The days are getting longer and spring is just around the corner. It can only mean one thing: it’s time to pack our bags and head to America for our first US trip of 2014.
Marked in our calendars each spring and autumn, we hit the road for the US twice a year to achieve one of our main goals at Seedcamp – to help European founders build bridges to the US to access capital, knowledge, markets and connections. We’ve been making the journey with startups in the Seedcamp Family since 2011 and in these past three years, over 50 Seedcamp startups have participated in the trip and over 1/3 of our companies have raised US funding.
And as the Seedcamp Family grows in number – we’re at 118 companies! – and also in depth, it means we not only have many excellent early stage companies, we also have a good number of growth stage companies who are making huge strides and looking to expand. This US trip will bring several companies from both of these stages together, making this trip about connecting and learning but also about ramping up growth. We’re excited!
For each of the startups joining us on the road this March, the goals of the trip are different. Most are actively fundraising a series seed or A round, many have their eyes on a move to the US in the near future, others are already there. A number are looking to form that strategic partnership with platforms. And it’s fair to say all are looking to learn, and, moreover, to make those serendipitous connections that can often signal a turning point or turbo charge a startup.
To help our founders accomplish all this and more, here’s what 10 days of action will look like:
We’ll be making stops in the big technology hubs in the US – New York, Boston, San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Here’s our roadmap in brief:
We are holding mentoring sessions in each city along the way. At each event we will bring together around 50 to 60 of the local rockstar entrepreneurs, professionals and investors to meet with the Seedcamp companies in brief networking sessions. The emphasis is on sharing, whether personal experience, knowledge or connections. This is a great opportunity to mingle with some of the most important startup builders in America. On past trips, teams have formed pivotal relationships at these events and we’re looking forward to what these sessions will bring for this batch.
We’ve packed this trip with visits to the most active venture funds on both coasts, including Greycroft, Valar Ventures, Spark Capital, NextView, North Bridge, Greylock, 500 Startups, Felicis Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Index Ventures, and others.
We’ll be visiting several startups who are further along in their growth to hear from their founders on what they’ve learned along the way. Stops include among others: Sunrise in New York, Runkeeper in Boston, and out in California a few from the Seedcamp Family – Layer and Frontback.
In Boston and San Francisco we’re holding meetups to connect with the most active local angels. It’s another great opportunity to meet some of the key players making startups grow in these hubs.
We’re piling on the learning and opportunities to connect. We’ll be visiting major platforms and partners including Facebook, Google, Twitter and Rackspace to meet and learn from folks in their product, marketing, corp dev and other areas.
We’re thrilled to have gurus in sales, growth, product and venture lead masterclasses for our teams. Building on our growth theme, we’ll have a workshop with Grow&Co, hear from Innovation Advisors on how startups can lay the groundwork for successful M&A, and learn some StartupSecrets from Michael J. Skok of North Bridge.
It wouldn’t be a Seedcamp US trip without it.
You can follow along by visiting our Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter pages. We’ll be checking in, taking photos and sharing standout moments, as well as a few burger pictures, along the way.
Read more about our US trip in Spring 2014 – why we’re going, where we’re going, who we’re meeting.
Here are the teams attending US Trip Spring 2014:
As a mentor at Seedcamp I knew what I was getting into when I applied to Seedcamp Berlin, November 2013 with my startup, BuzzTale. I knew the mentor pool was great and that the year-long Seedcamp program is ideal for a small startup from Riga that has ambitions to go global. But I did not expect the impact on our first customer and our pivot to our current direction to be so clearly driven by the decision to apply to Seedcamp.
In my past startups, especially at AeroScout, where I was the first business hire in 2001, I spent plenty of time doing customer development: talking to early prospects trying to figure out which ones are giving me the critical information that tells us where we should go as a company and which ones are leading us down unproductive side tracks. For a B2B startup this is very important and very hard. I learned the hard way to keep asking “why?” so that I could really dig down into the motivations that people have in businesses for buying the product or service that you plan to sell to them (but don’t yet have, we are talking vaporware of course!).
