Here's an example of why determination, geniality and serendipity can mean the difference between startup failure and success.
I met Sophie Aubard in September 2022. She's the the founder of Yayloh – a SaaS company that's fixing the unbelievably broken problem of customer returns in the e-commerce space.
When we met, Sophie had decided to raise money. We spoke about how challenging it had become - made even harder, it seemed, by Sophie's status as a first-time, female founder and Yayloh's steady-but-not-stratospheric growth.
On paper Yayloh ticked all the boxes: high impact, post-revenue, strong unit economics and growing; but funding was clearly going to be hard to find and Sophie talked openly about the possibility of shutting down.
Like many founders, Sophie hadn’t taken a proper holiday for several years, but she had recently forced herself to take a much-needed surfing trip to Portugal.
While in Sagres, Sophie’s son made a friend. That friend’s father turned out to be Andrew Stott, a friend of mine who was vacationing from Singapore.
Although a startup guy himself (Andrew is a recovering lawyer, who now advises post-seed startups on growth, capital raising and M&A), Andrew didn’t know much about Scandinavia; but he liked Sophie, admired her determination, and was keen to help.
He pointed her to me, knowing I’d recently moved to Sweden.
I met Sophie in Stockholm, and while I couldn’t help directly (I was new in town and basically knew nobody!), I did feel Yayloh embodied a lot of the things I look for as an investor: a passionate, driven founder, a worthwhile cause, a working product, and a very large potential market.
Sophie didn’t ask for any favours but instead shared openly and without apology both the good and the bad about her business. Like Andrew, I wanted to help, so I tried to offer advice and made a few intro’s.
Last week, more than 6 months later, I read that Sophie had closed her round.
One of the people I introduced was Raja Skogland. Raja is one of the best-known early-stage startup people here in Scandinavia. I knew that Raja's expertise was helping early-stage companies raise capital. What I didn't know was that Raja would like the business so much that she worked with Sophie directly from December to April, provided a step-by-step process to accelerate her fundraising, and even invest herself, along with one or two angels in her personal network.
Now, while this might sound like an isolated incident, it really isn't. Sophie’s story is such a great example of what it’s really like to be a founder, and what it takes to succeed in this brutal world of startups. Founders should never underestimate the power of networking, being vulnerable and seeking advice and help.
There’s clearly a lot of nuance but I genuinely believe that, without any of the following, it's almost impossible for startup founders to succeed:
There were, I don’t doubt, many times that Sophie considered calling it quits. She spoke to countless investors, and almost always walked away unfunded and disheartened. But she kept bouncing back.
If Sophie wasn’t an upbeat, likeable character, Andrew probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable making intro’s, neither would the other people who helped Sophie along the way. And neither would I. If you're a founder, it makes things ten times harder if people don't want to help you.
Chance is probably the most overlooked factor in the startup journey. If you spend every waking hour at your computer, you're denying yourself the power of random opportunity. You don’t need to be sitting at a desk in order for it to count as work. Get out and talk to people.
Congrats Sophie and Raja, and thanks for a great story, Andrew.
Looking forward to seeing what happens next!