Conferences are tricky for a startup. Unless you are an AirBNB or Reddit founder, a hot chick or the organizer, no one is going to look for you there. This is because (hardly) no one knows you. Yeah, that’s sad, I know. Anyway, the point is that it’s your job to get to the people you want to get to and get the most of the event. Here is how to do it right.
Working on a new project is exciting. It’s especially exciting when the project is a result of the vision you had a long time ago but only NOW is the time it can actually come true.
It’s exciting to brainstorm an idea one day only to learn next day this is exactly what the people want. It’s exciting when you hear folks on the streets talking about, demanding exactly what you’ve been working on. And it’s also frustrating to know it will still take a few months (and sometimes years) for them to be able to use it.
But most of all it’s exciting. It’s like discovering new lands, inhabiting empty cities. I’m sure this is how Herman Cortez felt when he first came to America (before he eventually went insane, created his own little kingdom and died alone).
It’s the excitement that drives me and helps me do what I do, even though it might not entirely make sense to many of you at the very moment. I know it doesn’t make sense to any of you, yet 🙂
So let me explain.
Over the last few years millions of people in the US cancelled their cable subscription (here are the numbers) in favor or devices like Boxee, Roku or Apple TV where they can watch what they want, any time they want, straight on their huge TV screen. They watch movies on Netflix, shows on Hulu and other video content on websites like Revision3, YouTube or DailyMotion. They hated the dictatorship of cable providers, but now that thay have the freedom of choice, they realize they miss the live shows. It’s great to be able to watch what they want, but it’s equally great to watch shows together with friends, sharing the viewing experience with others.
They want live TV but without the networked programming part. They want to choose what they wanna watch but also share the experience. They want the TV to be personal and social at the same time.
People are sick of TV. Let’s change it!
For the last two years I’ve been building the best movie recommendation engine on Earth and deployed it on the mobile to help you find movies in nearby theaters, and on the web to let you discover movies and shows you’ll love. But I relized that discovering great content is more fun if you can watch it instantly on the device you’re working on. I want people to experience both live TV and VOD content and YouTube shows, and any other kind of Internet video on their TV.
We’re living in exciting times for TV. Cables are losing customers and need new ways to encourage subscribers. Great minds envision we’ll be watching TV on many devices like iPads or laptops. This is already happening in small scale. Startups around the globe work on hundreds of second-screen apps that make your viewing experience more social. I believe all these are great, especially for the geeks. But 90% of the TV viewing experience will stay on TV, anyway. That’s why I believe that the TV is the next place for Filmaster.
I think the first platform that allows us to fully experience both traditional EPG and on-demand video in a personalized way is Google TV. It integrates with your cable EPG, allows you to watch content on Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo and all other sources. It encourages interaction and is free of crazy restrictions. But it lacks one thing: a personalized guide that will know your taste and will let you discover movies and shows you’ll love and play them instantly on your TV. That’s why Google TV is the first platform we’ll be releasing Filmaster.TV on.
But this is only the beginning. I want Filmaster to be the service cables use to stop people from cancelling subscription. I want it to be the service new IPTV providers deploy to gain competitive advantage. I want it to be in millions of homes in the US and elsewhere. I want it to be what people first see when they turn on their TV and use it to choose what to watch.
That’s why I’m so excited. We’re entering a new game, we’re trying to disrupt the industry that hasn’t changed for decades. We’re trying to make TV more like the Internet, but filtering out all the stuff you’re not interested in. We want you to start your TV viewing experience with Filmaster to discover all the great content, whether it’s live or on-demand. And we’re gonna succeed because this is what the majority of the people want.
Let me know whether or not you agree with my vision in the comments!
Last weekend I was mentoring at Startup Weekend Szczecin, the first Polish-German meetup of this kind. It was my first Startup Weekend and also the first time I mentored on any startup event. Startup Weekends are events organized all over the globe where young people have 2 days to organize a team, analyze the market and implement a product prototype. Quite a challange!
The winner of StartupWeekend Szczecin was ScatchApp – both by jury, mentors and community vote. It’s an app coded by Michał Łyczek, that transforms hand-drawn diagrams into HTML diagrams (like flow charts or mockups). Michał managed to produce a working prototype just in 2 days and pitched his idea in such an energetic way it is obvious he’s set to succeed. And he already found a partner, a German company in the flow chart business! I recorded a live demo of his product, so you can see it for yourself here:
Another team that got recognition was Sportfolio, “Linkedin for sports”, a startup created by Anna Pietka, a just-graduated student with no experience with “the Internets”, but with a lot of passion, ideas and a very important feature: the ability to listen and change her idea based on feedback. You can listen to Anna pitching Sportfolio here:
Other startups included Vinestry, a wine discovery app (similar to Vivino), Dine_Alike, which helps people socialize around food, Festivity, a CMS for events, StreetAd which is set to revolutionize street ads, or Taskbeat, a task management tool for companies.
