“Having start-up problems, I feel bad for you son, I’ve got 99 problems but a pitch ain’t one”
With these wise words, tweeted by our head of PR and Communications, Adam Turnbull, (look out for our new show, Turnbull on Tech, coming soon!), shortly before the third iteration of ‘GaP?->GaS!’ kicked off, still ringing in my head, it was time to get down to business in front of a crowd of 100+ Hipsters, Hackers and Hustlers, turned consultants and, on occasion, agony aunts, for the night.
‘GaP?->GaS!’, as many of you will already know, stands for “Got a Problem? -> Get a Solution!”, a new kind of event we have been trialing where start-up founders can come up on stage and ask the audience for help solving their project’s teething problems. In the interest of making the format as effective as we can, there be rules:
- You get a maximum of 2 minutes on the ‘therapy couch’ to explain your problem(s)
- It’s a chance to open up about your problems, not sell your product!
- Once you’ve explained your problem, it’s over to the audience; no answering back!
- No promotions!
- No demo-ing
- No pitching!
Last month, we were on the 3rd floor at Google Campus, and it was intimate, but I for one was delighted to be back on the ground floor, with a stage and a nifty choice of virtual couches, rather than bean bags and a bucket of beer. The atmosphere was crackling with anticipation as our first founder took to the stage. It was alpha, it was feisty, it was fun, plus, and I’ve genuinely believed this about all of the ‘GaP?->GaS!’ events we’ve run so far, problems actually got solved, because founders were able to connect with some top people: you lot! Consultants, professionals, devs, creatives, even an investor or two. Gapalicious.
Our sponsor for the night was Softlayer and sales rep Michael was here to give us a brief overview of their service; a fantastic software infrastructure to help you plan and build your business. At our last event Softlayer gave away $120,000 of services and add-ons completely free to our winning pitcher, plus a space on their Catalyst Program. Michael is a great guy who was up for some problem solving himself. There are no perfect answers in the start-up world, he pointed out, but it helps to have an opinion, so, in that spirit, it’s over to our resident blogger Ted who remembers the evening thusly:
Problem number one: Josh from MyMotive, whose product has been described as “cool” by none other than some bloke off Dragons Den, wanted to know how many users his platform needed to have before he could start to approach investors? MyMotive is an app that lets you discover the best events and link-ups in London: http://mymotiveapp.com/
A: First answer came from Michael at Softlayer: there is no right answer here, depends entirely on the type of product you are selling, and why you need the money. Michael has heard of million dollar cheques being written on the basis of a one minute pitch, on the other hand, you could limp to 100k users on the back of a “crap” product, and no investor will touch you.
A: Grey haired chap sat at front suggested Josh should take a look at comedy chain Jongleurs’ business model. They raised finance on the back of just a few thousand members.
A: Christian who works in the games industry says don’t worry about users for now, the mechanics of how your product works is more important. Get that right and users are pretty much guaranteed.
A: Another chappie suggested that in London, at the present time, investors want to hear about revenues, not users. You need to strike a balance of course, but you need to do that before you meet with investors. The only thing they will want to hear about is the revenue streams.
Problem number two: Mohammed is a “want-trepreneur” working within the digital and fashion industries. He’s a designer, but not a techie. His question was, when it comes to UI / UX, which is more important: usability, or aesthetics? Which should he be spending more time and money on?
A: First answer from the audience; neither, get the product right first. If you can’t use it, it’ll never work anyway! Hmm.
A: Second audience member agreed with first! It’s all about the minimum viable product (MVP). Build that first, then worry about user experience.
A: A lady with her own successful fashion app had a different answer: make the UI look good, don’t worry about usability. If your product looks sexy people are far more forgiving when it doesn’t work.
A: Sponsor Michael agreed with above; make it look good; people will come back if it doesn’t work first time but looks great. If it works perfectly but looks bad, why would anyone bother coming back?
A: Came from audience member: do what makes you feel proud, don’t listen to other people. It’s your product, after all. Decide for yourself!
