We love London. My co-founder and I graduated from London Business School a year ago, united by the fact that we both love London’s business community, rich cultural diversity, and hub as a global community. As avid travelers and international businessmen before business school, we both felt that there was nowhere else like London. And when we started our entrepreneurial journey with the Travelst, we felt London was an ideal business home for us.
But when we embarked upon our trip to TechStars’ Patriot Boot Camp in DC two weeks ago, we were a bit hesitant. Would we, being a London startup, be able to compete with our quicker, more nimble American cousins? Did they hold the monopoly on great entrepreneurial ideas? Would they simply just laugh at us, questioning our nascent entrepreneurial community?
Patriot Boot Camp, a shortened version of the famous 90-day accelerator program, hosted over three days in Washington, DC., provided us with answers. We were the only internationally-based entrepreneurs in a community of U.S. companies. And through the course of the Boot Camp, we not only had a chance to reflect upon our company and how we can improve practices, but compare ourselves to our U.S.-based peers and see how we were different.
The busy first day was full of motivational speeches, from David Cohenof TechStars thanking us veterans for our service (really? thank you!), to General George Caseywho reminded us that we were trained to lead start-ups, to Aneesh Chopra, former US CTO, who reminded us that there was a plethora of opportunities within the public services to build innovative companies and applications.
I had thought that the motivational line-up was fantastic enough, but guess what – the practical speeches were even better. Zach Nies from Rally Softwarechanneled key best-practices on building great startups and channeled his inner Eric Ries, Shai Goldmanfrom Silicon Valley Bank shared much-needed intricate details and challenges of fundraising, and Nicole Glaros from TechStars gave an impactful presentation on how to rock the elevator pitch. What struck me about the three speakers were their passion for entrepreneurship and mentorship, and the lessons they shared were both short and actionable. As we finished the first day with a networking session and dinner, I walked away with a good theoretical framework on both scaling, fundraising, and pitching strategies, as well as a healthy dose of motivation!
The second day was all about mentorship. Start-ups had the chance to sit down one-to-one with 50+ mentors to get feedback on a plethora of topics, ranging from team hiring and fundraising to general strategy. Wanting well-rounded advice, we chose five mentors with tremendously different skill sets and experience.
First up was Donna Harris, Managing Director of Startup America, who gave us general business advice and much-needed potential investor interest. She had this positive energy that resonated “anything is possible”, and we were glad that we spoke to her first as this was our first real-life “pitch”!
We then talked to Austin Evarts of GoChime, a TechStars company. He really loved our product (to our delight!), and had practical feedback on how to further develop it in a thoughtful, analytical way. Brad Harrison, Managing Partner of BHV, shared ways to strengthen our pitch, and promised to connect us with potential investors. Justin Gocke, CEO of Fliptu, had practical things to say, advising us to develop traction with key customers quickly. Finally to round things off, Shai Goldman from Silicon Valley Bank shared more specific tactics on fundraising and how much we should aim to raise.
But mentorship was not limited to our “formal” one-to-one sessions – all throughout the day, side conversations shed amazing insight on what we could do better. Taylor McLemore of Prediculous and organizer of Patriot Boot Camp did his utmost to connect us with the best mentors, Tom Chikoore of Motion Nexus gave practical ideas on how to improve the product leveraging Facebook’s Open Graph, and Josh Emert of GoChime also encouraged us to think more deeply of our product strategy.
One of the best side conversations, though, was when I grabbed David Cohen when he had a quiet moment in the corner. As intimidating as it was, I mustered up our best pitch, annunciating the right key notes, sharing our best stories. His response was thoughtful and humble. He tried to understand rather than to preach. All in all, it was a great conversation.
The third day (or “Demo Day”) was all about pitching and selling. All 75 companies had to get up on stage, pitch in front of others and David and the rest of the TechStars crew and mentors, and investors. Talk about nerve-wracking – this was a culmination of all the things we had learned over the last few days, compacted and structured together, and then delivered in an authentic and polished way. It was impressive – everyone really took the last three days’ advice and transformed their pitch, which was a real testament to the mentorship and learnings from TechStars.
So what were our takeaways from the three days? What we learned is that being London-based isn’t all that different from being US-based. For one, all companies there had similar issues of finding development talent. We all had strong ideas, but finding – and most importantly – recruiting strong technical talent to execute on our ideas was a universal issue. The second point was fundraising – we all knew that at some point we needed funds to grow, but we all could have used more lessons on the strategy and tactics on how to fund raise.
We did find that we had one key difference – design. Our startup focuses a lot more on design and user experience innovation, which we think is a testament to the strength of the London design industry. From our pitch deck to our product screenshots, we had an aesthetic that was consistent and stood out. And thankfully people liked it – we were complimented multiple times on our slide presentation and pitch!
As we continue on our entrepreneurial path, we definitely will continue to look at the U.S. for inspiration, best-practices, and knowledge-sharing. But we’re extremely bullish on London, and look forward to leveraging London’s design talent to push us in the right direction as a competitive advantage. What’s even more encouraging is that other tech companies feel the same way – from Google and Mozilla setting up free only workspaces here, to Amazon opening a Digital Media Innovation Hub,and now Facebook setting up their first engineering offices outside of the US, we believe that London is poised for a golden age of entrepreneurship.
We hope that we can continue to help put London on the map in the worldwide entrepreneur community, and feed into the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in one of the best cities in the world.