A Chat with Business Mentoring Luxembourg

This interview originally appeared on the Business Mentoring Luxembourg Blog on 04-Sep-2019.

Stephan Peters, Managing Director of SANZARU Group, has been a mentor with Business Mentoring Luxembourg since 2016 and has so far supported three mentees in different sectors. He shares his broad experience as an investor and and senior advisor.

Can you briefly introduce yourself? What is your background?

Thanks for having me over! If I had to describe myself in a few words, I’d say I’m a jack of all trades and a master of some. After growing up in Belgium to entrepreneurial parents, I returned to the Netherlands to study aerospace engineering, which gave me an affinity to technology as well as deep appreciation of the scientific method. After doing stints in investment banking, management consulting and private equity covering multiple sectors as well as four continents, I decided to re-connect with my entrepreneurial roots and started my own advisory and investment company about a decade ago. I focus on technology, communication, financial services, retail and sustainability; all with a growth perspective on mind.

Why did you become a mentor? How did you come up with the idea of becoming a mentor?

Along my own entrepreneurial journey, I realized that you’re fairly isolated from everyone else as a business leader and there’s profound difficulty in finding an objective third party who can function as a sounding board. I was lucky enough to have a strong support network that would provide me with much needed advice and perspective. Even so, I would have benefited greatly from having a more experienced, independent mentor who had walked my path before. A few years ago, I wanted to give back and share my own experience with those who might benefit from it.

The profiles of your mentees were very different. Why these choices?

As a professional advisor and an investor into start-ups, I have always thoroughly enjoyed helping business leaders succeed. Regardless of the sector, I decided to support my past mentees as I understood their struggles, whether it was to fully realize the implications of becoming a business leader, to identify skill gaps and design a development plan to build them, to discuss the nature of managing teams, or to better understand their company’s ecosystem and stakeholders. Having been there myself, I felt I was well-matched to mentor them.

What does the Business Mentoring Luxembourg programme bring to you?

Being a mentor of the BML programme is immensely rewarding. First of all, you’re supporting someone who’s in need of guidance and advice to weather a difficult period in their professional life. Secondly, the programme contributed to my own development as a mentor by providing insightful training and knowledge. Lastly, you have the opportunity to interact with your fellow mentors in the programme, share experiences as peers and learn from them.

A Chat with Leapfunder

This interview originally appeared on the Leapfunder Blog on 24-Apr-2018.

Hi Stephan, thank you for agreeing to do the interview. Could you tell us a little bit about your background and how you became an angel investor?

Thanks for having me over! If I had to describe myself in a few words, I’d say I’m a Jack of all trades and a master of some. After growing up in Belgium to entrepreneurial parents, I returned to the Netherlands to study aerospace engineering, which gave me an affinity to technology as well as deep appreciation of the scientific method. After doing stints in investment banking, management consulting and private equity covering four continents as well as finishing my MBA, I decided to re-connect with my entrepreneurial roots and start my own advisory and investment company.

Along the way, I did my first angel investment back in 2010 to support a former colleague and friend whom I admired for his commercial drive and customer insights. Since then, I’ve expanded my angel investments to now have a portfolio of 12 live companies. I thoroughly enjoy helping entrepreneurs and business leaders succeed by sharing my experience and know-how. More recently, I have become more active as an impact investor with the aim of fomenting social and environmental change by providing advice and financing to purpose-driven ventures.

As an investor, you must have met a lot of entrepreneurs. What are some of the most innovative ways you’ve seen entrepreneurs to create impact?

Entrepreneurs are infinitely creative in how they use limited resources to tackle problems they themselves are deeply familiar with. They search for solutions that are most likely to take hold given the cultural or social circumstances in what are usually niche markets. A few amazing examples I’ve come across include Apopo, Auticon and SamaSource.

Apopo trains rodents to find landmines (without triggering them) as well as diagnose tuberculosis. They managed to create a highly reliable and cheaper solution to both problems.

Auticon employs autistic adults to use their exceptional strengths as IT and compliance consultants by providing them with autism-friendly work environments. They have been so successful that big IT firms have started to mimic their activities.

SamaSource offers IT and data outsourcing services by training and employing poverty-stricken people in Africa and Asia.

These companies are remarkable examples on how entrepreneurship can lead to a better future, and on how there is not necessarily a trade-off between financial return and social and/or environmental return.

Do you have specific criteria that must be fulfilled before you invest in a company or is it just pure gut feeling? Would you say you invest more in ideas or teams?

Typically, I look at key elements such as team, idea, business model, timing and funding momentum. Of these, I think timing and team are the most important.

Timing is all about whether the market or customers are ready for what you’re offering, while the team includes factors such as the background and experience of the entire staff, whether there are skills gaps on the team, or whether the founders demonstrate critical thinking skills and generate data-driven insights while leveraging external advice.

What was your biggest success and your biggest failure as an angel investor? Do you have some advice for beginning startup investors?

I guess I’ve been lucky so far with my angel investments. I’ve had one successful exit with a decent return and only one soon-to-be failure after investing in a total of 14 start-ups.

Most of my regrets derive from situations when I was not as pro-actively involved as I originally intended in coaching the entrepreneurs to spot potential problems before they occur. Some of those situations were unavoidable; many could have benefited from more frequent updates between founders and investors to help flag issues early.

For beginning investors, I would share two key pieces of advice:

  • Be humble: Understand your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t give your portfolio companies uninformed advice or at least activate your network to find relevant expertise. Stay curious and keep learning!
  • Be cautious: Invest in what you know and resist being pulled into hypes. Invest small tranches of capital and reserve fire power for follow-ons into your portfolio companies. Co-invest with angel investors you trust and respect. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Recommended Reading

This is an ever-evolving list. Please do come back later to see if anything interesting popped up!

Impact

Managing

  • Ries – The Lean Startup
  • Maurya – Running Lean
  • Maurya – Scaling Lean
  • Osterwalder, Pigneur – Business Model Generation
  • Levitt, Dubner – Think Like a Freak

Investing

  • Taleb – The Black Swan series
  • Ante – Creative Capital: George Doriot and the Birth of Venture Capital
  • Rose – Angel Investing
  • Hargreaves – How to Become a Business Angel

Personal Development

  • Brimm – Global Cosmopolitans
  • Brown – The Independent Director
  • Dilts – From Coach to Awakener
  • Hofstede, Hofstede – Cultures and Organizations
  • Levitt, Dubner – Freakonomics
  • Pfeffer – Power
  • Tan – Search Inside Yourself

Everything You Should Have Read Already

  • Stewart – In Pursuit of the Unknown
  • Watson, Gann, Witkowski – The Annotated and Illustrated Double Helix
  • Bryson – A Short History of Nearly Everything
  • Eagleman – Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain
  • McRaney – You Are Not So Smart
  • Macauley – The Way Things Work Now
  • Harris – Big Questions from Little People
  • Hawking – A Brief History of Time

Just For Fun

  • Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series
  • Asimov – Foundation series
  • Carroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
  • Corey – The Expanse series
  • Herbert – Dune series
  • Pratchett – Discworld series
  • Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings series

The Mystic Monkeys’ View on Life, the Universe and Everything Else

SANZARU Group Logo
The SANZARU logo, representing the four mystic monkeys in abstract form

Welcome to our blog!

So, what’s in a name? Our name is derived from the Japanese philosophical proverb of the mystic monkeys, who teach a sensible approach to life by behaving with propriety in words and deeds. In its most verbose form, the principles are: “look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety”. If you’re interested, feel free to read more about them on

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