A: Adam T: be passionate about your product, if you believe in it enough, it will be beautiful. “I used to demonstrate potato peelers on a market stall at the age of 12, and they were great products, because I believed they were great products, and I made others believe! Your product is worth nothing unless you’re confident about it. That’s the real issue”
A: Lawrence D (“I help turn ideas into reality”): first of all, does your product help people. Far more important than UI experience or functionality for any early stage business.
A: Rob F: find out what your users want, do everything from their perspective. The customer is always right (meaning, the customer is always wrong but you want to sell them something right?)
Problem number 3: up stepped Matthew P, he’s Mohammed’s biz partner: his problem? He runs a few businesses, and recently hired an SEO consultant to help promote a trading platform he has been working on. He’s paying around £600 pcm. Is this good value, how can Matt evaluate the service he is getting from his new SEO consultant?
A: Samit from £99 pound social media: SEO is a new phenomenon; a bit like sex selling, its impact on results is notoriously hard to measure. Key words can work, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you are simply better off spending your money elsewhere! But there are some things you can do: ask for rank reports, don’t get tied into long term contracts, use SEMRUSH, the free download to help you evaluate performance. You can use its service once per day, unless you have the “Zenmate” plugin, then you can use it as many times as you want!
A: Adam T: ask for stats, evidence and results. If you’re not careful with your SEO, and try to be too clever, Google will fetch you a slap. £600 pcm? In the North that’s a year’s wages!
A: Yaniv is a digital marketer, new to London and a growth hacker: £600, put it in perspective. If it lands you just one trading account that’s likely worth 10k p.a. “I’ve always tried to be creative with my online marketing strategies. When I sold luxury goods, I sponsored YouTube videos of show homes, or yachts, because that’s where I could find my audience.”
A: Bird Lovegod, founder and editor of 60 Seconds of Good: who benefits the most from the likes of SEO, AdWords, tends to be whoever pays the most. That’s how it works. Find a different route if you can, if you can’t win a payment race, try to disrupt the market.
Matthew P had one more question, which Rob F took it upon himself to answer:
Q/ How can I find a great developer? A: Come to our next event!!
Problem number 4: Oliver has built a product, a high tech camera aimed at the film industry. Does he carry on building it himself, or sell the IP and rights to make the product since he doesn’t believe he has the right experience / qualifications to do it all himself.
A: Mohammed: keep your product, don’t IP it, hold on to it!
A: Malcolm: Crowdfund it? Might help you find the right distributors, manufacturers.
A: Gary, (what do you do Gary, “I’m a hustler”. Yes you are!) It depends what kind of person you are. You could lose your shirt / arse if you try to do deals you don’t have prior experience of. Try to be honest about your relative strengths and weaknesses.
A: Christian from the games industry again: how about trying to find a co-founder or partner who can handle that side of the business for you?
A: Lawrence D. Be very cautious when it comes to patents, often they are not worth the paper they are written on. Patenting your technology is no guarantee of anything, you’ll still end up in a legal battle if somebody tries to pass off your work as their own. And patenting is expensive to do.
Problem number 5: It’s Samit from 99 Quid Social! Samit wants to know what’s the best method of picking up new clients? Free trial, or will he just end up with timewasters. Change the 99 Quid model to attract more high end customers? Over to the audience.
A: Yaniv asked do you have a big user base to start running free trials?
A: Christian from games industry: “I buy these kinds of tools, I want to know how much can I see? Can you make it minimal, can you give triallists a viewing platform?
A: A few others reckoned the business model needed changing. Trawling for lower end customers is a waste of money, go for bigger clients who spend bigger!
A: Gary the Hustler: “when the value is clear, decisions are easy!” In other words, let people know exactly what they are getting for their money. Be specific and offer tangible benefits.
A: Someone advised Samit to read “The Paradox of Choice”.
A: Ted the blogger (me) recommended putting user case studies in pride of place on the website. Let potential clients see how happy you have made your customers!
A: Get a proper understanding of your target market – where is your revenue really coming from. Whoever it is, focus on them!
Problem Number 6: this chap (I didn’t catch the name) had 2 problems he needed help with.
