As the 2016 edition of the FinTech Startup Weekend Zurich
#swzh16 draws nearer, this seems the perfect time to reflect on my own experience with CrowdCrawler. CrowdCrawler was born during last year edition and has gone through the various ups and downs of most start-up projects. Indeed, it has been a bumpy ride since last October, but a very enriching and enlightening one, where I have accumulated a wealth of experience and knowledge. This post summarizes my main findings and aims to support any wannabee-entrepreneur in accelerating their learning and focusing on what really matters to perhaps, one day, feature on the global FinTech map! I hope you will find these helpful.
How to make the best of your FinTech Startup Weekend?
1) Whether you have your own idea, or are just looking to listen to others, picking the right idea does matter. Avoid crowded areas… we don’t need another all singing and dancing robo-adviser or payment solution, unless you bring real potential for innovation and disruption in this space… Any “Business” participant will be able to tell whether the field is already crowded, so pay attention to their comments after the initial pitch (CrowdCrawler focused on the real-estate crowdfunding area in the European market which was a sufficiently niche but growing area to ensure that we could get sales traction, ahead of potential competitors).
2) After the idea, it will be time to pick the right team. Again avoid crowded areas, both literally as large teams are difficult to manage and it will be challenging to produce something meaningful in 54 hours if 10+ persons want it their own way (Team CrowdCrawler was a team of 3 which allowed us to decide fast, while at the same time remain efficient in splitting work and parallelising tasks), and figuratively as a team composed of similar profiles will not go very far as it will think and act the same (while going through the hoops of the Startup Weekend was possible with a team of business experts only, CrowdCrawler definitely struggled to launch as there was no real technical expert among the founder members). So you try to assemble a small and varied team that can cover the main angles: business and technical expertise, sales & marketing and finance.
3) Throughout the week-end, you will get access to coaching sessions, make sure you use the FinTech/Startup expert coaches available to test your ideas, your business model, your technical solution. They will bring some helpful challenge and will put the finger on what does not work (CrowdCrawler was able to palliate to the lack of technical knowledge by quizzing and grilling the technical internet platform experts at each opportunity during the weekend and relied on their feed-back to develop a credible technical story, despite having no real technical expert).
4) While it’s clear that the 54 hours will go very quickly and you want to focus 100% on your idea, don’t forget to network with the other teams, this is also the essence of the exercise and whilst it may not be seen relevant at first glance, understanding what other teams are doing and how they go about addressing their issues will be very beneficial to your team (given our stretched resources, CrowdCrawler was not able to mingle so much with others and wasted some critical time on Saturday before pivoting our business model, with a bit more of talks with the other teams, we could have decided to pivot earlier).
5) Start establish your brand early and use the social networks from get-go to seek feed-back and customer validation (CrowdCrawler started to engage experts on LinkedIn and Twitter late on Saturday, feed-back was slow to come and meaningful contributions only came late evening and during Sunday, which was very late to improve our idea, but still we did manage to incorporate some feed-back and it was the right thing to do, but we should have done more and earlier to increase credibility).
6) Have fun! We all agree 54 hours is too short and if this startup idea is really taking off, then soon enough it will get serious, but for now, just enjoy the moment and get creative (the best moment for CrowdCrawler was when we established our strategy to rule over the world… and then we pivoted the business model to deliver something more realistic… we all have big dreams, don’t we?).
How to get to the podium?
Obviously there are lots of factors that will go towards determining the winner, but remember that it is primarily a competition between 10 to 12 ideas, so winning it is more about being the best among those 10 or 12, than having the most elaborated idea in the world… the real test will be on Monday when you decide whether to launch…
These are the four key points that deserve all your attention:
1) The problem you are solving: is it a small, niche problem? If yes, then it means no market, no revenue, no future, so, forget it. Is it a big problem? Then how big is this market? What is the revenue potential? Is your problem well understood and simple to explain? Will the clients, will the jury identify themselves with this issue you intend to solve for them? Your pitch will need to show that you have validated this problem and that your solution is appropriate and appealing (CrowdCrawler picked a personal challenge faced by real crowded-funding investors and developed a straight-forward solution for it).
2) What is your business model: how do you make money with your solution? Relying on advertisement flows from a large audience will probably not be enough to convince any investor or the jury… remember you are not Facebook, at least not just yet… So you will need to be realistic in your assumptions and inventive to find a model to spit cash! (CrowdCrawler started as a freemium model, but we pivoted to a subscription based model to guarantee the cash flow and reinforce our independence from the crowdfunding platforms we planned to assess and rate).
3) A good pitch is simply not enough: you need a perfect pitch, so practice, practice, practice! The pitch is the conclusion of your weekend work, you want it to be flawless, well oiled and like a fairytale story. It requires hardwork: nice slides (as little text as possible) and timed and controlled delivery flow. Practice as many times as necessary, learn by heart, and time yourself: you don’t want to be told halfway through that you have 1 minute left… Best if only delivered by one person! (CrowdCrawler had 11 slides which were covered in 6 minutes at reasonable talking speed, our “CEO” practiced the speech countless times to make sure it would flow impeccably, and it did).
4) Handle questions efficiently: go to the point and avoid going into long winded answers! In fact, this is the chance for the rest of the team to shine and show they too are on the ball. Try to be as calm as possible as the questions will test difficult points for which you may not have an answer yet, and never become aggressive if you get challenged… yeah, sounds obvious, but believe me I have seen people get mad at simple questions. (CrowdCrawler was able to navigate through this tricky phase and leveraged the questions to showcase the benefits of the solution and the economics of the business model that were not covered during the presentation, so it was all added bonus).
