Jason Ball's TechBytes

Technology & Venture Capital. Early stage venture capital news mixed with personal views and comments

The Perfect Pitch

Last week I posted on how you can meet VCs- this week it’s how to get the most out of that meeting.

What format should you use for the first presentation? This is the template that I developed over several years, and recommend whenever an entrepreneur asks what format to use. It’s a time tested format I’ve used for multiple pitch events that I’ve run- it works. The most important part of this pitch is your demo. Make sure that it’s flawless.

The objective of your first meeting is to get to a second meeting. You will start to drill down on one or two points of the company for that meeting. Then you will move on to other points for later meetings. But, for the first meeting, you want to give a fly-over, and leave plenty of time for discussion. Focus on the Product – your demo. It will be the shining point everything else is built on…

So, here’s the Presentation Outline. Stray from this sequence at your own peril.

1. Problem
2. Solution
3. PRODUCT DEMO OR SCREEN SHOTS OF PRODUCT
4. Business Model
5. Underlying magic/ technology
6. Market
7. Competition
8. Milestones/Timeline
9. Financials/Forecasts
10. Summary slide

Good luck!

Filed under: Events, Conferences and Panels, Venture Capital

3 Steps to Meeting Investors (at Events)

You’re at a big event, lots of investors are there – how do you optimize your chances of getting an investment from a VC or angel investor? Follow these three steps (and do not stray).

Your goal is to get a meeting. You’re not going to close a deal right there on the spot- understanding that and what you’re trying to achieve is essential. Securing funding is a multi-step process- you only need to take one step at a time. Step one is getting that meeting. So, on to the process:

1) Do not, and I repeat, do not walk up randomly and pitch them on the spot. (Aka Don’t pitch me, bro!)
VCs are busy – even if they are standing there alone, it’s been a full day of meetings meeting new companies or working with current ones. Their brain is full. They are probably tired. They probably don’t want to hear about your business – even if it’s a deal of great interest. If that’s the case, why are they there? For one, to keep current contacts fresh – to say Hi, ask about progress, see other VCs- ask about deals, etc. But, they are also there to meet new people… so, how do you meet them?

2) Get an intro from another VC, Angel or Portfolio Company.

Social validation is your best friend. Getting an intro to a VC is old info, but it’s far and away your best option. It is also rarely how companies approach me. Your chances of gettting a meeting go up exponentially if you’re introduced. Case in point- I was at the Seedcamp party last week. I’m chatting with the Seedcamp team on how the week had been going when a VC walks up to me with an entrepreneur in tow- he says “Sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to introduce you to Mr. X. I think they’re doing something great that would be of interest to you. How about I send you an email next week to connect you two?”. And that was it. The chances of Mr. X getting an HOUR of my time the following week was 100% at that point. The gain there is huge – my undivided attention and a full hour of it. Not 15 min in a loud venue, with no demo, no deck. And probably no deal.

3) Walk away.

Once you’ve made contact and made a good first impression – get out of there! In the above example, the entrepreneur simply shook my hand, said hello, and said he’d look forward to exchanging info. That’s the perfect thing to have done. I stopped him later in the evening, asked where he was based, and started checking dates for a meeting.

Now, you’ve got the meeting with the VC – what do you do? Prepare your slide deck and demo. I’ll post next week on my thoughts on the perfect pitch.

Good luck!

Filed under: Events, Conferences and Panels, Venture Capital

What’s next in Mobile?

I joined Qualcomm Ventures 5 years ago because I thought the newly released iPhone would herald in an era where the web met wireless – and what a 5 years it’s been…

The first wave of companies, when I first started, were “mobile only” plays – they were remnants of the dumbphone age. I couldn’t have cared less – I was only interested the next wave: web services where the handset was the window into the service. One investment based on this thesis was we7 – a cloud based music service which became “a personal DJ in your pocket” a la Pandora for the UK market (we exited last year). Spotify is an excellent example of this type of business that more of you will be familiar with. We didn’t make many investments here, but lots of good companies came out of this space.

