Many of you will know that over the weekend I pitched an idea at a launch event, won both backing and a team, then had 48 hours to produce a working business before presenting it on Sunday evening. Yes, 48 hours from concept to production.
The event was called Launch 48 (Birmingham) and it brings techies and business folk together to pitch ideas. You have 60 seconds to pitch your ideas in round one before a vote is taken. From this vote 8 teams go through to round two. If anyone has ever pitched before then you will know that 60 seconds is almost no time at all to get across anything meaningful. You can only give a basic impression of your idea, the problem it solves, how the solution works and an idea for the size of the market.
At the end of your 60 second pitch, the timer sounds and you have to stop talking, so 60 seconds means 60 seconds.
When I first heard of the event I thought about simply going along and quietly joining in a team that wins a pitch, but when I saw the calibre of mentors attending, I know I had to try to stand out in order to be noticed. Now, my business skills are pretty hot, I have after all been mentored by the CEO of Europe’s largest retail company, but it would be very difficult to show this when you only have 48 hours and you are fighting to prove yourself alongside 40 others.
Some of the mentors attending included:
Anthony Williams – Super sharp gentleman who helps major companies with their online strategies. A true believer in real life meet-ups too.
Chris Leydon - of Gosquared. If you ever used the very popular application ‘Tinygrab’ which in 2009 became a screenshot sharing revelation… well this guy created it. He sold it and now lives very merry….
Doug Scott – Doug built DiscountVouchers.co.uk from zero to 6 million subscribers within 24 months. Do I need to say any more?
Hanif Khan – Has a background in IT but made his name in property. He now invests in entrepreneurs including inventors who now have their products within Britain best known DIY stores.
Keir McConomy – Took his first business from nothing, with no cash… into millions. If you live in the UK you have definitely seen ads all over TV for ‘Sell My Mobile’…. yep, he owns it.
Ian Russell – This guy not only invests in good startups, but his team provide the business, marketing and strategic support that so many new startups need.
Nick Holzherr - Candidate on this years Apprentice. Developing a fascinating startup called Recip.ly which I think is an awesome idea. All round nice guy who is my new squash buddy.
Mark Hales – The nicest car in the car park… it’s his. Made a fortune in the healthcare industry and now runs an ‘incubator’ for new startups – providing mentors, seed capital, offices and a 13 week intense boot camp. Awesome guy with such a down to earth mannerism.
Philip Wattis – Co-founder of Flinca a service which makes mobile technology accessible to small business. He became an entrepreneur right out of university some 17 years ago and never looked back.
So, I guess after reading that list you understand why I wanted to stand out and catch their attention in a memorable way.But, there was a second reason for me pitching. It was simply that pitching scared me a little.
When I was younger I always used to present at large functions. There would be 4-500 people in the room and I would always be the host. Fast forward 10 years and after such a long break I started to dislike public speaking. I know that I once had it, but getting back in the game always presented a little fear.
Just as I often like to do in my life, I decided to tackle something which scared me and so I decided to pitch.
I sat down and brainstormed some of my best ideas. I did not want to pitch my best idea because there is always a risk someone steals it. I did not want to pitch my last choice idea either as I might be kicking myself after. I choose one which had massive potential but in all likelihood, I would never get around to creating it without external help.
This way the risk was greatly reduced but I still had something to play for. I cannot tell you the actually app idea right now, but I link the beta test page here where you can apply for special privileges when we are ready.
I spent a whole day at home planning the 60 second pitch. Sounds crazy right? A 60 second pitch but it took me many hours to get it right. Trust me, it is harder than you think. After about a hundred rewrites I tested it with members of my mastermind group and they made some suggestions.
In the end I didn’t take their suggestions, but I am grateful they made me think about my pitch critically. I then created a handout in case everything messed up, so they would at least be able to quickly read the information. The handout simply used a flow chart type approach so it was very easy to see everything without any paragraphs or full sentences. I remember a post by Pat Flynn where he talked about his computer not working during his presentation, so I simply prepared for the worst.
Prior to my presentation we had a chance to mingle. I talked to a few people, mentioned I was pitching and asked them to vote me through to round two! Might sound political perhaps, but I was genuinely a little nervous and didn’t want to be the guy who got zero votes.
I stood up for my turn. Instantly my heart began racing as it had been years since I last presented. I gave my pitch, thought it went well, but in 60 seconds it is always hard to tell if you stand out above the rest. The vote came, and with the help of my prearranged helping voters I scraped through in 7th. I was gutted, I thought I had a solid product, but I guess within 60 seconds even the most unfeasible ideas can appear to be somewhat popular.