Here are some of my thoughts fresh after the event
– StartupWeekend is the best place to be if you want to become an Internet entrepreneur but don’t know know to start.
– If you want to get feedback: listen, don’t talk! Some people could not stop from blabbing about their ideas all the time, instead of listening to others and making these ideas better. The most successful were those who listened, like Michał and Anna.
– Show your passion for the idea. Come to StartupWeekend with a goal to get this idea going and do everything possible to get it going. Passion is contageous. People follow those with passion as they become the successful ones. If you want to be a leader, show your passion and show that you really want to achieve it.
– Woody Allen once said that 80% of success is showing up. Very true, especially in case of events like StartupWeekend. Show up, meet people, don’t sit at home!
You can follow some of the new startups on Twitter:
So, Foursquare introduced event check-ins, including movie theater check-ins. Now you can not only check in to a cinema like to any other building but also check-in to a specific movie in that cinema. The listings are provided by MovieTickets.com.
VentureBeat dooms GetGlue and Miso, popular media check-in apps. As a founder of the first cinema check-in app, Filmaster Mobile, my first reaction was obviously fear. How are we going to compete against that monster?? Then came pride. After all, we did it first and I guess the fact that Foursquare is copying means we did something right. Eventually, I started thinking: how do we benefit from this move? This is what I came up with.
Foursquare cinema check-in
1. Different goals
Foursquare is a location-centered app. Its competitors are Gowalla, Bizzy or Whatser, not necessarily GetGlue, Miso or Filmaster.
Those are two different markets with different business models. Foursquare wants to give users on the go the best recommendations what to do on the go. So the use case is – you are somewhere downtown and you are wondering what to do, you check the app and it tells you – go to that restaurant behind the corner or go to opera or watch that movie. As one of the choices.
Filmaster, on the other hand, is a movie discovery service. We started with “Foursquare for film” slogan (picked up by the press) but what we really focus on is providing our users most relevant, personalized movie recommendations in all available channels. Cinemas came first, but in next edition of our app (currently in beta), TV recommendations and Netflix suggestions are coming, to give the user a full picture.
Foursquare will never want to recommend you to stay home and watch TV as this is against their business model and general vision.
2. Different use cases
Foursquare is general, Filmaster is specific Just as Twitter did not become a competitor to Foursquare and Instagram by applying location and pictures, Foursquare will not endanger Filmaster for applying showtimes. It’s a matter of perception. When people want to share their current location or see what’s around, they launch Foursquare. When they want to comment on something, they do it on Twitter. When they wanna share a picture, they do in on Instagram. Similarly, when they want to learn what to watch, they launch Filmaster as it’s the app fully focused on movie recommendations, with a community of movie-lovers, not random people sharing stuff.
Filmaster cinema check-in
3. Quality of recommendations
Even though I don’t believe this is their goal, let’s assume for one minute that Foursquare will actually start providing specific domain recommendations, i.e. recommending books, whisky (btw, do you know of a good single malt recommender service? I need it desperately!), or movies. Are these recommendations going to be of good quality? I very much doubt it. On Filmaster an average user rates 100 movies. Yes, one hundred. This is a good number on which we can base when preparing personalized suggestions. On Foursquare, on the other hand, people are going to check into movies only when they go out to a cinema. Even if that happens once a week (hardcore cinema-goers), it will take 2 years for the most dedicated users to generate a similar dataset. Sure, overall, the number of movie check-ins may be bigger, but that’s irrelevant if we don’t know the tastes of individual users.
For same reason, Filmaster provides much more precise recommendations than GetGlue, as our algorithm is specifically written to recommend movies, not restaurants, celebrities or wine.
So, summing up, a day passed and my attitute to the new Foursquare feature has changed completely. I see it now as a chance, not a threat. The more people learn that you can actually check-in to single screenings, the harder they will look for alternatives. And this is where Filmaster comes in handy. If you haven’t tried it, yet, here’s a link for you: http://filmaster.com/mobile/ 🙂
I’m looking forward to your comments either here or on Twitter.
It was June 2011. I’ve been running Filmaster.com from home for over half a year by that time. And I felt I’m getting less productive each day. Something had to change. I decided I need a separate place to work with my whole team. So I started searching.
A five people company is a pain when looking for a headquarter in Warsaw. You can take a room or two in a huge office space downtown but it feels corporate – you don’t necessarily want to work on your startup next to an estate agent. Another option is to take a small flat. Really small. Like a studio. The problem is – it’s way too expensive if you want it in a well-commuted area, and it’s way too obscure if you want it cheap. Sounds like mission impossible… so I gave up.