The following wave was mobile-only or mobile-first companies. Foursquare springs to mind immediately- and is an example I’ve used many times. They launched with a mobile-only offering, and have only recently added a website. We’ve made quite a few investments in this space – Viddy is probably our best known, launching on iOS only, growing to 25M+ users and then opening up content on the web to continue to develop the product and expand reach.

Things have continued to evolve, and I’ve basically stopped looking at apps and started looking at services – delivered via an app. A great example of this category is Citymapper – a London based company that crunches data in the background to optimize your journey using a combination of bus, train, tube, overground etc through London. I use the app every single day to navigate London. One of our better known companies is also in this space- Waze, which helps users “outsmart traffic, together”. And it really, really works. It’s saved my neck in San Francisco, L.A., San Diego and London as well – I wouldn’t think about driving in L.A without it. Waze takes all active users (drivers) at any given moment in time, and optimizes their route based on that data. It’s a lot of crunching. It’s an awesome service that’s made possible by millions of mobile devices. 34M users and still rocketing up. More users = more data = better service. I love it. Google Now is the last example that I’ll highlight – if you haven’t had a chance to experience it, have a look at this Google Now video.

And this is where we are now, smart, predictive services. They are what’s next in mobile- we’ll be seeing more and more of them.

Filed under: Mobile

That two letter word…

[This is a guest post I wrote in 2010 on 24waystostart. It still applies, so I thought I’d repost it here]

“No.” It has to be one of hardest, yet most frequent words an investor says…

It’s not easy for us to say, and many times, not easy for an entrepreneur to hear. You’ve been working hard on your business, you think it’s great, your only friend thinks it’s great (you’ve lost everyone else because you’ve been holed up working on your project), your family parted with their hard-earned cash to help you out… and then you meet with investors and they say No.

Great. “Investors are such idiots” you’ll think… well, maybe. Or maybe not. It turns out No has many meanings…

First, I’ll admit I personally hate saying no, but I do try to be pretty blunt when doing so, and giving a good reason why I say no (not always, but I try). Your job as an Entrepreneur is to figure out what the investor is saying when they say no… because there are different flavors of No, and different reasons for No.

The most frequent No is actually “Not now”. If that is the case, all is not lost, find out how to get to “Yes.”. It’s going to be a specific milestone or proof point. Find out what it is, ask clearly if you achieve x or y, will they invest at that point. The answer will normally be “Yes.”, and they will lay out exactly what they want to see. This usually lowers the risk of some element they’re not comfortable with yet. If that’s the case – then get on it and get back there. You’ll find a way.

There’s also a variant of “Not now” known as the Excalibur Test. I’ve given many entrepreneurs the Excalibur Test – give them something to do then have them come back with it later. If they’re successful, you write a check. And if they don’t come back…well, the story ends there. Excalibur tests or proof points are fine; but be careful that an investor doesn’t have you running around in circles when they have no real intention of investing—regardless of the outcome.

Another reason investors say “No” is bandwidth. Most people don’t realize an investor will only make 1-5 deals per year—depending on many factors (stage, size, etc.) They may actually like your business, but simply can’t deal with another investment at that exact moment in time, even though they love it. It definitely happens…

Other reasons you may get a No: lack of fit with the firm or individual’s investment thesis/areas or stage. This one is far more likely. Many investors are not what they seem. Every VC you meet in London will say “We do early stage.” What they actually mean is “We invest in profitable companies that don’t really need money”. The risk profile of that firm is simply not one that’s going to invest into an early stage – let alone a seed stage business. Everyone says “Great companies get funded.” but that’s an urban myth. I know several very good companies that haven’t been able to get funded because they were simply “too early”. Think about Fit and Stage when you’re talking to an investor and understand that you may simply not fit the bill. You can test this by asking if they think you should talk to someone else. If they make a suggestion, ask for an intro. You will have confirmed that you’re not right for them, and the intro helps act as validation for your business in the next investors eyes.