Last piece of advice: in my view, try to limit the time you spend explaining the technical solution and focus on selling a story instead. I have seen too many presentations fail because the teams wasted their first 5 minutes going through how the solution would work, to the nth level of detail, and either ran out of time for the rest (business model, market, competitors, etc) or simply did not have it in their presentation… Don’t do this mistake!
How to accelerate your idea and launch for real?
Good, you have made it to the podium, congrats, now you can claim your spot in the FinTech Hall of Fame, but can you really? In fact, time is of the essence now, because your idea is in the open, and if it is really good, then competition is going to come after you… but relax, and remember: competition is good. It means two things: first, your idea is certainly good, as other people think like you that there is a market for it, and second, it also means that you won’t be alone to educate the market and try to convince potential clients. Your only constraint is that you need to deliver and execute faster and better than your competitors!
So, these should be the first steps you take after a good night sleep:
1) Get your team in order: complete any missing skill or knowledge. That’s where it pays to have spent a little bit of time networking with the other teams over the weekend, as there are probably some good people who picked the wrong idea or the wrong team, or both, and did not make it to the podium, but have the energy, the drive, the motivation, the will to succeed and happen to have what your team is missing (CrowdCrawler was not able to recruit a full stack web developer in its starting trio and should have looked for one on Sunday afternoon through contacts made over the weekend, it would have given us the kick we needed to launch immediately).
2) Develop a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) as soon as possible and engage with your potential market. Where possible try to get cash for the service you sell, as this is the acid test and you want to face this reality as soon as possible (CrowdCrawler took over 8 months to be in a position to launch its platform with a minimum service that could have been charged, even for a symbolic subscription fee. This was too long as in the meantime two other competitors were already up and running on the same market).
3) Start marketing and developing your brand so you can leverage your fantastic win of the FinTech Startup Weekend Zurich 2016 edition. This requires a minimal investment of time and effort to roll out a robust and attractive landing page and some communication skills to develop a witty identity on the social networks. Make sure your dreamed twitter handle is not already taken when you choose your company name! (CrowdCrawler was active on Twitter and LinkedIn very early, attracting some followers, but the landing page was poor and hardly got any traffic, leading to disappointment and lack of motivation to really put in the effort).
4) Look for additional training and support to help you through. Venturelab have a good Startup Accelerator Programme (http://www.venturelab.ch/en) and Venture offers coaching with top notch startup and industry experts through their annual Venture competition (http://www.venture.ch/). You can also follow specific startup training with the CTI – Commission for Technology and Innovation (http://startuptraining.ch/program/business-creation/) (I was lucky enough to be able to follow these three programs as we were going through the first steps of launching CrowdCrawler. I have learned a lot through the trainings but also from discussing with the speakers and startup experts, but bear in mind that you will still be responsible for bringing the industry expertise and the technical know-how, i.e. if like CrowdCrawler you plan to develop an internet platform and your team can’t code, these programs wont teach you that!).
5) Don’t waste your time in doing all the other FinTech contests you can register for. Your FinTech Startup Weekend win is enough to demonstrate that there is potential. Now, you really need to focus on your MVP and on get it to market as fast as possible, and where you can, in generating your first revenues. Next time you will consider another contest is when you have earned some revenues and reached the next stage of development – no point wasting time and energy on these contests before that (Team CrowdCrawler was unsure about the sales traction we could achieve and instead of focusing on developing a pilot and trialling our service, we decided to do other FinTech contests against projects/startups that were already generating revenues… bottom line we never won again, we lost energy and motivation and most importantly we wasted time, that other used to develop their solution and roll it out to market before us!).
6) Once you have some revenues, look for accelerators and angel investors to help you through the next step. Incubators and startup accelerators will run regular pitch competition to select their next recruits, it helps if you have already developed your MVP and are able to show revenues. F10 (www.f10.ch) and Swiss Startup Factory (www.swissstartupfactory.com) will be the obvious initial choices (they were the sponsor of the last two FinTech Startup Weekends for a good reason), but plenty other options exist. Angel investor networks will also be able to provide both financial support and mentoring to help you scale up. Go Beyond Investing (www.go-beyond.biz), Investiere (www.investiere.ch), Business Angel Switzerland (www.businessangels.ch) or Swiss Startup Invest (www.swiss-startup-invest.ch) are possible sources for you.
The last word
The FinTech Startup Weekend Zurich 2016 Edition could be the initial kick to start your next FinTech startup project. Once you are there on Friday, talk about your project a lot, to many people so you can collect multiple feed-backs and improve your idea and your pitch. Then pitch and get the right team around you and start working. Find the right business model and start building your MVP. Deliver the perfect pitch on Sunday! Good luck, i will be there watching! And remember: have fun and network, network, network!
More reading about founding companies:
- Founding a Company in Switzerland event 22 nov 2016
- Zurich Founding Institute launch event 2 nov 2016
Lionel is asset and wealth management specialist, angel investor and learner-entrepreneur. As a FinTech enthusiast, he was part of the winning team of the FinTech Startup Weekend Zurich 2015 Edition. He posts regularly on entrepreneurship, start-ups, FinTech, business angel investing and crowdfunding.
CrowdCrawler is the 1st aggregator & comparator of crowdfunding real estate deals, helping global investors make timely and informed investment decisions. More info at firstname.lastname@example.org