I gave up searching alone and started talking to fellow startupers. It quickly turned out a few of them were actually looking for a new place at the same time as well. So we decided to team up with HumanWay.com (great HR platform) and Homplex.pl (which helps set up your flat). That’s three small companies and some 15 people in total – a much better starting point to look for a cool location. So, we started looking together. We saw a few nice flats. I mean, nice places where you could live with your wife or have a rich-looking notary office. But not exactly a place we imagined our startups would fit in. We also saw some office spaces… which all looked like all other office spaces. And a few houses, mostly in a very bad state, requiring a lot of work to put back on track. So… we were stuck again. We haven’t found anything that we’d feel comfortable in and the few cool locations were simply too expensive. So then… a crazy idea came up!
Why not get something that we cannot afford?! Sounds stupid and irresponsible? Sure! But This is what we did 🙂
Taking risks is something I got used to. It got me into huge debts before but it also allows me to do what I love. So, it didn’t take long to make the decision: we’re renting the best house we’ve seen during these 2 weeks Of search and we’re starting something that could be best described as a startup commune. We invite all cool startups to work with us together, charging a minimal price for a desk, so that we could gather a bunch of most exciting, innovative and awesome Warsaw startups in one place. The vision was big, so how did it go? Well, lots of cool people replied at first when we announced our plans. Then some of them changed their mind for different reasons and we got worried. We needed at least 6 additional people in there so that we wouldn’t end up paying a ridiculous rent ourselves. Instead, we got… 18 in a month! The response outgrew our expectations! Now we have startups like MyGuidie.com (city guide network), LinkFndr.com (a klout lookalike), Citilia.pl (Polish opentable), sejmometr.pl (government monitoring service), DI.com.pl (Polish arsTechnica), mediafun (famous blogger, Polish Scobleizer) with his crew, walldate.com (Facebook dating) and some amazing freelancers like Janek (portfolio: http://sirjanshomestead.com) working in one place, that we called ReaktorWarsaw.
I can’t say exactly where we’re going, yet, as there is no plan, just a spontaneous series of events taking place because all of us what them to happen. I’m pretty sure, however, that it’s the best place to work and run a startup ever so if you arrive in Warsaw, Poland, don’t even think of NOT visiting Reaktor.net!
I’d like to share with you some of my observations after spending a week in Bay Area promoting my startup. Filmaster (http://filmaster.com) is a service that recommends movies available in your area that you are going to enjoy & allowing distributors to acquire potential fans of their upcoming releases.
The main event we took part in was EU Startup Demo Night organized by blackbox.vc (known for the Startup Genome project you might have heard of). Filmaster was invited there as one of the top 10 European internet companies (thanks to a GammaRebels recommendation) to pitch in front of some major Silicon Valley VCs like Silicon Valley Bank, DFJ, and others.
The event took place in pariSoma, a cool co-working space located in downtown San Francisco. It was especially interesting to visit the venue, as we only recently started a similar place in Warsaw, Poland: Reaktor.net.
And here are some of the hints that I think should be useful to you if you’re planning a similar trip to promote your startup.
1. Know your high-level pitch
This is one sentence that best describes what you do and that should convince people you’re doing something interesting and that it’s worth talking to you for 3 minutes more.
Make this as precise and interesting as possible.
If you have a platform that enables server owners to quickly sell their CPU resources by only using an USB stick (this is what Witsbits.com does), do not say that you are going to “bring cloud computing closer to companies” because that’s meaningless.
If you have an analytics company that works real-time, tracking any device (like Capptain.com), say that, as opposed to saying that you have a “business-enabling platform allowing companies to earn more money” as that could as well apply to a hosting service or a coffee vendor.
2. Know your elevator pitch
By heart. And I mean by heart. We practiced our pitch with Pawel for the whole previous day and we said it at least 25 times loudly before being sure it’s good. You should be talking in a natural way, not as if you were reading a prepared document. This way the person you’re pitching knows you did your homework and you’re serious about your business.
When they ask “that sounds interesting, could you tell me more?” this is what you should tell them. Ideally it should tell what problem your product solves, what the market size is, and what your traction is (if you have any). A cool example that sticks in their mind is good as well.
3. Know the investors
Ask who is coming to the event and do your research about each VC, angel or journalist that confirmed to arrive. This way you know who to talk to and what do you want from them.
It’s astonishing how few startupers do that!
4. Approach the people you want to talk to as soon as you can!
Contrary to common sense (as you know your startup is the most revolutionary idea on the planet), the VCs usually don’t run after you. They probably don’t even know you (and don’t really get how you’re “different than X” even if they heard your pitch already). It’s you who have to reach out to them, sell your idea and make them excited about it. This fight for attention is something that’s very different in Silicon Valley compared to Europe. In Poland everyone seems to have a lot of time to discuss your product with you. In SV, it’s a real fight and you need to make sure you win it by being one of the first to get the attention of your dream VC.
