Wow.. Seedcamp just announced that they will be investing in our project, what a huge adventure! In this post I would like to share my sensations as a participant, for the benefit of future Seedcamp participants :). For the rest of you it might feel a bit long, but I will try to make it funny :).
We had previously applied to Seedcamp Tallin and we had been turned down as a runnerup, which means that we were just off the Top 20. However we tried again with Berlin. I believe that life is a game of numbers, and if we had been Top 21 or 22 in Tallin, we had options to be within the Top 19 or 20 in subsequent events. Besides, Kirsten sent us an email encouraging us to try again, so we made some changes to the application, particularly around things we had developed over those few weeks, and we were really excited when this time we were accepted as finalists. Perhaps showing progress as well as perseverance was the reason we got accepted, I have not dared ask yet.
In the following days Philipp sent quite a lot of information about how to prepare for the event. We participated in every call and read all documents and articles about previous experiences. What we did not do was getting in touch with previous winners. With the benefit of hindsight I think we should have tried to contact them, but at the time we thought it was not appropriate, I really don’t know why. I was surprised to see that not many people joined those calls. If you participate, I would suggest that you do. It’s not going to set your presentation on fire, but you will feel more confident that you know what’s expected from you.
Jose and I flew to Berlin on Sunday morning and had a chance to relax and prepare. I had put together the slides for the 3-minute pitch, but I had not practiced out loud yet. Only in my head. Big mistake. First time I tried to pitch it, it took me 6 minutes. Jose was like… “Juan, we really need to cut pretty much everywhere”. The problem of creating slides is that you get emotionally connected with them. You believe everything is important. Jose was great in that he was not emotionally attached to anything, and he suggested major cuts everywhere. Next time it took me 4.5 minutes, closer to 3. Interestingly the message had not suffered at all, so remember this: People are not going to remember more than 2 sentences from your whole 3 minute presentation anyway. So don´t worry about the details and give them some BIG sentences to remember.
The next part of our preparation was exactly that. Until then I had been presenting by “looking at the slide and knowing what to say”. Well, that was not going to be good enough. You have 3 minutes. You can say the same phrase in 10 different ways. But one way takes you 5 seconds and another way takes you 8 seconds. You need the one that takes you 5 seconds, you need to be precise. So I did what I had never done in my life. I wrote down each sentence and learned each word that I was going to deliver. Maybe not “each word”, but I knew exactly the key words I wanted to say. For example, I remember I had trouble explaining why the methodology was strong in terms of avoiding dishonesty. I learnt these words: “This forces the user to choose, so promoting one friend means demoting other friends”. This was exactly the message I wanted to deliver, and if I had tried to explain it while on the stage, it would have taken me a lot more time to come to the same words, and it would have looked less assertive and precise. The same when I said: “The amazon reviews of people”. I don’t really think we are “the amazon reviews of people”. I just wanted to deliver a key message that people would remember, and later we saw people mentioning us on twitter with exactly those words. And because I leant my timings so well, I knew I could afford 2-3 seconds of silence after that sentence so people would absorb what I had just said.
Key idea: Make the most of every single second, including silences. We stood awake practicing, reducing seconds, until about 2:30am, when I nailed the pitch in 2 minutes 50 seconds. Time for bed. Extremely tired.
On Monday we went to the preparation session. We were the first to arrive. If you can, be the first too. You get to know people as they arrive, rather than arrive when everyone has already met. And that gives you certain level of relaxation. We were the last to present purposedly because we wanted to see everyone else, listen to their pitches and to the feedback they received. Some people had a very polished pitch, and some other had not really practiced. Others had too many words on their slides. Remember the infamous Guy Kawasaki rule about slides. 10 slides, no more than 20 words, 30 points minimum font size. I usually try to reduce that to a maximum 10 words per slide (if any at all). In fact, in my own presentation I had, in total, about 25 words (all the slides combined). People don’t want to read, they want to absorb a new concept. Use images. Use your arms, your gestures, your silences. Be an actor. Be a showman. Have fun.
