5 pieces of advice for startups

Viva Las Vegas Or How To Survive Collision (And Similar Startup Conferences)

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Several of Croatian startup projects had the opportunity to participate at the Collision Conference in Las Vegas at the beginning of this month. These projects include MemoAngel (web and mobile app for preserving memories of loved ones who passed away), Buzzz (app for a more comfortable life of parents and their kids of kindergarten age) Liana (app for efficient connecting with persons who are travelling or living abroad) and Vyooit (business applications for the live Point of View video streaming technology). This post is about our time in Las Vegas and the things we have learned.

Roberto Srpak, founder of MemoAngel, at his booth at the Collision Conference.

Roberto Srpak, founder of MemoAngel, at his booth at the Collision Conference.

The top 15 countries according to the number of represented companies are, in order, USA, Canada, Great Britain, Mexico, Germany, India, Spain, Ireland, Brazil, the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, France, Switzerland and Columbia. Croatia was represented by the four above mentioned projects, which is not so bad seeing as the rest of the region (areas of the former Yugoslavia) was unfortunately not represented by any companies.

MemoAngel was invited to Collision through a recommendation (thanks to Ivan Livić) and the application, detailed online presentation of the project and a Skype interview, which were used by the organizers to make a selection of the best startups that will have their booths and receive the opportunity to present their project to investors, representatives of many US and international media, as well as other participants and visitors of the conference. A direct invitation from the organizer also enabled us to reduce our presentation costs by 85% (which nominally amounts to about USD 10,000, without the costs of transportation, accommodation and developing various promotional materials), which has certainly encouraged us to decide to participate in this event.

The cost of participation of startups in an event like this amounts to about USD 10,000, and that is without the transport, accommodation and promotional materials.

The cost of participation of startups in an event like this amounts to about USD 10,000, and that is without the transport, accommodation and promotional materials.

Collision is organised by the same team responsible for the organisation of Web Summit. It is a vision of a new type of a technology conference for America: a meeting place for all those who develop companies of the future by managing the companies of today, and their number is ever-increasing. This year, over 7500 conference participants from 89 countries in the world had the opportunity to listen to more than 200 top lecturers on 4 different thematic stages (Center stage, Marketing stage, Builders stage, Enterprise stage). Therefore, 4 lectures were held at every moment, along with Pitch competitions on two stages, startup booths and additional startup workshops that were organized by certain accelerators or investment companies. Of course, the evening was dedicated to exclusive parties, which provided an opportunity for additional networking and reinforcing what was learned in a completely relaxed atmosphere. Altogether, the conference was characterised by a frenetic pace and a vast amount of contents condensed in only 48 hours, in accordance with the venue – Las Vegas, which itself is an amazing combination of business, entertainment and countless interesting events which bring together an enormous number of people from all over the world each day.

It is difficult to imagine that Las Vegas looked like this 60 years ago.

It is difficult to imagine that Las Vegas looked like this 60 years ago.

One of these events was the boxing match between Mayweather and Pacquiao, which caused a complete traffic congestion (the airport was full of private jets and looked like a parking lot in front of a shopping centre) and instantaneous doubling of taxi cab fares on the way from the airport to hotels in downtown Las Vegas, where the Collision Conference was held. The price of hotel accommodation also skyrocketed due to the huge demand and full occupancy of all capacities. Another interesting event was the closing of the Riviera Hotel, the first building erected in 1955, in the middle of the desert. It is amazing to compare the photographs of Las Vegas from back then and today. This is another proof of what entrepreneurship (admittedly, of a specific type:) and vision can do in just 60 years.

Circus at the airport.

Circus at the airport.

This vision of the entrepreneurship of the future and products and services of the 21st century was presented at numerous booths inside of huge Collision pavilions. From a total of 900 startups, selected by the organizers from the entire world, 19 of them were shortlisted, and only three startups, among numerous attractive and innovative projects, managed to get to the very finals.

The winning project was RE:3D, spurred by the idea to democratise 3D printing technology with the use of new materials such as recycled plastic, and by relying on a combination of robotics and technology from NASA’s laboratories. The other two finalists were Speechmatics (speech recognition and converting audio into text format with the possibility of simple analysis and search) and LookBooker (booking system for hair and beauty salons – in USA there is over 1.3 million salons, with less than 1% of bookings made online). However, there was a lot more truly interesting projects. My personal favourite was Enjoy (more information, along with some highlights from the conference, is available at the official web page), which brings a disruptive element in something so unbending and established like the retail of IT products through a radical improvement of user experience.

What have we learned and implemented at the conference?

