Originally published in Crunchbase
U.S. investors are increasingly stepping in to make big deals in Europe. But deep pockets alone won’t win over European startups—investors need to consider cultural nuances too.
The United States and Europe are only a few hours away, but in the investment sense they’re two very different worlds.
As a Spanish founder turned operator and now general partner for an international investment firm with headquarters in Miami and Madrid, I’ve spent years helping LPs understand the lay of the land in Europe.
These are my three tips to make a good impression across the pond.
Know the right questions to ask
European investors are typically more risk averse and prefer backing startups that demonstrate traction and scale at early fundraising stages. They gravitate toward businesses that can prove their stability and that prioritize what they’re working on in the short term—essentially, that they’re a reliable bet.
Founders in Europe therefore expect investors to ask them about having a revenue-based model and to show data around metrics like customer acquisition costs and customer lifetime value.
Investors that don’t delve into the numbers may put founders off, especially as recent capital booms means founders have more freedom to be selective with their investment partnerships. By not showing European founders that you’re engaged with granular figures and not explaining how you can help sustain and push them higher, will be taken as a red flag that you don’t offer value beyond finances.
This value extends to after the pitch as well. American founders assume VCs will give them detailed feedback, even if they don’t work together. In Europe, investors don’t offer this same debriefing; they give their answer, and if it’s a “no” they often go separate ways from the founder.
U.S. investors can use this trait to their advantage by surprising founders with their time and attention to detail. Being transparent about what worked and didn’t work in the pitch, and giving actionable next steps, will tell founders that you’re more than an investor, you’re a mentor.
Know your way around fragmented markets
Across states, attitudes to VC and deal sourcing remain relatively similar. For example, an investor doesn’t have to significantly alter their strategy if operating in New York or Florida. Over in Europe, investors can’t treat the market like a single entity. Language, culture and business norms vary drastically between nations, and not being sensitive to these can cost investors.
For example, when it comes to internationalizing, entrepreneurs from European countries like Portugal, Finland, and Switzerland prefer to launch a global business from Day One, while French, German and Italian entrepreneurs aim to dominate their home markets before expanding across borders.
And despite U.S. VCs increasingly using scouts to find startups in new markets, this approach only puts another layer between investors and founders, and doesn’t help investors really integrate with different ecosystems. Investors hoping to form more direct relationships should reach out to local accelerators to connect with their cohorts. Startupbootcamp, HighTechXL, Station F, Kickstart, Startup Grind and Founder Institute are all great starting points.
Know the different costs of compliance
Investors have to do their due diligence before reaching out to startups.
The United States has The National Venture Capital Association, but Europe doesn’t have one such entity. Each country has its own legal framework and requirements, meaning investors need to devote more time to understanding specific nations’ business parameters.
It’s therefore key to contract native law firms in each country with experience in venture capital, not just to navigate the legal frameworks, but the logistical processes in terms of the notary, public registration and so on.
Europe and the United States have equally strict regulations that can affect investor activities. That said, Europe has harsher penalties around data privacy, while the U.S. has strong repercussions for tax noncompliance. The United States is also more expensive in terms of taxes, but Europe has more administrative hoops to jump through.
For example, in Germany, investors in a priced round need to stand in front of a notary and listen to the legal documents be read aloud in English and German. The process takes hours and can be expensive, so isn’t ideal for smaller deals.
To ensure that you don’t lose time, money, and potentially your investor reputation in Europe, leverage resources that make compliance clearer. Business.gov.nl is a government source for doing business in Netherlands. Business Finland has extensive content about funding parameters in the country. The Business and Investment Development Agency CzechInvest advises foreign investors in the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, France Invest walks investors through France’s legal and tax environment.
Deal sourcing is a dance wherever you’re located in the world: Investors have to know the surroundings, mirror the expectations of partner startups, and keep pace.