When I started pitching BuzzTale’s real-time content marketing solution to businesses, I also got some interesting feedback that while BuzzTale looks like a great public marketing tool, private stories for businesses internally could be even more interesting. So when I met one of our mentors at Seedcamp Berlin, Roxanna Zea, Chief Strategy Officer at Tele2, her feedback fit a pattern I had heard already. She had a vision for how to change the internal communications at Tele2 and BuzzTale fit right into that vision, providing a very visible way to kick-start a different mode of group interaction that traditional email & phone cannot provide.
Within a couple of weeks we had agreed with Roxanna and Tele2’s EVP of Corporate Communications, Lars Torstensson, on the scope to deliver for Tele2’s Extended Leadership Team Summit, a two day event in Stockholm in January. Anthony and the developers got cracking to add private story functionality to BuzzTale – until then all stories and all content had automatically been made public, but for enterprise use, of course, confidentiality and security were key requirements.
Roxanna summarized the impact on the event as follows: “BuzzTale enabled real-time active engagement with the audience, not just from those on stage with the audience but also between senior Tele2 managers sitting in the audience, who otherwise would not have been actively participating. Based on this pilot, we saw huge potential to expand usage of BuzzTale internally – beyond a group event setting and into every day usage – empowering employees across functions & markets to actively engage with one another on whatever topic they are passionate about.”
Tele2 is now on board as a paying customer, along with other businesses using BuzzTale for enterprise stories. We provide the Enterprise Story Network: a set of safe, easy-to-use tools for businesses to create, curate and share in an engaging manner the stories that build strong corporate culture. Our customer development work, also inspired by the Seedcamp Academy sessions, especially Saul Klein’s “Know your customer” session, led to our decision to focus all our attention on this segment. The support from the Seedcamp team and mentors like Roxanna has been critical to get us on the right path for customer success.
This guest post is by Adam Joyce, co-founder of Elliptic. Following the learning-intensive Seedcamp Onboarding Week, Adam and the Elliptic team share some headlines from a session they found particularly key to their development – Product by Rachel Evatt. Having built and sold her own startup and now serving as Product Director at Skyscanner, Rachel knows what it’s like to be in the startup trenches and to manage a product that is used by, depended on, and loved, by loads of customers. At our most recent Onboarding Week, Rachel shared her top pointers with our teams.
Day three of Seedcamp Onboarding week was packed with more great masterclasses from industry experts and the highlight for Elliptic was Rachel Evatt giving us her insights on Product, based on her time working at Skyscanner and Zoombu before that. After a brief introduction to the early days of Zoombu and her experiences as a founder at Seedcamp Week, she took us through her lessons of Product.
To begin with, what is Product? Formally, it is a thing that is the result of an action or process, but we should really see it as sitting in the intersection of customers, technology and business. What do customers want? What is achievable from a technological point-of-view? and lastly, what is the business proposition? And with that, on with the lessons…
Lesson 1: solve a big problem that people face often.
By ‘big’ here, we are thinking about something a web-enabled company can solve – one that can scale massively. Rachel introduced the idea of a Universality-Frequency matrix to frame the discussion. A company exemplifying the concept of universality would be myfuneral.com, with myheartbeat.com exemplifying the concept of frequency.
Google and Facebook are both great examples hitting both of these – the word of mouth combined with frequency makes scaling somewhat easier for these businesses. When Twitter first launched, it was not considered particularly clear whether they were solving a universal problem (seems quaint, looking back), so the founders had to prove real traction and growth to encourage early investors.
Whilst one might think that travelling is also a relatively universal and frequent practise for most people, Skyscanner’s average customer typically only books flights through their site twice a year. So that gives Skyscanner the task of re-selling the product to their customers every half-year. Low frequency makes fast scaling a problem too – a friend might make a recommendation to use the site, but by time you get round to book a flight for yourself, you’ll most likely forget the recommendation you received. Skyscanner are continually thinking of ways to help move their product range up the frequency axis to help improve their scaling.
Lesson 2: Be stubborn on your vision (and passionate)
The details of how you go about achieving your vision are less important and in a small startup will change all the time. What is far more important is the big vision that you have. Time is so limited and precious in a startup that you must be very clear about your vision. (That said, don’t be blind to a lack of growing user traction, which is, after all, the simplest way to tell whether you have a good product!)