When I presented at the dryrun, it took me 3:20. I was gutted. I thought I had delivered exactly like in the hotel. 20 seconds too long! Carlos liked the pitch but suggested that I had to add more information on a couple of things (adding!), which was like impossible after all the cutting we had done. We also got feedback from another participant, suggesting that our pitch was too controversial and that perhaps we should remove the controversial part. We thanked him for his feedback… but we did not delete that part. In fact, we emphasized it the following day. Controversy is good. You want people to talk about you, to grab the concept. That night we went to the hotel early, sauna, and then practice practice practice until I nailed the 3 minutes all the time.
Presentation day, we were there early again. Good atmosphere. Most teams had improved their presentations massively. A couple of them started from scratch and their new presentation was excellent. In my presentation I started introducing a story. People want stories they can relate to. Don’t tell them “our platform”, “people want” or “customers do”. Tell them about Johnny or Ann, about their pains. Make them feel the problem. Shareagift.com did an excellent job there, I felt the pain they were talking about, I could totally relate to it. In my presentation I only started talking about the product about 1 minute into the pitch. Then 1 more minute about the product, and 1 minute about the vision. Let’s be honest again, nobody wants to know about your product, they listen to 100 pitches every week, many of them very similar. They want to be inspired by you, they want to know how you will change the world, they want to get excited, and they want to have fun. Remember that your audience is not a set of investors. It’s a diversity of backgrounds including other startups, bloggers, etc. We did not show a single number, nothing about revenues or costs. Excite them and they will inquire about those “details” :).
So the presentation went very well and I think I made people laugh, which was part of the plan. The next phase was the mentoring sessions. Jose and I had decided to have a very specific question for the sessions, something we were concerned about, rather than a general chat. We had our own opinions but did not want to share them with those mentors, because we did not want to bias them with our own thought process. So we opened the question and let them talk about it. But those mentoring sessions are very tough. Many of the mentors are seasoned investors and they are used to being the ones asking the questions, so we ended up answering many of ´their´ questions, even though we were trying to push back for them to the topic we wanted them to discuss. After the 3rd session our brains were burning. These people are tough, they know their onions, and have no remorse to say your product will not do what you wanted, so sometimes we had to move into “pitching mode” to explain why we believe it would work etc. And many of the mentors challenged a lot of our assumptions in ways we had not expected in any way shape or form. At the end of the 6th session we wanted to go home and sleep for 20 hours. Seriously, it is tough. Come prepared and open-minded even if you disagree, and remember that you are the one who should receive the value, you are not there to pitch.
The excitement from the morning presentation became a bit of a down after the sessions. We thought the mentors had hammered us so hard that they would not give very positive feedback about us and we would not be invited to the following day’s interview. We had done everything we could, we could only wait now. I remember I had told Jose: “We will stay the whole night in the party so we can meet more people”. Well, at 9pm we were so extremely tired we had to leave. We had no power to have any reasonable conversation with anyone anymore. As soon as we arrived to the hotel we got the email from Kirsten. We were invited to the following day’s interview!! We could not believe it. Apparently the mentors had liked our approach to the session, even if we did not always have all the answers, and they thought that Jose and I had complemented each other well (knowledge MBA vs PhD and personalities passionate vs thinking). Key learning: Don’t feel hammered, they are there to push you to the extreme so you can learn more about yourself.
We had to prepare a 15 minute presentation. We went to bed at 4:30am preparing such presentation, which was at about 9am, so not many hours to sleep. In the same way that I had been a showman during the 3 minute pitch, I became a business man for this final presentation. A lot more assertive with clear ideas and very analytical in my approach to business, based on statistics, user behaviours and lean process. It’s not only that I believe they would expect something more thorough like this, it’s that this is the way we operate and it was the right time to tell them about it. The questions were fair, particularly after the tough questioning from the previous day, so there were no surprises. We had all the answers in our appendixes and had all the information they could wish. Here is when you want to come prepared with KPIs and data. This is the right audience for that stuff, not earlier.
We left directly for the airport because we had a flight straight to San Francisco that morning. Very stressing but exciting. The following day, once in San Francisco, we got the happy news.
Juan holds an MBA from Chicago Booth with high honors and an MSc in Electrical Engineering from UPM.
His hobbies are capoeira, a brazilian martial art, drawing and tennis.
“Reward excellent failures”