Another reason investors may say No is simply a lack of vision. They don’t actually get what you’re doing. It happens a lot. This one is really easy to spot, and understand. If this is the type of No you get, take it and move on. It doesn’t mean they’re an idiot (although that’s what you’ll be thinking), and it also doesn’t mean you’re some gifted visionary (which actually you may be). More likely it just means you see the world differently. It’s a simple No. Move on…

And then sometimes, the No is actually because the baby is… well… ugly. No one likes the Ugly Baby and it’s even worse to have to say it; but bad ideas are plentiful. Perhaps the business won’t scale well (niche business), will be difficult to execute operationally (manually intensive, for example), doesn’t create any real value (reselling someone else’s product/service), is crawling with competitors, etc. This is the hardest one to swallow. When it finally sinks in… and you realize that you’re working on a dud, I’d recommend you cut your losses and do something else.

Whatever answer you hear, focus on your business (unless it’s an ugly baby), and your customers. You’ll get to a yes… maybe it’s a different investor, or it’s a paying customer. But it will be a Yes.

Keep pushing. Believe in yourself.

Filed under: Venture Capital

Creative Destruction

Last week, I spent 3 days in Helsinki at Slush. It’s the second time I’ve been there – last visit was three years ago.

The differences between the two visits were staggering: last time there were circa 500-700 attendees. This year saw a 3000+ sell-out crowd. The floor was so thick you could barely walk. The demo floor was packed with startups – I, foolishly, thought they would be there both days. But they changed them out from Day 1 to Day 2. So, I missed lots of companies I wanted to see…

So how to explain all of this activity- it didn’t come out of nowhere. In my mind, it came out of Nokia. Or Nokia’s downsizing. A classic creative destructive force…

Nokia was the primary employer in Finland for engineers and tech talent, a safe, solid bet. Most Finns in tech were at Nokia 20 years, or that’s the only company they’ve worked with, etc. Working for Nokia was the brass ring. With the company’s decline and the layoffs that ensued, smart techies had to find something else to do. And they did.

Stand-out companies like Supercell have sprung up in the last few years; Rovio is a global brand now – and success is breeding success. The halo effect of these two companies alone means skills and know-how are being shared and transferred to new startups – whether that’s through mentoring, angel investment or collaboration.

It’s a painful time in Finland right now economically, but I think a little bit of short term pain will mean amazing things for the country. Not having Nokia is probably one of the best things that could have happened to the country and the start-up scene in Europe.

A serious tip of the hat to the entrepreneurs I met there building amazing companies.

Filed under: Europreneurship, Events, Conferences and Panels, Games

Android Fragmentation – Your Options

If you’re developing for Android, this picture from Open Signal Maps (portfolio co) is only the start of your problems. Fragmentation permeates every level of Android devices: 400+ devices  with varying screen sizes and resolutions, OS- various versions running (few of them up to date), Silicon – ARM 5, ARM 7, etc. Not so much fun…

Why go through the pain? Well, Android is ramping 6x faster than iPhone. The iPhone is great, but the large mass market is Android. You’re going to have to be there.

There are a few things you can do to make your life easier if you’re resource constrained:

1) Study the OSM map. Pick the top 5-10 handsets to focus on. Develop for them only.

2) Draw a line in the sand. Instagram did this when they launched on Android this spring- they simply didn’t support a range of Android handsets based on an OS line (2.2 and above, thank you). Apple is notorious for doing this as well. Follow their leads.

3) Use testing tools. TestdroidDeviceAnywhere, Perfecto Mobile, etc. These tools allow you to do more testing than you normally could in house and possibly on handsets you’ll have difficulty getting. Use them (they’re inexpensive, or free).

Good luck coding!

Filed under: Android

The Three P’s of Venture Capital

I’ve written many times about what VCs are looking for and what I’m looking for in particular.