1/ How do I extract data from an API, why is it so confusing?
A: Yaniv say’s go to Code Academy website, find the section on data extraction! Easy.
2/ I need a CTO, I’m prepared to give up some equity. What kind of ratios should I be looking at?
A: Orfeo said 50% is usually the benchmark, developers don’t come cheap.
A: Matthew P says: Money, confidentiality, trust! I never plan to end up in business with friends, it just always seems to work out that way!” Maybe you already know the perfect techie co-founder.
Problem number 7: Perez is a designer with a perfume range, he wants to do a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo, but how does he raise awareness of the project?
A: Andrew Lockley (he of the “sweat equity” controversy) says; crowdfunding is more like “crowd top-up. With any successful campaign, the founder will already know who 60% of his backers will be, he is looking for the other 40%. If you are starting from scratch, expecting people to serendipitously find your product and back it, you won’t get the funds you need.
A: Get some bloggers onside, get the story out there, do a video, go to pitching events…don’t shut up about the project until you’ve got the money, in other words.
A: Get a celebrity endorsement, it’s all about the brand, nobody gives a stuff what it smells like, say’s Christian Games Industry
A: It takes a whole lot of groundwork to make a Crowdfunding campaign work, says another audience member, echoing Andrew Lockley’s sentiments
Problem number 8: It’s Yadiv, and boy has he got a story to tell! He’s been working in Scotland with a bonkers lady creative. Their relationship has broken down (cue the violins) but he still loves the product, thinks she’s a genius, and he still wants to run the ecommerce side of things, godammit! from London. At a safe distance from his crazy northern business partner.
A: Marry her? (Cue lots of laughter and manly guffaws, backslapping)
A: Set up a royalty payments scheme?
A: Adam T says Rob F can handle this one: Rob F says Waterfront solicitors may be able to help.
A: Matthew P says what about a 50% revenue share, you don’t want to dilute the brand!
A: Guy at front wants to know, “are you better than her?” Then go get’em cowboy! Take the whole business for yourself! Think he might have been a bit too emotionally invested in this one.
A: Christian Games Industry says become an equity director!
A: Adam T says be clear about what you want from the situation, there must be no blurred lines.
A: Is dating out of the question (snigger snigger)? How did you make it work before? Answer, Yadiv made it work because he was in Scotland, but now he wants to be in London, and he wants to take the brand worldwide.
Problem Number 9: Mahat has several business partners, and they are disagreeing. Mahat wants to focus on growing just one area of their new business, and Islamic arts website, but his partners feel they need to chase revenues and therefore must launch several products at once. What to do?
A: An audience member thinks that agile gurus would tell Mahat to launch with just one product to begin with.
A: Andrew Lockley says it can be hard to do projects like this one competently, and he should know, he’s worked on an Arts company exit before.
A: A.N. Other says you can only focus on one product at a time. “I wish my business partners were here”, says Mahat ruefully.
A: Secure some endorsement, says someone else: The Qatar foundation for example.
A: Gary the Hustler says: can you justify the numbers? If your product’s too niche will you make enough money to survive?
And that was all folks! Thanks to Ted from Haggerston Times , to the wonderful HHH team, to the fantastic audience, it just remained for me to say please check out our new website, and give us some feedback? It’s for the start-up community, not us, and we love helping you guys out. It’s what we’re here for.
The networking after was fun and got even more crowded when the Fintech crew who had been meeting upstairs started to pour in and get involved in the conversations! More proof that the format is working! It was indeed another great night, although sadly our second last event of the year (sniff!).
Still, we have our now infamous Speed Pitching event to come on 9th Dec, and Adam is taking the franchise out on the road, too, with an event in Manchester in the diary. So call up your northern cousins and tell them you just witnessed something amazing, and it’s coming to a disco hall near them soon.
Oh yeah, and we have some even more amazing news: next year we’ll be opening an incubator space of about 40,000 sq. ft. in Wapping – details coming soon. Sneak preview, it’ll definitely have more than one pirate ship. So:
Ciao for now: and “You can find me in the hub, bottle full of bub” etc. etc.