It was Thursday December 13th 2018 and London was calling.
A month or so earlier, I’d received an email from the caller that introduced me to a highly competitive Startup Exhibition at a Global Conference in Silicon Valley in February 2019. “This year’s Conference will involve world-class speakers like founders of Airbnb, LinkedIn & CEO of Y Combinator, as well as over 8,000 attendees, including 250+ top-tier investors from across the world.”
I knew I needed to apply.
I sat on my papason, as the man I would meet a few months later in Silicon Valley looked back from my computer screen.
Hi Alex, how’s London treating you?
“Where are the ornaments for that Christmas tree behind you?”
Tip #1: When taking that important video call you’ve been preparing for during the holidays, make sure you’ve decorated the tree sitting squarely behind you. This advice is applicable to all seasonal and holiday décor ;) .
Alex called to inquire about my intentions and position at bnotes. I was being vetted for an invitation to exhibit at the world’s largest independent startup conference, Startup Grind Global Conference.
Fast forward a couple months to me, my business partner Jeff, and my one of my engineers, Mathias trudging through the refreshingly chilly and sporadically rainy streets of Redwood City, CA in Silicon Valley. The conference was at the historic Fox Theater, which that day displayed life-size movie posters illustrating the celebrity-like nature of the speakers that would step foot on stage in the days to follow.
Startup Grind Global had informed us the week prior that we were inducted into the conference’s Top 50 Accelerate Startups out of over 200 exhibitors. A startup from a city with 110,000 people, no tier one university, and void of scaled technology companies was regarded as one of the top 50 startup companies in the world — we were humbled and it was deserving because we busted our tails and invested a great deal to earn ourselves the experience of walking through those doors.
The journey had been anything but easy, and in retrospect, there were a number of things that I’d attribute to our arriving at this pivotal point in our entrepreneural voyage.
Getting There = Creating Demand
“If you’re doing something new you’ve got to have a vision. You’ve got to have a perspective. You’ve got to have some north star you’re aiming for, and you just believe somehow you’ll get there.” — Steve Case
Creating demand is becoming more and more challenging every day. We are seeing solutions come online today that claim to solve the challenges of yesterday’s solution.
Showing up to a problem and solving it in a way that resonates and motivates requires you to think beyond the next simple step. To disrupt, you must always be three steps ahead, or your solution will quickly be bundled into another new and shiny solution a day later.
“For a long time, the most important contribution of computers won’t be artificial intelligence; it will be hyperconnectivity — connecting human minds to each other in new ways and at unprecedented scales.” Thomas Malone
For us, we knew that our concept was a singular response to the various communication challenges that previously required four or five solutions. At bnotes, we set out to solve a ubiquitous problem that burdens us all, but knew it couldn’t be a simple tweak to what already existed if we wanted to create real demand.
Just months after launch bnotes was featured as an “Apps We Love” by Apple, an honor picked up by Startup Grind’s team of “talent scouts” on the lookout for startups that have built organic demand.
Maximizing the Experience
The weekend before the event, a palatable energy began to build. We watched the show floor transform from a massive empty hall to a seemingly endless sea of exhibitor tents embellished with methodically placed signage. It was as if we were walking onto a battlefield on a reconnaissance mission to familiarize ourselves with the territory. We felt prepared, but only the experience that followed would show us what best practices would maximize our time on the show floor. A few tips on preparation:
1. Your Objectives: Defining your objectives in advance will help to ensure you walk away with a measurement for success. Your current position on the ladder towards you goal should help define your objectives at a conference like Startup Grind. For us, we’d defined the following goals for this show:
· Building awareness of our product’s unique market position among as many potential customers as possible while challenging key assumptions
· Gain an intimate understanding the venture capital landscape
2. Your Visual Presentation: Consider the optics of your display and collateral. Try to get a read on what others might be doing and the overall culture of the show and selling environment. Like your Christmas tree on a video call, you want your environment to be reflective of your brand. A few business cards on a high top is probably not a visual representation of who you see yourself to be as a brand.
A little research will probably provide you with an understanding of how elaborately or subtly your booth neighbors might take things within the parameters of the show’s guidelines.
With Startup Grind, everything has to fit on the table they provide you. In my experience, the best thing to do is buy a large flat screen for your backdrop on which to loop your product demo. This will at least ensure that passerby traffic has the opportunity to understand what you’re exhibiting and that the folks you’re meeting with are also taking in the user experience.
As for collateral, I would recommend two basic takeaways:
- A super simplified option that serves more as a brand reminder, such as a mini business cards or branded (useful) schwag.
- A one-sheeter, such as a fact sheet or infographic. These people are traveling and are most likely working or investing in advanced tech industries. Printed product decks are archaic to them, so keep it simple for quick consumption. Costs for collateral shouldn’t be more than a couple hundred dollars.
3. Your Pitch: Understand your audience and do your diligence before you find yourself in a position to exchange dialogue with thousands of people. The field of delegates at an event of this scale range from investors to project managers and CMOs, and everyone in between. Be prepared to pitch each group of individuals accordingly, to ask key questions, and most importantly, to listen. Exhibiting at Startup Grind can be a trial-by-fire lesson in communicating effectively and succinctly in a way that resonates.
We found that starting with a genuine curiosity and interest in each person we met with was a great way to lead a conversation and to pivot with our pitch based on their vantage point. Asking question like, “What do you aim to get out of this event?” typically sets the tone for a productive exchange that keeps you on point and meets everyone’s objective.
Those you engage with are subconsciously asking themselves, “Where are you taking me?” Asking them if they want to interact with your product can initiate the process of engagement. Asking, “do you have five minutes for our product demo?” can go a long way and replace a lot of time and words that can be illustrated in one quick interaction
Learning from Investor Insights
For the Top 50, Startup Grind provided a variety of unique opportunities to refine our sales pitch. Curated “office hour” investment meetings, a main stage pitch and a designated exhibition day all proved invaluable in understanding how to position our product for greater venture capital. Atlassian, Oracle, SAP, Intuit, NextGen Ventures, Bullpen Capital, ScaleVC, and Beta Boom were just a few of the names in the room for these various workshop events, and representatives from these companies decided which startups interested them the most. Their insights from this powerful group of investment decision-makers collectively create a very clear, straightforward path for navigating your investment strategy:
Key Investment Metrics
- Start talking to investors when your revenues hit $10k+ / month.
- Focus on unit economics
- Current enterprise SaaS companies are being valued at 6–8x multiples.
- “There is an irrational element to making an investment so you need to establish a personal relationship.” Verbatim investor advice.
- Landing venture capital is like elephant hunting. Don’t cast a wide net filled with investors that have no interest in your discipline. Be methodical about your outreach and know who is interested in and relevant to what your selling.
- At the conclusion of your Seed round, Venture Capitalists should collectively own no more than 25% of your product.
- Founders should maintain at least 50% of equity after Series A round.
Aside: I returned from Startup Grind Global sick as a dog. I didn’t do a great job of staying hydrated, and neglected to consider the fact that I’d be operating on 14-hour workdays sprinkled with exhaustion and hunger. There’s a whole health and wellness component to the conference experience that are important to factor in if you plan to return home not on the brink of death. But that’s a lesson for another day. Today, let your focus be on the future of your labors and how to prepare yourself for the success that lies ahead.
If you have any questions about bnotes or about Startup Grind Global Conference then feel free to email me — firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll respond
Nicholas Mohnacky, co-founder CEO