I sent out a tweet recently about my 3 P’s of investing and thought I’d elaborate briefly.

1) People. I have to like you. I have to think we can work together. That you’re smart. Opinionated. Informed. That you listen, ask questions, ask for help. That you have a vision and you’re passionate about what you’re doing and that you can execute.

2) Product. I have to love it. Not like it, not see how others might like it after a few beers, but love it. I have want to touch the product, marvel at the design, dream about using the product again. It has to be unique. Not “The Airbnb of lunch” or “Spotify for newspapers”….

3) Potential. We’re doing this to impact millions of people. Why settle for less? In some cases though, great margins on high priced products with smaller markets are good too.

Hard to fit all that fine print into 140 characters…

Filed under: Venture Capital

The Premium Economy

I’ve been trying out various new services lately, and have been completely blown away in most cases. It’s registered that we’re now entering the Premium Economy. And it’s going to make our lives richer, but us poorer… I don’t mean Premium accounts where you lose the banner ads; I mean Premium where you get a slick service. Let me cite a few examples:

1) Halio – You need to live in London, Dublin, Toronto, Chicago to test this one. I’ve only tested the London service; you can hail a cab from the comfort of your table at the restaurant, get notified when your cab’s outside and then pay for the fare all on account (credit card). No hassle, no waiting. I’m addicted. It’s like having a personal driver at your beck and call.

2) Uber - San Francisco, London, Paris- Same thing as Hailo, but the cars are private and *plush*. I was lucky enough to try this one in the City of Lights. Seamless experience from start to finish, all while riding in the back of a sweet BMW.

3) Hotel Tonight – Multiple US cities, London. This is not your ordinary last minute deal site. You get to choose from four boutique hotel rooms and get a 20%+ discount and book in a few clicks. Simple and efficient.

These are three examples of premium services that I simply couldn’t afford otherwise. Think of it as NetJet for normal people. They all offer 1-click purchasing (or maybe 2 clicks), no cash, no hassles and deliver a premium experience for users. This is a new class of app and service I’m seeing emerge. And I like what I see.

If you’re thinking about a new business to launch, think about upgrading to premium…

Filed under: Apps

Berlin rooftop drinks

Filed under: Uncategorized

The Invisible Internet

One area I’m thinking about these days is what I call the “Invisible Internet”, so I thought I’d put a post out there in case there are apps and products I should be looking at. Feel free to reach out if you’re building a company in this space…

Big data is gaining a lot of interest from VCs. e.g. companies that can crunch data and find patterns for large corporations. I’m interested in Big Data for the Little Guy. We invested into Worksmart Labs, who make a great product called Noom. Noom is a pedometer for your Android device. It’s fantastic because once you’ve installed it, you don’t need to do anything else to gain benefits from the app: it sits there and watches you, tracking every step you take. Of course, you probably installed it because you want to know how much exercise, walking etc you’re getting. But that’s the beauty of it – it just sits there silently tracking you. Piling up that data, zero effort from you (except the walking).

I have a withings scale at home, which works on the same principle. I weigh myself every day, but my withings account captures all the data and starts crunching. Fitbit has just announced its wifi scale as well. Strava.com is a cycling site that compares me to others, crunches my data to tell me how hard any given ride was (Strava’s Suffer Score). I love it.

Clearly, wireless healthcare is an area where I’m seeing the Invisible Internet become productized, but there are other areas as well – self writing journals that track where you go, smart home applications that monitor your energy consumption, etc.

Maybe it’s age, but more and more I’d prefer my apps just figure out what it is I’ve done, and what it is I want vs having to work on getting the information in and out of them – I want to be surprised and delighted by insights or information that I would have missed out on otherwise.

I hope to see more of these apps in the future. Or maybe not ;-)

Filed under: Android, Apple, Apps, Artificial Intelligence, Cycling, iOS, iPhone

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