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It is worth mentioning some practical advice for all those who find themselves in the same or similar “early-stage startup” phase, the things that we have applied or learned by participating at the Collision Conference.

Introduction

Unfortunately, e-mails and Skype calls are not sufficient to attract attention and build a relationship with investors and the media. Physical contact certainly helps. You should start going to conferences.

Prepare yourself for costs related to airline tickets, hotel, food, tickets for the conference and various promotional materials such as business cards, T-shirts, penguins, demos and various types of pitch decks (for investors, the media, for chance travellers, etc.).

First, establish metrics

Your most important resources, time and money, disappear in the blink of an eye in Las Vegas (as well as in other conference locations). Therefore, you should make a plan of contacts and establish metrics. For example, if your goal is to find an investor, you can value each contact and the exchange of basic information (business card + elevator pitch of max. 30 seconds) with 100 dollars. Every agreement to send follow-up material based on the interest shown by investors and continued communication (which is the real goal of each round of communication, up to the finalisation itself) can be valued with 1000 dollars. A similar concept (using other amounts) can be applied to contacts with the media or potential employees. In this way, you will be able to make a better approximation of the cost-effectiveness of participation at the event.

Second, be selective

Satisfying the curiosity of even a smaller number of interested people at an event with over 7500 participants can pose a considerable obstacle, with a considerable loss of valuable energy. Therefore, prior to the event itself, contact the organizer to get a list of participants and plan a certain number of contacts in advance (through a scheduled visit to the booth at a certain time). Follow priority contacts through social media and study their background in order to be ready should you run into them by chance. You should also study last year’s conference materials and follow the conference hashtag in the weeks before the start of the event. You will certainly meet a lot of people that are not your priority and miss many of those who are – but the above steps should help you to turn this ratio to your advantage.

Third, be present and ready

Startup workshops and other events serve as learning experiences, but also for meeting interesting people.

Startup workshops and other events serve as learning experiences, but also for meeting interesting people.

Always be prepared. The conference itself, exceptional lecturers, workshops, pitches and evening after parties are a challenge in themselves. You should clear everything before the event, try to avoid urgent e-mails and tasks and resolving emergencies related to daily work. Also, during the event, every day before leaving the hotel room, make sure you have enough business cards (they still work great), a ready pitch deck, an additional T-shirt, chargers and a toothbrush – it is quite possible that you will not return until the late hours. However, this does not mean that you can bring yourself in a “Hangover 7” situation. You have to be ready again the next morning.

Fourth, be the person that everyone wants to meet

Your main task at conferences of this kind is to be a walking (and talking) promotional machine. Every person you talked to should remember your name and be able to briefly explain what it is that you are doing and vice versa. A short written reminder of the card or, better yet, a voice recording on your cell phone will help you to remember specific persons and conversations more easily after the crowd dissolves. Set your goal at 40 people per day. Give everyone due attention and never write off someone in advance on the basis of visual impressions or other criteria. You never know who the person is connected to and how they can help you. Also, be open and offer help on your behalf. Be cheerful. A smile always works wonders. 🙂

A multitude of events and people in just 48 hours – all in accordance with the conference venue, Las Vegas.

A multitude of events and people in just 48 hours – all in accordance with the conference venue, Las Vegas.

Fifth, do not mess up in the finals

If you do your homework well, you will be completely exhausted, but full of positive energy and adrenaline by the end of the event. You will probably feel that the new round of financing (or some other goal you have set) is a matter of formality and within easy reach. Wrong. Soon after the end of the hustle and bustle of the conference, when people return to their daily work routine, they will start to forget you. This is why you must react promptly and send a simple follow-up e-mail to key/target persons within a maximum of 24 hours, with a content like this:

Hi Mike, it was great meeting you at Collision! Thank you for interest in {your startup name}. We think there might be some valuable points of collaboration between us. I’ll follow up with you next week for a Skype call. Have a safe trip home!

Of course, make sure to do what you have promised. If you have promised to send demo or some other material, be sure to do it as soon as possible, while the memory of the event is still fresh.

Was it worth it?

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The good news is that less than 10% of startups applies the above mentioned simple tactics. So, you have a real chance to stand out from the crowd and give a positive answer to the key question – “Was it worth it?”. Of course it was. 🙂

As for our personal experience, we had several very serious conversations with potential investors who showed interest in the MemoAngel project (and later did a follow-up and received positive feedback), and the most likely one is with a team from – Singapore. Among other things, we have received an invitation to the largest Asian conference, Echelon 2015. So, if everything goes as planned, by the end of June you will be able to read our new report, this time from a completely different side of the world.