Last night I hot footed down to Bournemouth & Poole College, to the "Peter Jones Academy", for an evening rubbing shoulders with local angel investors, startup companies and student startups projects.
This was my first event of this nature locally, so I was very curious to see what it would be like, the atmosphere, the culture, how open and friendly people would be.
I was surprised initially at the number of suits in the room. I'm used to London startup events which are much more informal, but then, they are not events which have (I estimate) a 70 : 30 ratio of investors to entrepreneurs.
After a brief convo with a few known faces, it was pitch-time. There will be a video of the pitches, so I wont regurgitate them, but I will give my initial reactions.
These are just my thoughts, sometimes contentious, often critical but mostly balanced. I wear my heart on my sleave (a quote from a previous boss during a PDR) ...
A sound pitch of their suite of eco-business management software. Seemed to have significant domain expertise and some early traction with significant customers and growth potential. The financial numbers were a little on the sceptical side, would have preferred to see something a little more exciting here.
Two main issues for me.
1. Kicking things off with this presentation really didn't set an energetic tone for those to follow - whilst it was interesting, it wasn't engaging, passionate or exciting in it's delivery.
2. There was a lot of focus put onto a core "middle area" of the product, which was the companies secret-sauce. This all-important, competitor beating area consisted of a suite of 10 apps. I think mobile apps. But seriously - 10! And then they moved on, skipping any further information into this mission critical, highly complex but ultimately most powerful aspect of their pitch.
I remember writing straight away the following questions:
10 apps? why 10 apps? why not 1 app?
what do they do?
do they exist?
if so, which ones? all of them?
Tell me more... TELL ME MORE. But alas, there was a gaping whole in the presentation around the most crucial part, so for me, it was a shame as for the most part, it was one of the best pitches.
Following up one fairly dry presentation was.... yet another one. I could tell, once again that the presenter had vast domain expertise and has been a successful entrepreneur with a good track record. But, the presentation was dry, visualisation of the software was lacking any appeal and there appeared to be holes in the business model, given the amount of investment made to date and the level of traction in the form of genuine revenues.
I think that either this will be a business that you don't ever see but will touch you as a consumer or company in some way in the future without you knowing or with some effort in product design and user experience, could be a very powerful end product / service in its own right.
At this point in time, after these two presentations, I'm thinking we have a very compelling case for an Unsexy Startups Meetup. Very sound, very valid startup propositions led by devoted, highly qualified experts in areas which are not consumer oriented, not sexy.
Continuing the trend of disappointing presentations, Buzz networks committed a significant number of pitch faux pas.
1. Played 2 explainer videos during the pitch, each a few minutes long.
2. As a result of 1. and the general complexity of the pitch, overran the alloted time significantly
N.B. note to organisers - get strict on the timeframe allowed for pitches, make it clearly known by pitching company beforehand, stick to it - cut them off if you need to.
The Bubba product was interesting and disappointing in the same breath.
1. If you've got a piece of hardware - bring it, show it, get it out.
Caveat to 1. If it's ugly, think twice, if it makes a cool demo, still bring the device.
2. If you developed it, show me patents, tell me about the IP. If you didn't and you're merely distributing it - what are you doing on the stage? Just get out there and sell! I'm not clear which one applies.
3. Focus on design. A new benchmark exists - you only have to browse Kickstarter to see how hardware industrial design has taken a huge kick up the arse and now anything less than great will not get the interest, it;s that simple.
4. What a cool device - I'd love to have one of these with me in my beach hut, in my tent/caravan, on a boat. Remote / mobile internet access is still bad when I want to be out being active and pursuing my lifestyle by design. This would really help, if only it didn't look like a
One of the other products was a Google Voice style "one number, anywhere" proposition that wasn't compelling and I wont bother going over it.
Bet Live Sport
Oh dear, yet another terribly constructed pitch. OK, so we're going to have to lower expectations on this front for now. We've got some work to do.
The business? Well, I'm not entirely sure what it is - a content-company-come-affiliate-betting business? Using the medium of internet radio (because it's unregulated, unlike commercial radio) which, according to one of the presenters, means that it's a global company for some obscure reason.
We were told how in order for this venture to succeed, they would need to reach listeners. Right, ok - and how do we propose to do that?
"...well these days, Google favours original content."
OK so, it's an SEO play. For radio.
"Because we will transcribe and syndicate the spoken conversation from the shows to drive traffic."
Oh. Really. Interesting assumption, remaining highly sceptical here. The SEO for Dummies course was not well received.
Alright, so I'm being a bit flippant, but really, many aspects of the pitch were really not where they needed to be, they lacked any evidence of proper research or actions to prove or disprove the assumptions.
But, one ray of hope. Listed as one of the co-founders is none other than TV & Sport's Andrew Castle. Oh, well, sign me up.
The one positive was that the third founder actually had some significant domain expertise, having started and run William Hill's own sports betting radio station.
Aha! A breath of fresh air. This is someone who can present in a fashion which I am more accustomed to.
"Spreading pawprints of happiness" was their motto, and finally, just the enthusiasm and passion of the presenter left at least one or two pawprints for me.
Clearly evidence of some more modern entrepreneur education (thanks to Seedcamp, Lean Startup Machine et al.), and a business that is firmly routed in a hot and growing trend of the "sharing economy".
As such, and due to the object of the business being a highly emotional and personal one (even for the 80% of the room who actually owned a dog), Borrow My Doggy has been able to gather a significant amount of PR and some early traction as a result.
It's all looking good, so far.
Then here comes the business model & pricing strategy and some clear issues arise.
1. The focus of the platform quickly gets diluted into a "warts and all" hub for everything doggy. A dog social network. Facebook for dogs. Please, please do not do this. Stay focussed, concentrate on the core and make the experience for dog, dog owner and dog borrower as wonderful as it should be.
2. Verification tied to the subscription tier is the WRONG way to go. The whole business is one horrific press story of doggy mistreatment away from crashing. Verification, validation, reference checking, home checking, personality and character checking IS THE BRAND. It is an overhead of the business and an opportunity to keep competitors at bay. Split this out from the product tiers right now and focus on value added services and privileges within the subscription model.
After the pitches, it was break out time where the companies hosted interested investors for Q&A. I got slightly way-laid as I got talking to one of the founders of a Somerset based CRM platform, a bootstrapped startup of 12 people, called IntouchCRM. Not a bad effort from the West Country startup, would be great to see them build on the British-made option for integrated CRM / CMS technology.
Overall, the event was pretty good. More than anything, I felt that there was a very positive buzz around the attendees - a genuine interest in being involved in startups, entrepreneurship and investment through Silicon Beach Business Angels and most importantly, in the Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch area.
We have some way to go to ensure that local startups get the best visibility with investors, press and most importantly, potential early customers if these presentations are anything to go by - but that's quite easy to solve with a better support and mentoring structure in place.