Even if they only gave you their business card out of courtesy, still thank them for your time, remind them what you wanted from them and offer to meet up later, e.g. via Skype if you’re going back soon.
You can do it via e-mail, LinkedIn or on Twitter, depending which of those channels the VCs use most.
You cannot lose anything by doing a follow-up! And most people still don’t do it for some bizare reason.
Allright, those were the 5 points that probably seem very obvious to you (and if so, good, you are well prepared!). The goal of our trip to SV was not to get Series A right away (as we just got seed-funded by HackFwd.com) but rather gain some good contacts that will be helpful in the future when we actually need more money or need to reach some people in the entertainment industry. Thus, I’m going to share with you in a couple of weeks what was the outcome of the trip based on these criteria.
If you have any questions to this article, ask them on Twitter. My handle is @michuk and I always reply to everyone.
PS. I’d like to thank Lufthanza for making this post possible. I actually wrote it in a plane, on my way back from San Francisco, mostly because the only other option seemed to be watching a sad Chinese romance screened on a small TV above my head.
Location-based check-ins like Foursquare might be slowing down and it may turn out new general check-in services won’t be successful but I believe FSQR is there to stay for a long time – if only it can really turn into being a check-in and recommendation tool, not just an “I’m here people” tool.
Same goes for media check-ins (sites like GetGlue, Miso or our Filmaster) – if you check-in only to tell your friends you’re watching a film or reading a book, that may get boring pretty soon. But if you’re getting something extra like current local movie suggestions or TV recommendations or being able to hook us with cool people living nearby, with similar interests, that’s added value that can’t be overlooked!
Check-in is like a Facebook’s LIKE. By itself, it doesn’t have a big value, but when you look at it globally, analyze the inter-connections and provide users with useful output, amazing possibilities emerge.
So, check-in is not dead. It’s here to stay as a must-have feature in more complex recommendation services. And it has a bright future.
I started using Zite (http://www.zite.com/) a few days ago. It’s an iPad app that grabs your Facebook / Twitter / Google Reader sources and mixes them to create a clean personalized magazine. It seems similar to Flipboard (http://flipboard.com/) but instead of simply displaying recent news / tweets / wall posts, it tries (and succeeds in it) to be smarter and actually provide you with the content that is most important or interesting.
What’s also great, it removes all the ads so the the reading experience is great. They only show you the title, logo of the conent provider and the actual content. No distractions whatsoever. There is a sidebar with a few buttons to enable you to help the recommendation engine serve you better. You can explicitly state whether or not the article you read was useful to you. If so, Zite is supposed to deliver more similar content in the future.
After a few days of using it it suddenly came to me that even though Zite is a great and user-friendly product, it may be that it’s also illegal. Remember Napster? The fantastic way to get access to all the world’s best music tracks? Simple, fast and just works. But RIAA did not share this enthusiasm. The publishers also don’t share it regarding Zite. As I read on ReadWriteWeb (http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/the_ipad_app_that_went_too_far_media_says_cease_de.php), a cease and Desist letterhas been already sent to the company, signed by Time, The Washington Post, McClatchy, E.W. Scripps, Getty Images, National Geographic, Gannett, Dow Jones, Advanced Publications and the Associated Press and it reads:
[…] The Zite application is plainly unlawful. Among other things, it intentially and pervasively infringes on our copyrights by reformatting and republishing substantial portions (and in many cases, the entirety) of our articles and large-scale reproductions of our photographs and illustrations. Further, it misappropriates and infringes our trademarks and falsely implies our affiliateion by prominently featuring certain of our logos on your home screen. Zite uses our content for commercial purposes in a manner that the law prohibits absent agreemnts with each of us. We demand that you immediately cease and desist all such infringing use of our intellectual property, both copyright and trademark, in or in connection with the Zite iPad application. […]
Flipboard CEO seems to agree, stating that “publishers are justifiably concerned with anyone showing entire articles minus ads”. And his right to say it, especially that Flipboard serves only the RSS content provided by publishers, with all ads if there are any, Zite, on the other hand, scrapes the websites delivering pure content, no ads or other distractions. But… what about Google Cache? Or Google Reader with AdBlock turned on? Or a “reader mode” in Safari? Should these be unlawful as well?
Zite’s platform doesn’t really do anything new. They simply did it better than anyone else betore.Just like Napster. It’s the users who add sources. So if sue anyone, sue the users or Zite (and of Adblock). Not that I don’t believe this is exactly what the publishers are gonna do next…