It’s been a formative 12 months for 27-year-old Tim Groot and his company, Grip. First Covid arrived and threatened to decimate the London-based tech business. Then, having weathered the storm, he successfully pulled off a £9.45m Series-A funding raise. They say bright dawns follow dark nights, but that’s some turnaround. And the white-knuckle ride looks set to continue.
Grip is an AI-powered platform that aims to revolutionise how we network. Its origin can be traced not to a moment but to a feeling – one that many readers will know well: that buttock-clenching wave of panic that strikes at networking events. You may have experienced it. As the canapés and drinks travel around the room, you find yourself cornered by Slough’s leading bankruptcy expert (or similar). With the clock ticking you see no way of meeting the people you actually wanted to meet other than by shoving the insolvency guru to one side and frantically hunting your prospects down like a deranged bailiff looking for debtors. A quick cost-benefit analysis rules that out so you merely sigh, down a drink and head home regretfully.
Tim says: “We launched Grip after attending networking events in 2014 and 2015 and finding it difficult to meet the right people. I remember experiencing major FOMO [fear of missing out] at the end of each event. I’d leave thinking: ‘There must have been more relevant people to talk to.’ We wanted to solve that problem. So our starting point was to imagine a Tinder for networking events. With that idea in mind, we built the Grip platform and started to add AI to improve its match-making capability.”
Everyone who’d ever networked saw the issue Grip was trying to solve and welcomed the idea of using tech to optimise the experience, but it took two years for the business to get traction. Tim explains: “The concept was well received but turning Grip into a viable business – getting events organisers to pay for it – took time. In 2018 we started to focus on larger events. That’s when we began to see genuine product-market fit and picked up several large clients such as Reed Exhibitions, VentureBeat and TechCrunch.”
From there things moved forward steadily as Grip continued to bootstrap and grow organically. Tim and the team won more clients, attracted £1m of seed funding and gradually improved the platform. “Now, our matchmaking engine doesn’t just recommend people you might be interested in,” says Tim. “It also finds people interested in you, whether at online or in-person events. It’s also grown as a platform. Today you can run entire online events through Grip. Events organisers love that we offer streaming content and best-in-class networking.”
But to reach this exciting and promising point, Tim and the team had to get through both a pandemic and a Series-A funding round – simultaneously. Few sectors have been hit by Covid as hard as events, so when the UK locked down in March 2020 Tim saw that Grip could be in mortal danger. He and the team had no idea how things would play out but one thing was certain: they now had to focus on virtual events. “We dealt with significant short-term revenue loss,” says Tim. “But by refocusing on virtual networking we recuperated quite fast.”
He continues: “One thing we learned from the pandemic is that in tough times it’s vital to communicate as much as possible, as clearly as possible. I remember showing slides revealing every part of our lost revenue and explaining all the problems we were facing. I made it clear that 2020 was going to be a mess and we had no idea how it would turn out. People respected the honesty – it brought us closer together.”
In fact, Covid failed spectacularly to knock Grip off course. Indeed, in February 2021 the company raised £9.45m in a Series-A funding round led by London-based growth equity fund Kennet Partners. Series-A raises are notoriously challenging for start-ups because it means the honeymoon is over. Vision and starry-eyed passion, although helpful, won’t cut it like they will in seed rounds. For Series-A success you need hard facts, clear strategy and solid proof that your business has big potential. Below, Tim reveals what the Series-A experience taught him.
TIM’S FIVE SERIES-A TIPS
1) PREPARE EXQUISITELY
“Series-A is tough,” he says. “You need a carefully planned presentation underpinned by hard data showing what your business has achieved. If you don’t have anyone internal who’s good at extracting the right data and turning it into an impressive presentation, then I’d highly recommend working with someone external who can help. You need figures and models showing things like client retention, revenue retention, customer acquisition – all those very ‘businessy’ metrics.”
2) FOCUS ON THE RIGHT QUESTION
“The key question is: ‘How will new investment help you do what you’re already doing more effectively?’ So you need to demonstrate that extra resources and people will enable you to scale better and faster. You need to start thinking about that question at least 12 months before you want to raise Series-A, otherwise it gets tricky.”
