Valery Bollier – founder of Oulala Fantasy Football startup shared his experience of founding a startup in Malta, looking for investors and engaging talents during his talk in TAKEOFF Business Incubator – “How we built our start-up around Big Data (Valery Bollier, CEO of Oulala.com)”.
Malta is a beautiful Mediterranean island with around 300 days of sunshine every year. It is an English speaking, EU country that is only around 3 hours away from London and Paris, where residents have a high quality of life.
What makes Malta a great country for startups?
One of the huge advantages to launching a business in Malta for a company related to iGaming, or the betting industry, is the opportunity to lower expenses and save money. Malta has a very friendly and pro-business regulatory environment (licences, taxes etc.) for the iGaming sector. Valery is actually from France and he estimated that launching and operating Oulala from France would raise expenses by around 350%!
Valery suggested that Malta has some “hidden advantages“, such as:
- a positive atmosphere
- the local population are very open to new opportunities, are pragmatic and believe in a better future
- relatively easy access to government officials and other decision makers
On the other hand, one of the biggest disadvantages for startups in Malta is the limited access to funding. There are no active VCs and very few business angels. This means that a founder would need to look outside of Malta for substantial fundraising, though it is possible to arrange seed investments in Malta (e.g. annual TAKEOFF Seed Fund Award).
Oulala was launched with it’s founders own funds – putting in your money is a good thing when you plan to look for outside investors because it shows determination, confidence and a willingness to take risks, not only with someone else’s money.
Oulala applied for and was given help by Malta Enterprise. Valery and his co-founder Ben Carlotti had prepared a very comprehensive business plan, which had taken six months to prepare for the purpose.
Many startup founders think that they do not need a business plan, or for reasons related to their market, find it difficult to create one. Indeed, you have to have a goal you want to achieve, but no startup founder can be sure of the road they need to take. Founders have to adjust and manoeuvre and try and fail, while investors need to understand that.
You make a business plan to prove to investor that your brain works!
In 2015 Oulala was trying to raise a 1.5 million euro investment, however since the company had not launched a paid version of their game and so was not making any money, it was not worth approaching venture capitalists because they are unlikely to take such risks at this early stage. Business angels were also out of the question because the required amount was too high.
Where would you find 1.5m of funding?
Oulala went to the industry – to big players from iGaming, big data and customer support and managed to rise required funding, by finding investors from Africa, India, England and the United States onboard.
When you have investors who are truly interested in your business rather than just a financial return – it is important to keep them happy, maintain great relationships and let them enjoy this startup journey together with you.
Creating a startup is all about the journey and experiences, which means that it is extremely important to have the right people onboard with you.
About first employees
Valery explained that the first 20-50 employees are critical for any company because they are creating the business together with you and must bring substantial value. Obviously it is difficult to recruit such people because as a startup you don’t have lot’s of money to pay in wages.
How do you hire top talent when you don’t have enough money?
Oulala founders have an answer to that question – you have to sell people your dream, so that it becomes their dream too!
Oulala’s founders have an answer to that question: a founder has to sell people on their dream, so that it becomes their dream too!
You can’t afford to take “just anyone”, you need true professionals with passion, that fit into your startup culture. What Oulala looks for while recruiting:
- technical skills and experience
- let’s have a drink test (would you like to hang out with this person?)
- desire to work in their startup
The startup has actually employed one of their early customers, who won the game several times and moved to Malta just to join the company he loved so much!
Oulala also wisely uses “free” opportunities when they can. There are a lot of internship/student exchange programs in the EU, where students are paid by Erasmus or similar organisations. Oulala finds great students from good EU Universities and invites them to Malta, to work in an exciting environment. It works! Oulala has launched it’s game and has had a total of six hard working interns onboard.
Instead of an afterword, here are a few of Valery’s favourite quotes:
You never fail until you stop trying
You never lose, you win or you learn
Every day we are just increasing probability of surviving
You have to have a great faith in yourself, because the statistics is against you