Introducing VNTRS Estonia – Startup Studio & a VC fund enriching Northern Europe’s start-up world. Founded in Sweden in 2016, they have invested in 24 companies and worked with hundreds of others. Now they have also settled in the Estonian start-up scene. Using the Sweat Equity model & their VEQ fund to help companies grow, VNTRS is well connected with start-up hubs in the Baltics.
🔵 Let’s bring everyone up to date on how VNTRS came about and how you are making the world a better place?
Our vision is the world where good ideas become successful. We believe that too many good ideas, passionate entrepreneurs, and intrapreneurs fall short due to the wrong reasons – we are here to change this.
We build digital products and services while also helping start-ups get to the market cost-effectively. If we believe in the people and the companies we work with, we are willing to reinvest part of our fee to equity, become shareholders and long-term tech partners. Our investment portfolio currently consists of 24 early-stage tech companies that we’ve helped to build, and we have also worked with hundreds of clients following VNTRS’ values.
As mentioned above, we risk and benefit together with our partners. This is what the concept of VNTRS – Sweat Equity is all about. In 2021, we also started the VNTRS VEQ investment company to expand our investment capabilities. VEQ will invest in pre-seed and seed rounds with a mandate all over Europe but focus on the Nordics and Baltics. VEQ does not have a traditional fund structure and thus can remain a long term active owner as long as it makes sense for both sides.
🔵 How has the startup scene welcomed you here in Estonia?
Since opening up the Estonian office in February 2021, we have seen a lot of interest from Estonian and Baltic startups. We focus on introducing the Sweat Equity concept to the founders as this model was not well-known in Estonia in the past. Nowadays, we deliver the message and spread the work through the benefits of this model, connecting ourselves to VC funds, incubators, and accelerators.
We screen about ten start-ups weekly, asking the best ones to pitch for our Investment Committee. Collaboration with local ecosystem players helps us to guarantee a stable flow of incoming leads.
Within those 4 months of operation, we landed our first Sweat Equity project in Estonia, helped several companies with consulting, and managed to work on one additional cash project. As things stand, there are several more investment projects in the pipeline. That’s one of the reasons we are looking for additions to our team.
🔵 The ever-changing work environment at startups can be challenging for developers. What would you say are the main distinctions in work-life between VNTRS and startups?
I would somewhat disagree here. I have been researching this topic, and according to my research, developers primarily seek to switch jobs as they get tired of the same product development; they feel a lack of impact in decision making rather than just completing the set tasks. Also, as a start-up is growing, the “romance” of the work nature is disappearing.
In VNTRS, we offer the developers various projects with 100% involvement and freedom to achieve technical tasks. Developers can finish one (long or short-term) project and choose to have some other tasks in hand for the next one. We always involve our developers in workshops, scoping sessions, MVP mapping process, etc. Coding is just one part of a developer’s job.
🔵 Could you elaborate on how VNTRS’ lifecycle management helps to relieve common pain points found at start-ups?
Very often you will find developers only completing tasks assigned to them while being micromanaged at the same time. We strongly believe that involvement is vital to solving this issue, and we enable it through different means. First and foremost, we want our engineers and developers to feel like they impact the whole process of working with start-ups. We also believe that start-ups lack diversity in developers’ daily tasks.
For our engineers and developers to find solutions for our clients, we believe that a deep understanding of the start-up and its product is key for everyone involved. Getting this knowledge enables our engineers and developers to provide valuable input to our clients during the whole process. This allows our employees to work with external clients and our start-ups to widen their skill sets.
Last but not least, we feel like having a foot in the game motivates you to give your best. That is why we run our company using sweat equity. Every employee in the company can invest in the project they are working on.
🔵 Working at VNTRS means collaborating with multiple start-ups at once instead of choosing only one. How does it manifest itself in daily life?
This means that while you could be in the “coding” phase of a product for one start-up, you could also have part of your time attributed to screening potential new start-ups or helping others in our portfolio to scope their MVP.
🔵 VNTRS also has a ‘sweat equity’ system in place, aiming to raise employee engagement even further. Could you give a brief overview of what it is and how it works?
Sweat equity means investing ‘sweat’ instead of money. We are giving out our consultancy and seek equity of the client-company in return. This model came to light in the 1930s in California, US. Back then, immigrants had no place to live and no money to buy an apartment. Local real estate developers approached them and offered a deal, ‘help us to build houses, and in return, as an alternative to the salary, we will give you an apartment, where you could live.’
VNTRS is doing the same by not seeking monetary compensation for the services but asking for equity instead. We can reinvest part of our fee back into the start-up and thus become a minor shareholder. This takes the collaboration to a higher level as we are directly interested in growing the start-up’s valuation.
A ‘killer feature’ of our company is that all of the employees invest part of their salary into the VNTRS fund. This means that all of the workers are shareholders of the project they are working on. The given system allows our workers to get engaged and have direct motivation for success while clients see us as trustworthy partners. We are not an outsourcing company, where the more hours you spend on the project, the more money you will earn. Sweat Equity is about growing together with our startups, as only then can VNTRS be successful!
🔵 When and why did VNTRS choose to use sweat equity? How does it impact a company’s working life, people & operation wise?
This was the decision from day one. In the beginning, it is surely risky and challenging as you need to find the right balance to be able to cover all the running costs, but VNTRS did play this right from the start.
Our experience shows that the Sweat Equity model is efficient and great for founders. We are now applying all the know-how gathered in Sweden to the Estonian market.
Check out VNTRS’ open positions:
🔵 What are some of the qualities you’re looking for in new developers joining the team?
When it comes to hiring new developers, we look for pragmatic and self-acting people with a drive to become experts in their field of work and at working with start-ups. We look for people willing to produce clean quality code using recent and relevant technologies to help the start-ups in our portfolio grow.
Writing contributed by Mari-Ann Vilson