I then went through to round two. This is where you simply stand there and have 2 minutes to answer questions and the top 4 ideas are then created. I was scheduled to go almost last in this round so I would have a chance to see how others fared.
I was surprised, most of the ideas that actually seemed so interesting at first, had no business viability at all. The creators had not done the basic research in some cases regarding competitors, market size or the potential of the project. I had, so when I stood up I was ultra confident. I won the round with a knockout 50% of the vote. Chuffed and some justification of all the hard work I had put in beforehand.
The winning project creators were then split around the room and other attendees were free to pick the teams they most wanted to join. Of course, having such a strong pitch attracted a lot of good attention and at one stage I had four programmers wanting to work with me. some of them get moved to other teams as there were not really enough programmers to go around. I believe I had one of the largest teams with 8 members after we managed to persuade a few to leave.
Then we began the 48 hours adventure that was the start of our new business.
48 hours that reminded me of a number of key principles within any startup. 48 hours that challenged many within the team. Some were challenged so much that they did not turn up on the final day and others felt the effects of being out of their depths. The weekend was designed to challenge and inspire, but most of all to learn.
Here are 10 things I learned about a new startup.
1) Ideas mean nothing
Ideas are everywhere, but simply having an idea does not mean squat. You have to do something with that idea. Perhaps you need to put it down on paper or even create a beta version, but simply expecting an idea to be worth millions without any proof of concept is ludicrous.
Your ideas also need to stand up to scrutiny so you need to do your basic research too. Make sure you have done the basic minimum research before putting your heart and soul into an ‘idea’.
2) Investors do not actually need to see too much
This one actually surprised me. I heard stories all weekend long about people who had received thousands of pounds worth of angel investment for nothing more than an idea on paper. Of course you have to stand up to the scrutiny of basic expected research, but contrary to my belief there is not always a need to develop the product first. If you can prove your idea is sound and has potential, then investors may take it up.
In fact Mark Hales mentioned three things he looks for in an investment:
- An outstanding idea
- A good cohesive team
- People he would like to work with
3) Try to understand the different between techie and business thinking
I realised this weekend there is a big void between the way many techies think and the way that many business minded folk think. Quite often business minded folk under-estimate the amount of work involved with programming. Something I totally hold my hands up too and one major reason I am grateful for the opportunity to watch programmers at work.
There is a huge difference between something that just does the job verses something that is solid and scalable.
Techies also would like to still be involved with key business decisions, especially if it is a partnership. Startups are all mostly partnerships so sharing of information and understanding the challenges of your co-founders is essential.
4) Sometimes you have to crack the whip
You are often joint partners in a startup so there must be equal dedication and respect for all members. However sometimes there may need to be times when you crack the whip, or stamp some authority. On the first day of our task I tried to not be too dominant. Of course I brought the idea to the table and I was perhaps the most capable, but I did not know everyone in the group and I did not want to offend anyone. Often I think faster then most people and hate wasting my time, yet that trait can often be mistaken for arrogance.
On the second day however, it was clear that some people were not adding any value at all. So I simply let them hang themselves. We came together and agreed individual targets for the next two hours and then come back together for a review. Of course certain people had nothing to show for their two hours and had not even bothered to ask for help. That gave me the perfect reason to crack the whip.
When in a startup never give anyone the chance to single you out. Commit to what you say and do it. If you need help ask before the deadline not after the deadline. If people within your group are not puling their weight then make sure you have something to hold them accountable as then the evidence is plain to see.
5) Make sure you have done your basic research
This goes back to an earlier point. Make sure you have done your basic research. Make sure you have gone through a SWOT analysis and make sure it makes sense.
If you have never heard of a ‘Business Model Canvass‘ then be sure to check it out. It can help you map out the details of your business to help you understand not only if it is viable but also to give you a sense of your business direction.
Do not forget to research your team too. Your startup team is with you for a long time and when you have signed on the dotted line you will have legal obligations regarding your team too. Check up on their backgrounds, hang out with them a little and make sure they bring the right skills onboard to make your project work. Make sure they are also people who you would like to be associated with, because internal struggles are a major reason for many a startup collapse.
6) Make use of your connections
Startups are fundamentally about leverage. Who do you have contact too, how can you all help each other out and who can help you get the message out there. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask the right person so one should never be shy about asking for help.
Entrepreneurs know that nobody makes it in business alone, you have to seek help to spread the word. That is why entrepreneurs are often so willing to help you. They understand what it is like to be in your position and they know that one day they can ask for the favour returned.
Being rich will be lonely unless you have new rich friends to play with you. Learn to ask for help and learn to also give help to those that need it too.
Our app was video games based, so I simply rang up a few friends who I knew had some influence in this arena. I explained what I was doing and asked them to help me spread the word. Not only did this save me tons of time, but it also resulted in over 300 people opting into our beta launch.