Skyscanner’s grand vision is helping people get from A to B and she highlighted the various product iterations that have added to this. She showed us the first ever version of Skyscanner – a set of spreadsheets and VB code with a very simple front-end webpage! – and the changes that early version has gone through over time, each remaining true to that core, simple vision.
Lesson 3: Know what your users can’t know, and talk to them anyway.
By far the most heavily discussed lesson. We spent a lot of time going over this one. She began by asking who’d spoken to a customer so far that day, how many had everyone spoken to that week. Fortunately, Elliptic had been speaking to a few so avoided being shamed :-). But more important than talking to customers every week is making sure you ask them the correct questions. Her advice chimed heavily with the masterclass earlier in the week from Rob Fitzpatrick, author of ‘The Mom Test’ – don’t be leading or ask biased questions, be somewhat holistic and human in your lines of enquiry.
Skyscanner devote a lot of effort to product research and are big fans of observing customer behaviour. They build wireframes of sites and, via an independent third-party, ask customer-testers to attempt to achieve various specific tasks. By observing what they do and the issues they have, they can quickly alter the wireframes and re-test until they’ve perfected the flow. She highlighted some useful websites that come in handy for this sort of thing: Balsamiq, WhatUsersDo and UserTesting – the latter even allowing for interactive, real-time sessions to test interaction with the hosted product. Lastly, ClickTale allows for a similar thing on a much larger scale by analysing mouse-movements and clicks on a site and generating heat-map reporting of the results. Skyscanner have an individual dedicated to the user testing role, who is independent to the team that creates the product to avoid any biasing of the results. They have in some cases worked with a third party which means there is no risk of any bias.
They are big fans of mapping out the entire end-to-end journey of their customers, from dreaming about their next holiday right through to getting on the flight in the airport (and everything in-between!). They have a giant post-it board in their office documenting every aspect they can think of and are continually iterating on it, analysing it, zooming in on one small aspect. The slogan to keep in mind is “Love Your Funnel!”. This, with analytics such as Google Analytics is a really powerful combination. Skyscanner have only in recent years expanded their analytics metrics beyond these simple tools.
I’ll zoom through the last three lessons as I’ve been going on for a while now already. They are:
– Lesson 4: Know that 2/3s of your ideas won’t work and the other 1/3 need iterating.
– Lesson 5: Form the dream-team of engineer, product-guy and designer.
– Lesson 6: Keep the main thing the main thing
In regard to this last lesson, she mentioned the book Will It Make the Boat Go Faster? by Ben Hunt-Davis about his (successful) pursuit of Olympic gold and focus the crew applied to this pursuit. Sounds like one to stick on Elliptic’s amazon wishlist…
After making the journey from Estonia to London for Seedcamp Week, pitching, learning, and more pitching throughout the week, GoWorkaBit made the cut and joined the Seedcamp Family with seven other great teams. But that was just the beginning. After a week back in Estonia, the GoWorkaBit founders were back on a plane to London for Seedcamp Onboarding Week. In this post, co-founder Kei Karlson shares some of the team’s learnings from one of the several masterclasses that week – branding for startups by Gabbi Cahane of Meanwhile.
He enters the room like a rockstar and turns the audience into fans in no time. ‘Cause he’s a rockstar at making stellar brands.
This is how Gabbi Cahane‘s branding session for Seedcamp onboarding starts. Full of fun and plenty of wisdom, but I would especially like to point out and share a few things that I took from it.
If you want to build an amazing brand you need to ask three questions: Why do we exist? Where do we belong? How do we express ourselves?
Forget the slogans, names and logos. It does not matter what colours you use on your website or if you wear the company t-shirt all the time. If you do not know why you do what you do, you are not building your brand. Brand needs consistency. You and your team are your brand. So everything you do and say has to be related to the reason why your company exists.
It’s quite easy to get stuck in the details, but it’s essential to ask the big questions.
