This guest post is written by James Swanston, Founder & CEO of Voyage Control – the platform for businesses to manage, optimise and track their freight deliveries. James joined Seedcamp for the twice-yearly US Trip, meeting investors and tech companies across the USA.
It seems like a lifetime ago that I wrote about my first week at Seedcamp – I’m pleased that I remembered to put my Out Of Office on when starting the Seedcamp US trip.
For those not in the know, the Seedcamp US trip is a two-week curated trip where a number of selected companies meet with around 40 Venture Capital firms and platform companies across the US East and West coasts.
The trip also provides an opportunity to visit a number of carefully selected restaurants – ribs in NYC, seafood and Chinese in Boston (home to the biggest crabs I’ve ever seen!), an introduction to the Rosewood in the Valley, and an impromptu visit to a Korean BBQ in NYC.
The week before we left, a few of the US Trip teams attended an event hosted by Fried Frank at the US Embassy in London. The focus was on setting up business in the US and how challenging it can be to get in front of good VCs. A few of us exchanged smiles knowing Seedcamp had set up an awesome US Trip programme with the opportunity to meet some of the world’s best VC firms.
There’s something about the US (borrowing the Something About Mary analogy). There is a particular entrepreneurial buzz that makes you feel that you can really achieve great things in America – perhaps it’s similar to the entrepreneurial spirit that existed in Europe in the 18th/19th centuries when global empires were formed.
Both weeks were tremendously busy, and I think we all learnt a huge amount. Our collective pitching ability really improved – when you have just a couple of minutes to impress a top VC, you really have to focus on getting your message right.
Narrating the best part of 50 meetings is probably going to bore most people, so I thought I’d mention a few of the things I learnt from the trip:
With a few exceptions, the US is a crucial market for most. The scale and speed of execution that a US-based business can get by virtue of funding can make it almost unbeatable. I met a founder whose business had been acquired by a US-based company; I can’t help but think that the US cash was the big differentiator in why one is now a global business and the other an acquisition. One of my takeaways from the session with Sonny Vu from Misfit was to go international early.
What was reassuring talking to some of the staff at Google, Facebook and Stripe, was that many people were motivated more by having an impact and being mission driven rather than solely financial remuneration. It was clear though that many of the businesses we met had also invested heavily in creating some amazing workspaces.
While there are of course different costs to factor in for businesses in the US vs Europe or elsewhere, there also seems to be a very different culture. It’s a bit like comparing two poker games; in the first, everyone only puts in £20 each to minimise the downside – it’s fun, but no one is going to hit it out of the park; in the second, it’s a bit like Casino Royale – bet big, and then bet some more, and take home a lot of cash. The benefit in being a UK entrepreneur though is that as you need to do more to get VC interest here, US VCs seem a lot more impressed as we are further along with business than many startups they see there.
I’m thankful that we didn’t spend a lot of money on perfecting the graphic design on our slide deck before the trip – it changed multiple times, and then I realised that in a 3-5 minute pitch session, it is almost best to not even bring it out.
A few of the pearls of wisdom also came from some of the great people we met (in the order of meeting them):
You can receive lots of rejections from VCs before finding one that will back you.
VCs are like chickens and entrepreneurs are like pigs – pigs put more into a breakfast than a chicken does!
Segment according to customer needs. Be aware of outliers who want a particular product feature that takes lots of time to manage.
(This article is great on MVP also)
Get the best talent at the best price (which doesn’t necessarily mean all in the one location); cultural fit is more important than IQ.
On growth hacking…
Think about how you want users to communicate your product to others.
If you’re going for a big market, don’t boil the ocean; find a vertical to start with and expand from there.
Finally, I recommend listening to some of the podcasts Seedcamp Partner Carlos recorded with many of those who we met for some great insights.
For more information about the Seedcamp US Trip, click here.
This guest post is written by Adam Bird, Co-founder & CEO of Cronofy – the unified calendar API that allows you to integrate your apps deeply within your customers’ lives. Adam joined Seedcamp for the twice-yearly US Trip, meeting investors and tech companies across the USA. This article was originally featured on Medium.
The Seedcamp US Trip is an assault on the mind, body and senses. In my case it was an amazing opportunity to understand what it’s going to take to fully realise the Cronofy opportunity.
The premise is deceptively simple. Start in the East Coast of the US and travel from VC office to VC office pitching in quick fire succession. Three days in New York followed by two days in Boston. Then fly across to The Valley and continue. Each pitch a more refined and punchier version of the one prior.
Throw in visits to notable tech giants and startups, must-do culinary experiences and a group of other founders going through the same journey and you’ve got a recipe for transformative thinking.
Success is so much about communication, almost beyond your ability to actually execute, that this intense pitching bootcamp will stand as a pivotal point in my personal journey.
The East Coast week was definitely the most intense pitch week in terms of numbers (20+). We very quickly learned to focus on working out how to pull out as much insight as possible. For example, a question posed by Zak Schwarzman of Gotham Ventures caused me to rethink the way I framed the future market opportunity. Jeff Bussgang, author of Mastering the VC Game, was quick to point out some key funding strategy choices we had.
Boston and New York were very similar in outlook from a VC perspective. And in truth not a million miles from the feedback I’ve received from the better London VCs. Profitability/revenue was a question that came up pretty frequently. I’m not sure I talked about it once on the West Coast.
Best office award goes to Kickstarter. A welcoming and unassuming converted pencil factory on the Brooklyn shore. Yancey Strickler, co-founder and CEO, was incredibly generous with his time. His insight and perspective into building an incredibly successful company that wasn’t motivated by maximising shareholder returns was a welcome counterpoint.
Best view of the entire trip went to Gunderson Dettmer, lawyers to Michael Skok who hosted a team session with Michael. The view across Boston Bay was quite breathtaking but was soon forgotten when Michael started discussing our businesses and some of the challenges we were facing.
I was lucky enough to see Michael talk at the Business of Software conference last year so was in some way prepared for how erudite and considered he was. Our group session was another level. He genuinely approaches life as an opportunity to learn and to help others discover the answers they need.
By the time we got to the valley I’d decided to ditch the pitch deck and just talk. The people we were meeting were incredibly time constrained so articulating the vision within a couple of minutes was crucial. You had to allow time for feedback, thoughts and concerns.
Three minutes with Josh Elman (growth impresario for LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and now VC with Greylock) was one such moment to maximise. His insight resolved a key strategic decision we have been navigating.
Brian Schreier of Sequoia was similarly insightful. Immediately identifying the key transition we’re going to have to demonstrate if we’re to achieve our goals of redefining the calendar platform for all.
There is a reason why Seedcamp is the ultimate European Acceleration Fund. Years of hard work, networking and cultivation has enabled them to open the biggest doors and in turn European entrepreneur’s minds.
It’s not just the doors they’ve opened. I shared this experience with ten other entrepreneurs who were also on the same journey of enlightenment. As we digested meals and experiences together we could share and consolidate thoughts and ideas. Doubling down and maximising on everything we were learning.
I’ve returned from the US with an extended group of friends, a different sense of what we are as a business and steely determination to do everything I can to make it happen. To do anything else would be a waste.
For more information about the Seedcamp US Trip, click here.
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