7) Think about possible risks
In any venture there are risks but perhaps startups seem to forget to consider them at all. As an experienced business person I was angry that I had totally missed the basic risk assessment on day one.
One of the team had been responsible for social media, and even though I had been guiding her and giving her tips, I had not considered for one minute that she might not turn up on the second full day.
She did not and we were left fighting to contact her and find out all of our social media profile passwords. It was an unnecessary distraction and one which could have been easily avoided with just a little risk assessment.
You have to map out all the possible risks within your startup. What would you do if a key member suddenly disappeared without a trace? Would you be able to recover their work? Is it all placed in a centralised place with everyone being able to access it?
When you sit down and think about it, there will be many risks. You have to go through each one of them and find contingency plans. If you do not then you are asking for trouble a little further down the road. Reduce as many risks as you can today.
8 ) Have a greater vision but concentrate on the short term goals
Any startup needs a long term strategy. A roadmap if you will, that defines possible areas of expansion and a progressive business model. However, you should only concentrate on your short term goals.
The long term goal will inevitably be a complex mix of multiple projects that all intertwine together. None of which will be possible without the core basic service provision.
You need to be able to produce a MVP – or minimal viable product as your very short first term goal. Forget the bells and whistles and all the fancy extras, just focus on the core short term visions.
If you do not, then you will find yourself focusing on way to many things at once, meaning none of them get done well and that it takes you a lot longer to get things done. One step at a time is the key to success. I talked about this in an earlier this article: 9 Reasons Why You Will Never be Successful Reasons
9) Things will go wrong, be prepared to stand by your team.
Anyone who has dealt with a tech startup will know that anything that can go wrong, often will. It is just part and parcel of the game. What is important is to stick by your team, not to point fingers but to ensure they build from the start in the best way and solve problems as best they can.
We started our 48 hour marathon on Friday evening with my pitch and by Sunday evening we had to present it. This is not really a lot of time, especially when you take out brainstorming and explanation times. Let alone the building, testing and problem fixing. It really was a mammouth task.
Somehow the tech team managed to finish the project by 4pm Sunday – our deadline time, but 5 minutes before our presentation the application suddenly stopped working. Yep, completely dead.
Half the team panicked and started suggesting to me that we were dead in the water, whilst the dedicated tech team worked frantically to sort things out.
One of our team members ran to the main presentation room to explain our problem and ask for us to be the last team to present. Whilst others panicked I tried to think of plan B, which would have simply been a picture based description of our app, and not a live demo.
Everybody bar our problem fixing tech team, felt that we needed to be in the presentation room whilst others were presenting (perhaps because they wanted to see what the others had achieved and perhaps because they love to stick by rules!).
I refused to go and even thought I could not do anything technical, I wanted to stay with the tech team who were trying to fix the problem. Problems happen, and they should never feel that they are alone with all the blame. I sent the rest of the team to go ‘represent’ whilst we stayed behind in our work room to get cracking on fixing the project.
I did nothing except give them moral support. Yet, that standing by them made a great impression on them. They worked frantically and although I kept my distance they could work on the problem and not worry about what other team members would be thinking about them.
Not only did they fix it but it was an ultra awesome demo too. Something the mentors described as simply ‘wow’ in relation to just how much they had achieved over the weekend. I lost nothing by staying with my team, but I gained a lot.
They were an exceptional bunch of guys and I showed with my actions and not just words that I would stick by them. (Something I learned from being mentored by the CEO of Europe’s largest retail organisation)
10) Chemistry within a team is essential
After all the ups and downs of the weekend, I realised there were certain people I would simply never work with. I have no interest in hating my work, so it is important for me to find people not only for this project but for many more in the future. I want to build relationships with people I like and who help make working, fun.
This chemistry within the team is essential for having a great project and to make you attractive to investors. Angels and Venture Capitalists really look for this and they can spot tensions very easily. Of course every start up will have arguments and ‘discussions’ but it is how you handle those issues that defines a good team.
Chemistry is now my number one priority when building a team. I know my ideas are solid and have huge potential, multi million dollar businessmen have confirmed that. I know I can get many people to work on them, but the one thing that is harder to find is good chemistry. I truly believe it makes all the difference.
Being no stranger to startups I did feel rather in my element during this Launch48 weekend, yet I was constantly reminded about certain issues within startups which you tend to forget. I hope these 10 lessons help remind you about how much work is actually involved in keeping your startup successful.
NOW YOUR TURN!
In the comments below I would like you to discuss:
- What worries you about your startup?
- What issues you have had within your startups?
- Which of the 10 lessons above resonated the most…
I reply to every comment, so let the discussions begin…