So we did. After returning home, we gathered on the Anniversary of Estonian Republic – February 24 – and sat down to ask the big “why”. We have worked like crazy over the last 4 months and we know what we are doing. And what we are doing is awesome. Many people have told us so. But what we have realised recently though is that people hear what they like to hear and not necessarily what we’re trying to say. We realised we have not communicated our vision clearly enough, why we are doing GoWorkaBit.
We wrote down all the why’s – the reasons we are building this company – and there were many: it’s fun, to change the world, to create a new reality, to make work easier, for freedom of choice, to change people’s mindset, for self-realisation, for adventures, to create new ways of working, to make work that fits people’s lifestyles, to simplify ways of mixing work into life, to create a just-in-time model of using workforce, and so on.
And it was damn difficult to put it all in one answer. But we did it.
We are changing the way work gets done, by matching companies’ just-in-time workforce needs with people’s lifestyles.
Another important part of branding is to make it clear what you do not do.
If you clearly establish what your company is doing, it’s possible to use big brands to reposition yourself against them. For example we will never ask our users to fill out long and pointless CV forms. So we could position ourselves against those who do! And if you have ever filled out a questionnaire with 102 fields to get a 2-day job in a warehouse to unpack boxes, you know what I mean.
And now, once you know who you are and why are you doing your startup, keep it real. People believe what you believe. And they also see quite easily if you are full of BS or not. So if your brand is about healthy and green lifestyle and you live like a 80’s rock band singer… what is the message?
Something to try.
In the end, Gabbi gave us cool exercises to get the feel of our brand and what emotions we want to deliver with it. Here goes:
Imagine that your company is a movie.
What would the plot outline be? What genre would it be? What would the audience feel while watching it?
Here is ours:
A movie full of adventure, fun and power. A girl who was tired of ridiculous rules decides to shake up the employment field. Innovation, challenges and possibilities…on demand. In selected countries soon.
Naveen Sharma of Lodgify (SC 2014) shares his team’s takeaways from a power hour on positioning with Adam Butters of Albion. A leader in the space, Albion has worked with a variety of brands including Wonga, GiffGaff and to round out an already diverse portfolio, Jose Cuervo. Adam stopped by Seedcamp HQ to share some insights to the newest teams to join the Seedcamp family on how they can start thinking about brand positioning for their early stage startups.
So, you have a potentially great product or service, and have figured out all of its amazing features and functionalities – time to share it with your potential customers! …But wait a minute, did you make up your mind on how you actually want to position it within your market? What signal do you want to send to your target customers? Let’s dig deeper – do you remember your overarching purpose, out of which you have derived your vision, your mission, your value proposition? Having a clear positioning as well as a true and overarching purpose that is consistently reflected in your product, your company, in everything you do and stand for, can be fundamental for the long-term success of your startup.
“A brand’s positioning is a powerful signal”
Startups tend to sometimes lose sight of their purpose and where they wanted to initially position themselves in the market. It just happens as you grow and focus resources and brainwork on product development prior to launch. We at Lodgify realised (and so did probably a few of the other Seedcamp winning teams who joined us for Seedcamp onboarding week in February 2014), that we moved to Seedcamp with only a blurry idea left of our original purpose and positioning plan.
Fortunately, Seedcamp organised a workshop with exactly the right guy to mentor us on our positioning and remind us of a couple of things we had slowly forgotten: Adam Butters from Albion. Adam’s workshop on brand positioning helped us sort out some of the puzzle pieces that floated around in our heads and which we had to put back together.
We went through the signals that people use to determine what you stand for as a brand, and spoke about the associations that they create with these. We also went into more detail about the target audience and what category we accordingly had to place ourselves in order to differentiate from competitors. Having an experienced professional like Adam challenge and review all these aspects from different angles and perspectives proved invaluable to us.
Receiving guidance on these important points helped us refocus on certain elements of our brand and not only reformulate our positioning, but also structure our vision, mission, and purpose. And with this clearly laid out for us again, we are finding it much easier to plan certain aspects of our go-to-market strategy and to continue with the development of our company and product in general.
Finally, all of this is providing us with a kind of airbag for when the s*it may hit the fan – and it surely will at some point – as with this “noble” purpose and vision that we now have back again in our heads, we always can reboot, refocus, and get back on track.
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