Travels of a lean startup: from Antwerp to London to San Francisco



Last week, I made a presentation to show that by applying some basic startup principles you can get far. And by far, I mean, landing a booth at a big tech conference called Demo in San Francisco. The slideshow went on to become slideshow of the day at Slideshare.

In this blogpost I’m going to dig a little deeper in how we applied those principles for our startup Slide.li, a second screen app for presentations.

Hi, I’m Cedric


I joined idealabs about a year ago, which was at that time an ambitious project about to take off in Antwerp, Belgium. The founders had the crazy idea to start a Start Up accelerator, based on the model of Techstars.

They identified a problem for startups in Belgium, and wanted to offer a solution. Idealabs was born. They were looking for a digital marketer, and that’s when I came in the picture.

We launched in July 2012 with a big bang and caught a lot of eyeballs. It was my job to have a rock solid online presence and eventually convince people to apply for the accelerator. We received 70 applications, and our 3 month program started in September with 3 startups.

The entrepreneurial hub in Antwerp

Running an accelerator is really challenging, especially in Belgium. I helped put together the program for the startups, and was able to invite a lot of great people to become a mentor.

I was the guy sitting between the startups, everyday for 3 months. Cheering for their progress, celebrating wins and helping to cope with failures.

3 startups is not much. You really get to know the people involved with idealabs. That’s when I met Emiel.

He is a developer for one of the resident startups at idealabs. Those resident startups don’t participate in the accelerator, but they have office space on the same floor. We started talking about an idea, and decided to join forces. We wrote down the idea and followed the “always be pitching” rule.

We talked to a great amount of people inside and outside of the idealabs building. As there was a high rotation of interesting people visiting the idealabs startups, I made sure I had my pitch ready. After every session I tried to convince the mentors to listen to our story. Trying to validate our value proposition as much as possible.

BOOM! A new startup is born

You discover your crazy idea, but you need validation to really get to your product market fit. We followed that principle for a very long time, before even building something.

Let’s validate

You write down your initial idea, and test your propositions, going back to your initial idea and implement your learnings. A very handy tool is the Customer validation board. We thought we were on to something with Slide.li. So let’s validate!

 

Validation in London (Springboard) and Paris (LeWeb)

We had the crazy idea to accelerate in one week during our London visit with the idealabs startups. Meaning: validating our idea as much as possible, build a prototype, and pitch it during a pitching battle.

It’s kind of a long version of startup weekend. We were in London for a week, one of the biggest startup hubs in Europe, filled with awesome people. The report on the places we visited can be found here. We succeeded in building a prototype and pitched in front of an audience.

There were some key learnings that followed from that pitching session:

  • Doing a live demo is risky: only do a live demo if you are 100% sure that your product is actually going to work during your 5 min pitch
  • Your problem vs solution has to be crystal clear during your pitch: You have a problem when the first question of the audience is: “So what are you actually solving?”. In the case of Slide.li the remark was: your solution is not solving the core problem.
  • Test propositions during pitch: depending on the audience and the importance of your pitch you can test propositions of your product during your pitch. In our case, it was our very first pitch. We wanted to test some core features of our product, and see how the audience would act. Make, test and learn!
  • Always end your presentation with: got any questions? We learned so much by openly talk about our product after our pitch.

London > Paris

After London we went to Le Web in december.

I joined the 2 idealabs startups: Octopin & Decolabs. I was there as an idealabs representative, and helped the two startups. Before attending a conference you have to set some objectives. Attending just for fun is kind of a no go if you’re running a startup. Entrance fee’s are rather expensive and you are wasting your precious time.

Le Web has all the right ingredients for a startup: crazy amount of like minded people, investors, media and other startup founders. With slide.li we had a clear goal: talk to speakers and test our demo with the audience. Compared to London we had something more to show. We had a demo, implemented with all the feedback so far.

We had one speaker coping with all the problems we are trying to solve. He even found some tricks to implement in his presentation. Take a look at these screenshots.

We showed him our Demo and he was sold! We had an endorsement from Ramon De Leon, Keynote Speaker, traveling the world talking about Domino’s.

Next Steps: London > SF

We had a demo to show, a website explaining our concept, and we talked to a crazy amount of people, what now? 2013 had to be the year for Slide.li! I filled out an application for the Angel Alley program for Demo Conference in San Francisco.

The Angel Alley program is designed for startups without any funding. So far, we didn’t spend any money on Slide.li. Trying to stay lean and mean as long as possible. We we’re selected out of hundreds of applications. We needed to pitch for 5 minutes in front of a great panel of judges (investors, media, startup founders).

I filled out an application for the London Websummit Live team. They were looking for people that would live cover the summit through twitter. The idealabs twitter account was selected!

Works out: I had direct access to conference organizers, fellow bloggers, and the audience to test out the Slide.li demo.

Launch Festival: even more pitching!

I entered a competition to win a ticket to Launch Festival. The best place to launch your startup, talk to investors and media. You had to give a reason why your startup should attend that conference. I had an easy win with this reason: “Hey Launch Festival, I’ll bring a case of Belgian Beers and we will never miss a presentation with Slide.li”

Status: we had a Demo/ MVP and had validation from speakers/audience We got great feedback! Next steps? Let’s compete in startup competitions and stay lean as long as possible. We did some tweaking to our DEMO and never stopped talking to people. Always be pitching!

Angel Alley Program is designed for startups without funding. They organized a contest to win a booth at DEMO Conference, and the chance to pitch for investors. Slide.li was selected out of hundreds of entries.

Third stop: Angel Alley – tough questions!

We made it to the final 8, pitching in front of investors, media and startup founders. Our pitch, 5 minutes, needed to cover the completeness of product/service, customer traction and projected growth. We we’re not allowed to use Slides, and had to do a Live Demo.

We received that briefing, one week before the actual event! London all over again! Accelerating in a very small timeframe. Tweaking our demo, revising our business model, pitch training. The whole shebang!

It’s really important to understand that we only had a Demo of our product, almost an MVP. As I’m working for idealabs the past year, I saw loads of pitches and judging panels. Not only Belgium, also in London and Paris.

Pitching in SF is next level! The judges liked our product but our revenue model was not clear. They bombarded us with questions about our traction and metrics. How we we’re going to turn this in a big money business. I was totally blown away by the Q&A with the panel. I didn’t freak out, but was overwhelmed.

They provided us with great feedback. The kind of feedback that puts you back to your drawing board. We really needed to think our revenue model through. So far every feedback for Slide.li was positive.

Everyone loved the concept and assured us they would use it. Receiving positive feedback blinds you for the real issues of your startup. In our case that was the financial side. Having a business model from the very start is very important.

Sad news: we weren’t selected as winners.

Coming home: BOOM!

That means we got less than one month to step our game up. Finalizing our real MVP and finetuning our revenue model. Getting ready to be evaluated by the word’s greatest in San Francisco. That’s where I need your help! If you got any tips to stand out as a Startup when you have a booth at a big conference, let us know!

You can see the entire Slideshare presentation here:

If you liked Cedric’s story, help him out by sharing this blog post with your friends!

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About the author

Cedric Deweeck

Cedric is the co-founder of Slide.li, a second screen app for presentations, and the digital marketeer for Idealabs, an Antwerp based accelerator. You can follow him on Twitter.

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