The tenth-anniversary episode of “Fund your way” revisits the story of Ron Benegbi (CEO and Founder of Uplinq) and his experience of raising $3.5M as a pre-seed round. Uplinq is the first, global credit assessment platform for small business lenders. Uplinq’s API provides lenders confidence through billions of unique & validated data signals beyond traditional credit indicators, to make the most accurate decisions possible.

Bio

Uplinq is the “fifth and last startup” as Ron describes it. Ron is an experienced operator and a second-time CEO. Before Uplinq, his latest venture that he co-founded was Railz.ai. Railz provides a single API to all major accounting software service providers and enables on-demand access to financial transactions, analytics, insights and reports on Small Business customers. Yet, Ron’s experience with Uplinq is novel and required new skill sets from him. When he was the CEO for the first time, he bootstrapped and did not raise external venture capital. In other ventures, he used to always be a number-two man. Even though Ron participated in meetings with investors before, he was not the person responsible for raising funds.

“I have never started a business or participated in a business with the sole purpose of making money,” reveals Ron.

For Ron, it has always been about solving a real business problem, building the community around the company, and treating all the stakeholders with empathy and kindness.

“Money is the byproduct of all of that,” sums up Ron.

Being a child, Ron loved playing baseball and chess. Competing in team and solo gives you a combination of different perspectives on strategic decisions and responsibility. Growing up, Ron saw the ups and downs of his parents, running small- and later medium-sized businesses.

The replies to my probably most personal question about choosing a superhuman ability remain unique in every single interview I’ve taken so far. Ron confesses that the most fulfilling thing to him would be the power to heal terminally ill patients, specifically children but do so in an anonymous way.

Uplinq

Small and medium-sized businesses have always been the underserved sector in terms of corporate lending. The situation has not changed in 50 years since Ron’s father was trying to get a loan to open a company. Back in 1973, it all came down to the one particular manager of Royal Bank in Canada, who believed in Ron’s father even though he was not qualified to receive a loan based on regular criteria. This loan of five thousand dollars changed the life of one family and became the ground for all following achievements.

This personal experience and journey ever since led to the founding of Uplinq in early 2021. Uplinq helps all institutions which lend money to the small business community to look at credit score risk through a completely different lens.

“The purpose is to change a lot of “NOs” into “YESes” and actually deploy capital,” highlights Ron.

Through historical results and scientific validation of regulatory compliant data sets, the team at Uplinq is able to accurately measure small business performance and empower lenders with the confidence needed to support their credit decisions.

Investment round

The pre-seed round of $3.5M consisted of two tranches: $1.4M and $2.1M respectively.

“Being at day zero, even without a name for a company, who do you call?” Ron remembers asking himself.

The previous startup experience helped to make the first and right call. Ron approached one of the investors at Railz, who actually invested because of him.

N49P became the lead investor in the round for Uplinq. It helped a lot because when one investor is in, it gets easier to attract others,” states Ron.

The team at Uplinq always tried to get warm introductions to potential investors through their network.

The communication and pitches to investors usually involved three main subjects (displayed in the order of general sequence during the talks with VCs):

  1. Team. Who are the co-founders, and what other team members are there?
  2. Market and the problem to be solved. “We service the SMB lending market, which is enormous. Everybody was excited about that. And COVID just made the situation worse for small businesses. It showed the need for our product,” reflects Ron.
  3. The product. As it is still early in the company’s lifecycle, sometimes the product can change, which is what actually happened in Uplinq’s case.

Speaking of lessons learned, Ron highlights that

“You as a founder need to understand how VCs work and through which lens they look at you as a company. At times, I spoke to investors like they were my co-founders because I am an open book kind of person. This did not always resonate with them.”

Choosing the right investors is very important because you join forces to go for a long journey together. Ron and Uplinq’s team focused on two main criteria when trying to make the choice:

  1. Industry knowledge and experience
  2. Shared values.

“We are a purpose-driven company and we always tried to understand if our beliefs resonate with investors,” clarifies Ron.

Advice

Doing homework does not end with graduation from school or university. Due diligence on investors is very important in today’s environment, where there is so much capital and every fund claims that they are special.

“Look at portfolio companies, see who fund managers are connected with on LinkedIn. Do not ask for references, rather reach out by yourself and see what kind of reputation this fund really has,” summarizes Ron.

It is essential to build a strong story and believe in it for early-stage founders.

“We’ve pivoted as a business in terms of our product. What has not pivoted is our purpose. And that resonated with a lot of investors we met along the way,” reflects Ron.

The relationships with investors after the round are vital as well. Ron tries to be as open as possible.

“Our company was a PowerPoint slide deck just a year ago. There is as much good news as there is bad. I am detailed and transparent about everything I do,” highlights Ron.

To view this article online you can visit here