3) START EARLY
“The earlier you start having lowkey conversations with investors about funding the better. It takes time to build trust, so I suggest having a list of around ten targets who you catch up with every now and again, every quarter or so, to start opening up that funding conversation. Don’t make it your full-time job – dedicate around half a day a month to it.”
4) BUILD COMPETITION
“Once you’ve got your Series-A story right and your data lined-up, my advice is to leverage your existing angel investors, your chairman and any other likely contacts to introduce you to potential Series-A investors. Your aim is to align multiple potential investors because you need a competitive situation if you want to get it done fast. There needs to be a feeling of urgency among potential investors.”
5) NEGOTIATION IS NOT LIKE THE MOVIES
“Finalising a funding deal is not like the hardball negotiation scenes you see in movies. Ultimately, negotiation is about understanding both parties’ goals and being transparent while also keeping a couple of cards hidden. It’s best to treat it as a trust-building exercise.”
Following Grip’s Series-A deal, and with people now starting to think beyond Covid, the company has entered a new growth phase. Tim’s role has evolved from founder to CEO leading more than 70 people. Such change has taught the 27-year-old a great deal.
“There’s still lots to learn but I’ve become a better communicator,” he says. “In the early start-up stages you’re hustling so you’re not focused on internal comms and staff alignment. But when your team grows and you start to think globally, alignment becomes super-important. You can have lots of individuals working amazingly hard but unless they’re pointing in the same direction you’ll never achieve your goals.”
FROM CUP TO BATHTUB
The second significant post-Series-A lesson Tim has learned also relates to communication. He’s discovered that the need for clarity and consistency increases exponentially as your company grows. “When you’re a new start-up it’s like a cup of water,” he says. “You drop a stone in the middle – the stone represents a concept or something you want to communicate – and the ripples touch the sides of the organisation almost immediately. But as you grow it’s more like a bathtub – the ripples take longer to reach the sides. And if you think about someone like Tim Cook at Apple, for him it’s like dropping a stone into a reservoir. It takes months before the whole organisation gets what he’s saying. So you have to be crystal clear, consistent and transparent. If you’re not, all the ripples collide and start destroying each other. As you grow, consistency of message becomes vital otherwise confusion reigns.”
FUTURE OF NETWORKING
With so many insightful lessons learned, Tim’s attention is now turning towards the future of networking post-Covid. How does he see the sector shaping up? He says: “People crave human connection so we will all be looking to meet up in person as soon as possible. Face-to-face meetings are ‘trust accelerators’ because they quickly generate feelings of empathy and connection. However, live events will be much smaller than they were and you won’t see huge international gatherings for some time. That said, from now on – accelerated by Covid – our default everyday communication method will be online. And what we’re seeing in young people is a greater tendency to build relationships digitally. They are growing up in an environment where they can build trust much more quickly online. That may lead to greater change further down the line.”
The nasty sense of FOMO that inspired Tim Groot to launch Grip has led to a flourishing business with an exciting future. Networking has always been a messy, inefficient and time-consuming affair (we’ve all been collared by the equivalent of that bankruptcy expert from Slough), yet networking is also vital and gets results. Therefore, any platform that can become the leading optimiser of the experience – both online and face-to-face – is sure to thrive. However, from an entrepreneurial perspective, the biggest lesson which Tim’s story provides is that of the power of clear, transparent communication. Indeed, clear messaging sits behind each of Grip’s recent successes. When Covid hit, it was plain, explicit comms that did the heavy lifting by building team spirit, revealing what had to be done and digging the company out of the mire. For the Series A round it was an impressive, clearly communicated business story – backed up by detailed data – that did the trick. And during the fast-growth period after the raise (which is continuing), it is consistent, lucid messaging that has once again come to the rescue, allowing Tim to align the team, sidestep confusion and push forward in one direction. There are many other insights within this story – not least the juicy details in Tim’s five Series-A tips – but the big takeaway is the strength and power of vivid and honest communication. It may sound simple, but just look what it’s helped achieve…