicz, Principal at Balderton Capital

This week we celebrated International Women’s Day (8 March). In addition to the everyday content that we publish, which of course includes female startup players, we’re running a special series highlighting the stoies of inspirational female founders and investors. We hope that this will both open up a space to discuss shared challenges and possible shared solutions, as well as give more visibility to female startup players to smash the “you can’t be what you can’t see” hypothesis.

Magda Lukaszewicz is Principal at Balderton Capital, a leading early-stage European venture capital firm, focused exclusively on European founded technology companies. She join Balderton in 2018 from Goldman Sachs, where she previously spent three years. Since joining Balderton, she’s sourced investments into up-and-coming startups like Detectify (cybersecurity), TheOrg (professional community) and Tibber (green electricity). Magda is also on the board of fast-growing cleantech startup Tibber, and has herself been an early employee of Swedish fintech scaleup Klarna. Magda has always been a high achiever, having also been elected to serve as one of the youngest politicians in Sweden only 11 days after her 18th birthday over a decade ago.

We spoke with Magda about her experience of being on both sides of the equation (both startup team and investor), the Nordic startup scene, when startups should consider creating an advisory board, and advice for founders looking to raise a Series A round in this economic climate.

Hi Magda, thank you for joining us! Firstly, could you briefly tell us about your role at Balderton and your experience in the sector?

Pleasure! I’m a principal in the investment team, where I currently spend most of my time focusing on the Nordics. I joined Balderton from Goldman Sachs in 2018. There are four core parts to an investor’s job: finding the interesting companies (sourcing), figuring out if they can become successful (due diligence), making the right call on them and being the preferred party (the investment process) and supporting them on their journey (portfolio work). At Balderton, I’m a part of the whole process, with more responsibility at the earlier stages of the process.

You also have experience on the startup side, having been an early employee at Klarna and gone through entrepreneurship programmes. Could you tell us about how this double understanding informs your work?

Klarna was my first office job, and I feel really lucky to have had a glimpse into the very early days of a company that is now the most valuable private company in Europe. It was a very young company when I was there, with young founders and young employees, but the ambition was sky high, and that’s something that influenced me a lot in terms of how I assess other startups.

You are on the board of scaleup Tibber, the fast-growing Norwegian-green energy company. At what stage do you think startups should consider setting up their own advisory board?

All companies should do their best to surround themselves with good advisors from the start, but whether they need the formal structure in place depends on a company’s situation. An advisory board can have different purposes, for example, bringing in expertise or a perspective from larger, strategic players if important to the business, opening doors to bigger companies where the startup would otherwise struggle, and bringing in expertise that the startup hasn’t yet been able to build up internally. The advisory board will only be as good as the advisors, so the quality and helpfulness of advisors are key.

What is your opinion of the Nordic startup scene, and what up-and-coming trends should investors be keeping their eye on?

The Nordic countries are actually quite different and are strong in different sectors. But, to generalise, investors should keep an eye on gaming, fintech and climate startups from the Nordics. Particularly on the climate side, I believe the Nordics have a cultural edge vs the rest of Europe, so I would expect to see some green unicorns from the region in the coming years.

What inspires you to invest in a startup? What special spark are you looking for?

In order to invest, we need to have confidence in the team, product and market – these are the non-negotiable factors. Then, there has to be something really unique about them that is going to be different from most other companies. In other words, we rarely get excited about companies that are building something “exactly like X, but in Y market”. There has to be something more to it. In the case of Tibber, our recent Nordic investment, the extra spark was that it had incredibly high customer satisfaction – in a sector that is known for the exact opposite!

What advice would you give founders looking to raise a Series A round in this economic climate?

  • Embrace the market. The current climate for fundraising is very strong. The first weeks of the pandemic, things looked a little bit different. But if there is anything we’ve learnt over the last year is that it can swing very fast.
  • Think carefully about the amount you would need to raise to reach up next milestone, off the back of which you should be able to confidently raise the next round. If possible, make sure you include a buffer, which will give you more optionality.
  • Prepare – and build relationships over time. These are people you will be working with for many years, so ideally you want to have known potential investors for more than a week. If you have materials prepared in advance, it will help you keep up the momentum when you actually decide to raise.

What piece of advice would you give to yourself from 5 years ago?

I think I wasted too much time stressing about all my possible weaknesses and trying to fix them, instead of using my energy and time to focus on improving my strengths. But it takes confidence to make these conscious choices, and it’s harder to do in a junior role where a lot of people will tell you that you should be in a particular way. In banking for example, where I started my career, there is an unrealistic expectation on attention to detail, so I would spend hours and hours double and triple-checking things that were perhaps not that important, rather than focusing on the big picture.

It’s easy to fall into the perfectionist trap, so I’d recommend trying to work out what is best for you and what works for you, not just what is convenient for others.