DSW Ventures first invested in Poptop in December 2018 alongside existing investor Northstar Ventures. Two years on and (hopefully) almost one pandemic later, we spoke to CEO and Co-Founder Eugene Shestopal to hear about the Poptop journey and his experience raising venture capital.
Can you give us a brief overview of Poptop and its history?
Me and my co-founder are both originally from Ukraine (where we initially started working on the Poptop concept), but were invited by UKTI to move to the UK in November 2014. We subsequently founded the company here and launched the product in early 2015, establishing a presence in the market and starting our growth journey.
Since day one, our vision has always been to build the world’s best events marketplace which will become the go-to globally. Today, Poptop is one of the leading solutions on the UK market and the first platform in the world to implement the concept of a true online events marketplace.
What has your fundraising journey looked like so far?
We’ve raised a series of funding rounds in order to achieve the growth targets. In 2016 we raised a pre-seed round of £120k to establish a presence in the market. We then raised a £625k seed round in December 2018 to develop our market-leading technology and significantly improve user experience for both sides of our marketplace – clients and suppliers.
What was the trigger point that caused you to first raise funds?
We’ve always seen Poptop as a fast, growth-oriented company. There was a great opportunity in the market and our goal was to use this opportunity to achieve high growth. In order to achieve this growth, we knew we had to raise money with angel investors and/or VC funds. Since the early days we have maintained a plan of critical milestones in our development and therefore when we will require extra resources to fuel growth.
How did you choose who to approach when raising?
We were particularly interested in people and funds who had experience or were interested in the marketplace and events industry. We wanted someone who would be genuinely interested in what we do and would add extra value to the business.
Other than money, what were your main considerations when selecting investor partners?
Apart from the money our main goal was to attract more ‘brain’ and expertise. We were looking for someone experienced, genuinely interested in developing the business and becoming part of the team. We’ve always seen investors as part of the team, so attracting the right partners, who would help the team achieve the critical milestones, was extremely important.
What have been the main highlights since founding the business?
We were able to achieve the unique competitive advantage among the competition in the market. While the majority of the competition is represented by lead generation platforms and directories, we’ve built the world’s first true events marketplace – a platform where you can enter your event details and see thousands of services available for your event with live pricing and availability. We plan to start scaling to the new markets next year and grow globally.
What has been your experience of running the business during lockdown?
Of course Poptop was hit hard by the pandemic and restrictions on the market, but our technologically advanced platform allowed us to be flexible – we helped thousands of suppliers to re-adjust their services in order to help make it through this period. We’ve now been looking quite positively in the future of UK hospitality and are confident it will survive and even grow once the restrictions are removed.
What is your experience of working with DSW Ventures since investment?
David, Eleanor and Keith from DSW basically became valuable team members of Poptop. They don’t just ‘observe’ boards, but take an active role in company development and it’s always highly appreciated – I always enjoy having diversity of opinion among the management team and board. We’ve received a lot of support and valuable advice from DSW, including helping us successfully navigate through critical moments of the pandemic. They also led our most recent funding round, providing a further £440k of investment alongside Northstar Ventures.
What advice would you give to any founders considering raising venture capital?
I’ve been given two very helpful and important pieces of advice in my life regarding the fundraising process: 1) Pick investors very carefully; and 2) If you are offered money – take it.
They are very contradictory points, but both are very true. I think it’s important to find a balance between the two. It’s better to have more control of who’s going to join your company as an investor. You will need to build a productive relationship with them, so you want to make sure that the investor shares your views on the company’s development and future. At the same time, if you start to fundraise, you ideally need to complete it within a six-month period. Otherwise, you risk becoming massively distracted and jeopardise the company’s future.
A big thank you to Eugene for taking the time to answer our questions.