This guest post is written by Andrew Mainhart, Founder & CTO of Oradian – the cloud-based back-office software service for financial inclusion in frontier markets. Andrew joined Seedcamp for the twice-yearly US Trip, meeting investors and tech companies across the USA.
Oradian is a bit of a different fish than most startups (Seedcamp family or otherwise). Our target markets are frontier economies – in particular, Africa. Our target customers are informal financial intermediaries working with end clients outside traditional banks. So… it was with some trepidation that Antonio and Andrew joined forces on our Seedcamp US Trip Fall 2014 adventures.
Early on, we learned a few important facts on-the-fly:
- Mentioning Andrew lives in Africa was a bad idea.
- There is a clear difference between “emerging” (scary but interesting) and “frontier” (just very scary) markets.
- When an investor says he/she is interested in “big ideas” that does not usually include delivering financial services to 1.1 Billion Africans – as “totally cool” as that may be.
Good luck boys, better luck elsewhere.
East coast VC west coast
While some of these rules were surprising, our biggest surprise was the clear separation between New York-based investors and Bay Area investors. We arrived in NYC assuming east coast venture capital firms would react more positively to our story, our pitch, and our business – after all, many left the Valley to show their counterparts that innovation doesn’t just happen in California. We figured they were closer to us and to our customers. As a result they would be more sympathetic and open to our vision of connecting 100,000,000 families through financial services.
On the other hand, we assumed (yes, we know what they say about assumptions!) that the west coast VCs would be more insular and myopic. Even the investors we spoke to in New York emphasised these factors; regaling us with stories of how their Valley counterparts were ‘lost in the valley’.
We thought long and hard about whether to even join the west coast leg of the Seedcamp US Trip. In the end, we did join and we are glad for it.
Where the New York investors are fighting hard to prove themselves; to their LPs, to their Valley brothers and sisters, and to each other – the west coast guys are pretty secure in their successes. The west coast investors had a lot more time for “big” ideas in far away places – not that we left California with 15 term sheets and millions in committed investment. Quite the contrary. But we weren’t laughed out of the Valley either. We continue to meet and talk with many of the investors there who are interested in our story. Even if they can’t help directly they have actively pointed us in new directions and to new people.
Only time will determine the relative success or failure of our US Trip, especially if success is measured in Term Sheets and total investment raised. But we met a lot of cool people – both fellow Seedcampers and at every investor and startup we visited. We learned how to make a pitch in 3 minutes (or less) but still engage the listener. We learned how be confident while “winging it”. We learned to extemporise and play to the audience instead of “sticking to the script”.
Most importantly, we learned that Andrew snores incessantly and Antonio has really strange musical preferences.