Interview with Janet Bannister

The 7 Questions Interview Series: Angels and Venture Capitalists

The 7 Question Interview Series is an investigative content series where I seek out key leaders in a specific industry and/or subject matter expertise area and ask them 7 key questions that “enquiring minds want to know”. There is a twist however to these questions. I provide the interviewee with a hypothesis for each question to help frame and set context for their answer. This specific series of interviews is ideal for startup founders.

Series Objective

The objective of this series is to establish direct connections with VCs and Angel Investors across the globe and ask them the same set of 7 questions regarding investing in technology startups. I’d also like to know what their appetite is for investing in Canadian startups and why they do or don’t.

Interview with Janet Bannister, General Partner at Real Ventures.

Here is my 14th interview, with Janet Bannister, General Partner at Real Ventures. I met Janet at the Silicon Halton/Silicon Peel Women in Technology Meetup earlier this year.

When would it be appropriate for a startup to seek investment from you?

We are invest at an early-stage investor.  We invest in pre-seed to Series A.  We are happy to talk to startups at any time.

What’s more important: the idea, the team or both?

They are both very important.  You need both to be successful.  Some VCs will bet on just a team, because they believe that the team will figure out the idea.  But in the end, you need to have an extremely strong team and an extremely strong team to be successful.

What are you looking for in a startup team? What does a winning team look like?

We look for a great team and a big idea.  A winning team brings the right set of skills and experience to be successful in the market they are going after.  This does not necessarily mean they need industry experience, but they need someone who will figure it out.  Often teams have one or two people with technical skills and one of two people who are focused on business development.  At least as important as the skills and experience is the mindset – the determination to win, the resolve to overcome challenges, and the collaborative approach which will keep the founders working together as a solid team through thick and thin.

What are you looking for in an idea? What does a winning idea look like?

We are looking for big ideas.  The idea needs to be something that can lead to a profitable and scalable business.  Some key questions to ask: How big can this be?  How easily and quickly can we grow the business if this takes off?  How defensible is it against competitors?

Does a startup really have only one shot?

No.  We will definitely re-look a start-up after we have turned it down if the reasons why we turned it down have changed.  Whenever we turn down a company, we give the founders our reasons for passing on the opportunity.  If this changes in the future, we would deb happy to revisit it.  For instance, if we turn down a startup because of the team and then the team adds key talent, we would revisit it.  Or if the company changes its strategy or develops a key business partnership, we might revisit it.

Can you describe your due diligence and investment process? What’s important for a startup to know about it?

We spend time getting to know the team and what they are trying to do.  We also might research the industry.  Once two or three people on the team have reviewed the opportunity and are excited about it, we ask the team to come in and present to the entire Investment group.  After that, we occasionally ask for more information, but typically make a decision following that meeting.

In your view, is Canada a fertile ground for tech startups? If so why and in what ways is Canada unique and competitive in this regard? Are you investing in Canadian startups? If so, why? If not, how come?

We invest almost all of our fund in Canadian companies.  We are big believers in the potential of Canadian startups.  I do not believe there has ever been a better time than now to start a company in Canada.  This is because of the powerful ecosystem which supports startups, the abundance of strong talent, the access to capital, and the opportunities created by the Internet, mobile, and other technologies.

About Janet Bannister

Janet is a successful online entrepreneur. Most recently, she was CEO at The Coveteur where she scaled the business and grew it to become a leading online fashion destination. She launched and led to become the leading online classified destination and one of the most visited sites in Canada. She also led the Kijiji Global business, growing the business in North America, Europe and Asia. Janet worked at eBay in Silicon Valley where she led multiple product categories and helped transform eBay from a collectibles to a mainstream marketplace. Other career highlights include building her own successful consulting business, serving as an Engagement Manager at McKinsey & Company and working as a Brand Manager at Procter & Gamble. Janet is also an accomplished triathlete and mother to a wonderful son. She loves working with entrepreneurs to help them and their businesses reach their full potential.

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