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US Trip Diary: 10 Startup Tips I Learned First-Hand In America

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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 US Trip founders at dinner after a long day of meetings

The US Trip founders at dinner before the first day of meetings

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

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.

One of the founders pitching to the investors at ___

One of the founders pitching to investors at Highland Capital Partners

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:

1. If you want to build a global business, work out how to scale up in the United States (and sooner rather than later)

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.

2. Hiring is a big deal for most startups

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.

3. VCs in the US seem (are) very different from those in Europe

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.

4. You need to have an awesome pitch

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.

Tips from the front-line

A few of the pearls of wisdom also came from some of the great people we met (in the order of meeting them):

Yancey Strickler, co-founder of Kickstarter

You can receive lots of rejections from VCs before finding one that will back you.

 

Jeff Bussgang from Flybridge Capital Partners

VCs are like chickens and entrepreneurs are like pigs – pigs put more into a breakfast than a chicken does!

 

Michael Skok

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)

Sonny Vu, co-founder of Misfit

On hiring…

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.

Josh Elman from Greylock Partners

On growth hacking…

Think about how you want users to communicate your product to others.

 

Joe Kraus from Google Ventures

If you’re going for a big market, don’t boil the ocean; find a vertical to start with and expand from there.

 

James and the US Trip founders hearing from the Partners at Google Ventures

James and the US Trip founders hearing from the Partners at Google Ventures

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.

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