Editorial note: We’re publishing Kristoffer’s report from Seedcamp as they made it to the semi-finals for screening. Depending on the feedback we’ll see if we should make this a habit in the future as well. Please let us know in the comments. Thanks to Kristoffer for an excellent report!
On the left two founders from Uniki, Teemu and Tuomas from Scred and Adil and Anthony from Entrip.
Last week we got fantastic news. Scred had been shortlisted as one of only about 40 companies to be interviewed by Seedcamp‘s distinguished panel — a group of prestigious international VCs. Considering that several hundred companies, from all around Europe (and even some from outside) had applied, this was huge for us. In fact Scred is the first Finnish company to make it that far, and was one of only two Nordic companies present.
For those who might not already know, Seedcamp is a London-based startup competition, somewhat based on the ideas popularised by Y Combinator. The idea is to collect a small group of startups for seed investment, plus the benefits of three months of mentoring, pitching, networking, visibility, investment contacts and feedback. This all takes place inside London which is probably the number one centre for investment in Europe right now. The rules state that the startups should not have prior substantial investment rounds, so these really are young, unpolished diamonds, with all the potential in the world.
This year the selection process takes place in two rounds. After picking the 40 companies for interviews, 20 finalists will be chosen for Seedcamp Week. This is an intensive week inside London with coaching and pitching and probably very nervous sleep. As the week draws to a close at least 5 companies are selected for actual investment. They then go on to spend three months in London developing their product and business, talking to investors and building their company into a success story. With this in mind it is a great accomplishment even to reach the interview stage. Many good companies will have already been dropped off and it is indeed like Scred has already won a bronze medal.
So it was with good spirits we started to practise our three minute pitch. The interview is structured so that each company presents their idea for three minutes, which is then followed by seven minutes of questions. Needless to say, that time flies by quicker than it takes for a drunk Big Brother competitor to commit adultery. My first practise presentation would have been at least twice as long. Then again that is a good yardstick for any idea: if it takes longer than that to present, the pitch is probably not going to work. Not that it’s necessarily a bad business idea, but as most people are notoriously lazy and have limited attention spans (especially if they hear dozens of pitches), they will quite simply lose interest. So my advice, and one repeated over and over again: whatever you are doing, make sure you can describe it in very simple and quick terms. You’ll have time to elaborate later.
I also have to grudgingly admit that practising that presentation did help. While I do get a small kick out of presenting, I do not like doing it in front of friends. Especially pitching to friends from the same company! I have been wondering where this dislike comes from and I believe it is my infantile masculine ego. The balance of power tips in favour of your buddies: you have to convince them, listen to their feedback and accept them as judges of your own performance. If they say it is shite, it probably is. As someone used to being a pain in the arse and arguing about things, that is a hard thing to swallow. However, and especially with a presentation so limited in time, practise makes perfect. It refines your flow, your timing, your demeanour and the words you use. The shorter your presentation is, the more important it is to get it as good as possible.
So with all our practising done we arrived at the scene. It was hosted at eOffice near Oxford Street, a kind of virtual office space shared by many companies. There we were welcomed by a lively but focused atmosphere. People sitting in corners peering up oddly at the roof (obviously still going over their presentation in their heads), investors walking in and out of the ominous room and Seedcamp organisers wondering when they’ll have time to breath. On that single day, at that single moment, this was the centre of the world.
The first startup representative we dared talk to offered a surprise: Sebastian was from TripWolf, one of TripSay’s competitors. We are good friends with the nice TripSay guys and naturally want them to succeed and that encounter took us off guard. However it turned out to be less awkward than might be imagined. The two companies had already met in San Francisco and while there is definitely a determined competitive attitude, talk of an outright war would be exaggerated. At least for now.
Finally it was our turn. And then it was over. It really was that quick. In the door, shake hands with Reshma, CEO of Seedcamp, hit ‘start’ on the laptop to present and off we went. The whole situation was somehow surreal. Some investors were so focused on their notes and papers that eye contact was impossible. Others were quite approachable with nods and questions. Obviously getting what we are trying to do. Still, right then, it was impossible to say what kind of impression we left. We did fit in a brief demo of today’s Scred but it was all over before we even had time to think. Our biggest surprise was that nobody asked us about our revenue models — a question for which we had prepared good answers! Readers, however, should be reminded that full applications were sent in earlier for all judges to read.
Afterwards we met up with Uniki from Slovenia and another travel site, Entrip. The names of Uniki’s founders escape me, but the lady from Uniki was already a Scred user, which was nice to hear. The guy, on the other hand, was an organiser of an electronic art festival and was familiar with Serbian Kosmoplovci, one of the performers at the up-coming Alternative Party. Hopefully we will might meet him there in October. Anthony and Adil from Entrip were also really nice fellows with an interesting arrangement: their fallback strategy is to work in India. Cheap, pleasant and good talent. Great if you are bootstrapping. I wonder what the investment environment is like there?
All in all we were very happy to have reached this point, and the experience, however brief, was educational. There’s always a special energy floating around at events like these. Expectations, ambitions, talent and optimism. These are the brightest young stars of the European startup scene right now and there’s nothing like that to inspire you onwards.
Seedcamp itself is a concept which Europe has desperately needed. Something to spur innovation and ideas from their very earliest stages. To kick them through the hoops required in order to grow. A lot of fantastic ideas die for the lack of experience and knowledge, something Seedcamp is very much trying to correct. Their ambitions and love for startups is superbly reflected in how they give everyone feedback, whether they are successful or not. This way there are no real losers. Instead there are companies with more experience. Companies more ready for their next challenge.
The 20 or so finalists will be announced at a later date so keep your eyes open. It is definitely an exciting time to be a European startup.
By Kristoffer Lawson.