«Transparency is the key.»

What do i have to look out for when I approach investors? Both up-and-coming and already established startups ask themselves this question. That’s why we had a glimpse behind the scenes and talked to Anja Graf, founder and CEO of VISIONAPARTMENTS. Well known as one of the jurors and investors on the TV show ‚Höhle der Löwen‘, she tells us her tips for finding a fitting investor, what to avoid doing and which aspect of investing appeals to her the most.  

STARTUPDATE: What is the process of an investment?

ANJA GRAF: First you have to learn more about the business: get to know the concept and the people directly responsible for it. Later you have to analyze the internal structure and meet the employees. I think the only way to create a great product or service and succeed on the market is having a passionate and dedicated team.

What kind of investor are you?

I would describe myself as a solo investor, but you have to stay flexible – it all depends on the type and scope of business. I try to look further than the founders, look for more opportunities and if I see a lot of potential, I am prepared to go all in on the business.

How do you decide which startup you want to invest in? Are there specific qualities or characteristics that you pay particular attention to?

There’s a set of characteristics I’m looking for. First there’s the idea itself, it needs to draw my attention from minute one. I would say that I like to find investments that stand out, are somehow different, have a surprising concept or way of thinking.
Then there’s the founder or owner of the concept. Transparency and the ability to build trust are key at this stage.
There’s also the question of the potential investment fitting my existing portfolio – would there be opportunities to create some kind of synergy with other businesses? I also consider the flexibility of the project and the possibility to adapt it in other areas or in other markets.

Anja Graf
Anja Graf invests large amounts in startups every year. (Foto:Anja Graf)

What are the characteristics that prevent you from investing in a particular startup?

It’s mostly about the founders or owners and their attitude. Being honest in business is crucial. Hiding information and avoiding clear answers are huge red flags for me. Growth of the startup is of mutual interest, so I also avoid people that do not accept criticism and are resistant to change in their business concept.

How involved are you if you decide to invest in a startup?

I would say I like to keep a close eye on the investment. I like to learn and understand the concept from A to Z. At the same time, it’s important to not overstep and get in the way of the founders. You see, some of them have been working on the idea for their whole life, thinking, analyzing and polishing the concept and finding solutions to the problems and obstacles. I don’t want to barge in and turn the whole company upside down.
I think of myself as an advisor, entering with a new, fresh look. With my entrepreneurial experience, I made many connections and met wonderful people, experts in their fields, who I can rely on. They are people passionate about their work and are great at what they do. Their opinions and recommendations are very important for me.
Nevertheless, I still have to monitor my investments. I analyze the regular success reports thoroughly and do not hesitate to act if there’s something I don’t approve of.

Do you have any tips for startups looking for investors?

The most important thing is having an innovative idea with potential for growth. Although there are many modern ways of contacting investors, from my experience a wide contact network works best. Good ideas spread quickly and word of mouth marketing is still strong.

What are the most common mistakes you think startups make in search of investors?

I’d say the biggest problem of beginner startups would be lack of transparency and a general mistrust of potential investors. Some companies also start looking for investors not prepared enough, without a specific plan and proper analysis. No one will invest in your company just because of your undoubtedly charming personality. We want a working business model and a well-prepared plan for the future.

Anja Graf
At only 21 years of age she founded her company VISIONAPARTMENTS. (Foto: Anja Graf)

In what financial framework do you make investments and how many investments do you make each year?

I don’t like to restrict myself, so it all depends on the startups and their concepts. What I’m considering now, is investing in up to 10 startups every year, with investments of up to hundreds of thousands of Swiss francs.

Which industries do you like to invest in?

As I like to think about synergies with my current businesses and investments, I focus mostly on real estate, hospitality and all the areas that are connected to these.

Can you tell us about a successful investment and a failed one?

My biggest investment success would be the MyCamper (mycamper.ch) company, a sharing platform for motorhomes and campers. It’s very successful and we already entered the second round of funding.
I don’t think there was a process I could call a failure with a clear conscience. I learn something with every negotiation, and even if the process does not end with reaching an agreement, I still monitor their situation. In 2017 I decided to invest in a mobile application for the first time. It was an app connecting providers of serviced apartments and their guests. Unfortunately some of the facts and figures were not revealed by the owners of the app, concealed details showing that the business model needs to be adjusted. The investment didn’t turn out as good as I expected. I learned my lesson and so did the owner of the application.

Which aspect of investing appeals to you the most?

I think it’s the opportunity to witness new ideas and projects coming to life and experiencing different approaches to business.
I remember when I built VISIONAPARTMENTS from scratch, the satisfaction, emotions and thrill of seeing your business grow and expand. It’s a great feeling to see the pieces of the puzzle fall into place and create a successful and viable business project.

Why should startups choose you as an investor?

I’m an experienced entrepreneur and investor with an impressive track record. I have a vast network of business contacts built over 20 years of my career as a businesswoman and do not shy away from investing in creative, innovative projects.

Thank you for the interview!

Anja Graf is the founder, CEO and owner of VISIONAPARTMENTS. She was born in Winterthur, Switzerland, and started building her company at the age of 21. Since starting her company in 1999, she has led it to success, enabling it to expand beyond Switzerland’s borders. Thanks to her experience and success as an entrepreneur, she also acts as a high-profile investor.