Seedcamp week 2011 – part 1
11. 09. 2011 § 2 Comments
„So… how did you like my presentation?“
The question from a Seedcamp enterpreneur was probably one of the most often asked during Seedcamp Week… I told Alexander, the founder of the dating site Zin.gl, what I thought about the project and the presentation. He was in a crowded space – I said – with zillions of dating sites all over the place. On the other hand, his assertion – that none of these were actually working well to the benefit of their customers – was true, at least as far as I had heard from my friends who use them. We went on to discuss the strengths his project has and the obstacles he was facing.
Our conversation was nothing if not typical for Seedcamp Week. The Seedcamp team had brought together an amazing group of European, US and Canadian startup teams to pitch their projects to a group of mentors and investors which it would have been hard for any other team to pull together. Here, in one room of London’s Imperial College, were some of Europe’s and the world’s smartest and most powerful angel investors and venture capitalists.
Seedcamp is the brainchild of Saul Klein and Reshma Sohoni. Introducing one of the sessions, Saul made a powerful statement: „There are 3 or 4 billion dollars of capital in this room. I guess that takes care of the myth that there is no capital in Europe for startups.“
Back to my discussion with Alexander. As I gave him my impressions of his presentation and his project, he took out a notebook and feverishly jotted down much of what I was saying. Normally, this would not have been unusual. The whole point of Seedcamp is to connect startups with „mentors“ – those of us who are supposedly „older and wiser“ (as the song goes). Very often after speaking to founders I feel that although I am undisputably older, the second attribute is very questionable when compared to these guys. But anyhow…
This whole situation would not have been unusual were it not for the context. Alexander and I were not at Imperial College or any of the surrounding cafes. In fact, we were at „Frank’s House“.
Frank’s House had been communicated to everyone at Seedcamp as the venue of Thursday’s party. There was a bit of confusion – was this a bar, club or restaurant called „Frank’s house“? In fact – no, this was the apartment of Frank Kelcz, a successful businessman who had graciously offered to host the party for all Seedcampers. So it was here, at Frank’s house, that Alexander asked me for feedback on his presentation. It was also 11.30 pm. Booze was flowing freely. Most normal people were talking about something else – wine, women, sports, music, art or… I guess … Frank’s apartment.
This, to me, was the epitome, the symbol of Seedcamp. Alexander was so focused, so determined, so dedicated to his project that he had no problem pulling out a notebook and writing down – in detail – what I said in spite of the fact that we were at a party and it was near midnight. Moreover, he had been through the grueling process that is Seedcamp Week – multiple iterations of presenting your project to mentors, and then receiving feedback (not always positive, but that’s the point) and perfecting your pitch. It’s an exhausting experience, and this was Thursday in the week, and all normal people would have been either asleep or chillin’. To be a founder of a startup in todays fucked-up world, however, you need to be abnormal in one way or the other. At that late, late hour in Frank’s flat, I thought “This guy is nuts. That means his partners placed a bet on a really, really tough dude.”
Needless to say, my thoughts and comments to Alexander were not „world-shattering“. Clearly he had spoken to many, many other mentors besides me and it was up to him to sort out all of the confusing, conflicting feedback he – and all the other teams – had received during Seedcamp Week.
I had been to Mini Seedcamp Ljubljana in July and was really happy to see a good number of teams from that event pitch at Seedcamp Week. In fact, Central and Eastern Europe has been really growing within the Seedcamp family, from the first portfolio members (Zemanta, Ubervu) to becoming – I dare to day – almost a dominating force. Without question, our region at this Seedcamp Week was led by the Amazing Estonians. Four projects – out of twenty – came from this small Baltic powerhouse with a population of 1.3 million people. The Twitter hashtag #EstonianMafia, apparently coined by Dave McClure, caught on and stuck throughout the week.
The Estonians were, however, only the most visible amongst the Central and Eastern European crews. Two teams each from Slovenia and Austria (which I count into CEE, but that’s another discussion), one from Croatia and one from Russia made up this formidable Eastern lineup. Investors have noticed this and I hear more and more interest amongst them to look more closely at what’s going on behind the former Iron Curtain.
But apparently it’s not just me. Let’s see what others have to say:
„The big “aha!” moment for me was to see how much talent, energy and passion we’ve discovered coming out of Eastern Europe.“ says Fred Destin of Atlas Venture, a Seedcamp investor and supporter from Day 1. Fred’s presentation on the life cycle of startups in Ljubljana was a totally inspiring event in and of itself, super cool for those of us who attended in person, but also available online.
One distinction during the event which I noticed was the one between crowded and empty fields. Many of the Seedcamp finalists were in “hot” areas where they needed to beat both established players and up-and-coming competitors. These areas include location based services (Oust.me), VOIP (Vox.io), dating (Zin.gl)… Others, however, were creating projects in segments that had not been approached by others before – at least not by many others.
All told – disruption seemed to be the phrase du jour, along with „broken“. Many sectors and industries were declared to be „broken“ by the ambitious startup founders: telecoms, financial services, online dating, renting out your flat… It remains to be seen, of course, whether our friends from Seedcamp will succeed in „busting“ these large, established industries. We all certainly wish them success.
I’ll get into discussing some of the teams in subsequent posts – watch this space 🙂