Since my company Publisha was a 2010 finalist and winner of Seedcamp, I thought it would be helpful for future teams taking part if I gave my thoughts on how to get the most out of Seedcamp.
The short answer: be prepared
First and foremost, go in prepared! If I’d been properly prepared I would have got 10 times the value out of Seedcamp. (I didn’t really know what I was preparing for though, so read this post!)
It’s not just being prepared with a great presentation, but being prepared for the Question and Answer sessions. (Get a good night’s sleep, the Q&A session is really tiring!). Here’s what to prepare:
For the presentation, try and get hold of a few previous Seedcamp presentations and see which format you like most. Whatever you do though, get to the meat quickly! Sitting through about 20 presentations can be pretty heavy going, so grab the audience quick! Don’t mumble on about background detail, come straight out and say this is what we do and this is why we’re amazing!
By the way, everyone else will appear amazing and you will feel like your business is a big old sack o’ the brown stuff. Believe me, appearances can be very deceptive here, so don’t worry about that!
Many of the teams from the Seedcamp 2010 heats and finals seemed to have some trouble describing their business and what they actually did! Quite a few resorted to a pitch of the form “We’re like (Company X) for Y”, eg “We’re like FourSquare for Gardening”. Given that this was quite a few months ago, quite a lot of people in the room didn’t know what FourSquare was, so that description fell flat! (For the record, FourSquare is a service for you to tell burglars you’re not in your house, so they can come round and steal your TV.)
Some people did those presentations where they don’t really put any words on the Powerpoint slides, just pictures. Personally I absolutely hate that style of presentation – you may as well just turn the damned projector off if you’re going to do that! Then again, other people will worship you as a God for doing it. It’s a funny old game!
One random tip while I think of it: don’t look like a famous person when you’re giving your speech. One bloke last year looked exactly like Jarvis Cocker out of Pulp, and I spent the whole time he was on stage thinking “Let’s all meet up in the year 2000”!
Your presentation will be recorded on video, but don’t let that freak you out. I practiced my presentation about ten times (literally), to get a good feel for the timing and what I wanted to say. This will also make you get your slides in the right order – I usually find that when I practice a talk I realise that my argument is all over the place and makes about as much sense as the sudden rise to fame of “comedian” Michael McIntyre, ie none whatsoever! So practice, practice, practice. I personally don’t like to practice in front of people, because you always think you’re rubbish and get embarrassed. Incidentally, if you are rubbish, lots of practice on your own will give you confidence. But heck, I was still shaking like a leaf when I grabbed the mic, and nobody seemed to mind!
As you’re talking, try to look everyone in the eye at least once. It helps to make a connection with them.
One last thing about the presentation: DON’T USE NOTES! A few people came up with notes written on a piece of paper and they got totally crucified! Thanks to the folks at www.crucifyr.com for helping with that (they’re like FourSquare for death.) As long as you’re not reading word-for-word off your slides you can just use the headlines and bullet points on your slides to jog your memory.
Preparing for Q&A
Let’s get back to talking about how to prepare for the Q&A sessions that follow the presentations. I didn’t make a particularly good job of prepping for this, because I didn’t know what to expect, so hopefully you can avoid falling into the same trap.
The thing you’re going to really need to prove, as a start-up, is that you’ve got a market. And you’ve got to prove it fast. Yesterday a 12 year old kid came to me asking for business advice(!) about starting a business selling X-Box controllers that he’d modified with custom graphic designs. I told him to buy one, modify it, then put it on eBay. Figure out if anyone wants to buy that stuff as quick as you can, before you put much time or money into it. (If I’d been really hardcore I’d have told him to put it on eBay first, and don’t actually bother making it until someone had bought it!)
It’s the same for your business. You’ve got to find a set of customers who love the product and will pay for it in some form.
So the sort of questions you should prepare if you want to get the most out of the Q&A are about testing and proving your market (unless you’re already raking in cash hand over fist). To give an example, our business, Publisha, targets four key segments: bloggers, digital magazines, print magazines and corporate communications. You need to know what your segments are. Then you need to think about which segment to address. Before the day, think of the sorts of criteria you could use to help you decide on the issues you’re undecided on. Make sure you know what questions you need mentor help with. Then you can spend the time getting down to brass tacks, not skirting around the issue.
A final thought for the mentor sessions: get the mentors to introduce themselves. I didn’t really find a good form of words to ask for these introductions without sounding like a game show host, but you might have more luck.
The key question
Don’t lose sight of one key thing: in a sense, all you’ve got to do to succeed in business is keep selling lots of things to lots of people. That’s it, really. No “paradigm leveraging” required.
So the one key question is “How are you going to make money?”. Make sure you can answer this one. If you can’t, just spend the day talking about that. I was on a panel discussion at Oxford University and I told some wannabe hotshot that if your business doesn’t make money “It’s not a business, it’s a hobby!” Well, he didn’t like that much! Make sure your mentors don’t say that to you! I know Twitter started without a plan to make money, and so did Google, but they’re the exceptions. You need to have a really silly name if you’re going to pull that one off! (Surely that’s how Evan and Biz did it at Twitter 🙂 )
If your business can’t easily make money, I’d recommend doing what in Seedcamp world they call a “pivot”. Everywhere else they call it “Give up and try something else.” You’ll hear a lot about pivots.
In terms of the main way of making money, there’s two main ways. One is monthly subscriptions, the buzzword being “SaaS revenues” (pronounced “Sass”, to rhyme with mass). The other way is “Everything else” (pronounced “ads”). You’ll find passionate mentor advocates for both positions. I had one person tell me that if I did SaaS I’d be crazy, and another that if I didn’t do SaaS I’d be crazy. With some simple mathematics I soon cancelled this down to “You’re crazy”, and went to lunch. You need to either develop a firm view on which of these types of revenues is good for you, or you need to develop a set of questions and criteria that the mentors can help you to work through in order to decide.
“The Dirty Dozen” marketing processes to master
Continuing the topic of really focussing in on what’s important, to get the most out of your time with the mentors, it helps if you map out in advance what you actually do, and what you plan to do.
At Publisha I identified 12 key marketing processes that we needed to master. I think they’re the same for pretty much every business. You’d do yourself a favour to read my blog post on the dirty dozen marketing processes, and see how they apply to your business. You can then spend time with the mentors figuring out which of these processes you need to work on, and how best to go about it.
Final thought: don’t panic
So that’s what you need to do to have a good day. I’m sure you will have a good day: everyone I’ve met through Seedcamp has been really nice, and very helpful. So above all, have fun, because if you’re not having fun you may as well be called Nigel and work as a corporate salary man in Milton Keynes. And that’s not you!