Péter Csillag on Startup/Angel Investor Scene, Experiences and the Role of Women in Investing – Interview

Women Business Angels’ seven lessons training course on How to Take Off as a Business Angel? brought to life in the framework of the WINGATE project has the goal to develop and train women entrepreneurs and women business angels across all Europe.

The first event of the training series took place on the 1st of March and had as an expert guest Péter Csillag.

Péter Csillag, President of HunBAN, former co-founder and CEO of Starschema is a technology business building and scaling veteran. For some years, he worked as a data technology expert at large multinational enterprises, then founded Starschema, the most successful Hungarian data technology service provider serving Fortune500 clients globally. Peter has a good overview of how founders need to grow a global tech business and has the attitude to help and mentor them to reach their potential.


Women Business Angels: What do you see as missing in the startup/angel investor scene in Central and Eastern Europe compared to the North-East, e.g. Estonia?
Péter Csillag: Many things. One important thing we miss here is self-confidence, believing we can achieve similar results as our role models. Without this belief, the ambition levels will never be similar to the more developed startup ecosystems, and we will never reach our full potential. Other is the one (or more) step distance from politics. Politics is poison for startups and the economy.


WBA: How was the EBAN meeting? What are the key ideas you see as essential to passing on to the local community and industry?
PCS: EBAN meeting was fine, not many surprises – and that was good. EBAN leaders shared the info they were expected to share, Angel organisations of Europe shared their success stories and problems, startups pitched their businesses, and everything was just as expected. Somewhat boring for the “startup guy me”, but this kind of stability and predictability are required to provide constant support and services to the startup ecosystem.
No significant, groundbreaking key ideas to pass on – just consistent communication and respect for common goals from all participants I have met there. All startups, accelerators, supporting organisations, and governmental or private entities emphasized the same goals and set the same major priorities – no “fights” or “parties” were visible.


WBA: What would you do differently if you could start building Starschema again? / What advice would you give to people just starting their startup career?
PCS: Gaining knowledge the hard way sounds fun, but it’s not (or not always). We had no good advisors or mentors in our early days, which made our journey much longer. We have made many unnecessary mistakes, burnt too much energy on wrong goals, and executed improperly. In our later years, we have built management from experienced and talented people, engaged advisors who “were there done that” – and I realised that the knowledge was always out there, I just was not aware of it. Help from the right people could have spared us many years to get where we are today. 
So my advice – if you want to build a killer startup and scale it fast – find the right people, mentors, advisors, and co-founders then pick their brains. If you think you miss an important skill or knowledge – find it in somebody else. If you think you have all the skills – think it over again.


WBA: Are you a mentor or more of an angel investor?
PCS: Both. I like starting a relationship with a startup by providing mentorship and turning it into an investment later. Investment is not a must – finding and helping new teams and startups is.


WBA: What would be your advice for startups when teaming up with an angel investor? Are there any red flags/green flags you could share with us?
PCS: As a startup, you don’t have to accept money from an angel automatically; you can (and should) be selective. Choose an angel (or any other) investor based on two significant criteria:
  1. What is the investor’s motivation? Money only? Acceptable, but not optimal. Enthusiasm for the idea/product only? Red flag for me. Trust in the team? Much better. Combination of all these? The best.
  2. Does the investor have experience with the specific market and the investment in similar phase companies? 2 YESs mean green light, one YES is yellow, and two NOs are like red flags.


WBA: How do you see the role of women in angel investing?
PCS: Women angel investing is still rare in Hungary, as I can see – and I’m not happy with it. Women were never (and to a large extent still aren’t) conditioned to be active decision-making participants in the economy. Before the last few years, they never had the chance to decide on investing in startups. It also means that startups founded by women were mainly invested by men so far. It should change – we need much more women angels!