On September 12th to 14th, Lauretta.io exhibited at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, one of only four Singaporean companies there. Disrupt was our first exhibition and marked the soft launch of our product. We set out to meet potential investors and soak up inspiration and fresh ideas from the best of San Francisco, and we came back with all that and so much more.
Here are five lessons from the battlefield:
- Disrupt was not an exhibition… it was really a competition
In case the name didn’t thoroughly give it away, the startup battlefield is a REAL battle. As part of the Retail and E-commerce section, we were lucky to be pitching a hardware based solution that stood out. Many others pitching online marketplaces and advertising solutions were not so lucky. It was painful to watch a slew of new – but similar – handheld video camera companies fight over the same niche audience.
Yet we learnt that your idea is a small element of your startup. Unique differentiators are built into the DNA of a startup from the get go and these are the seeds of future distinction.
- You pitch everyone differently
I estimate that I pitched Lauretta.io over 100 times in those 6 hours alone. I had a 2-minute video which I thought was just brief enough to show, but in the end, I only displayed the full video ONCE. I found myself jumping to 2 or 3 key moments when the system was being shown in action again and again.
And I realised that I could have cut the video down to 12 seconds.
Although I was talking about the same product each of those 100 times and I knew equally little about the person I was talking to, my pitch just kept evolving.
I estimate that 90% of this change comes from by temporal elements such as my own energy levels and my visual first impression of the person I’m pitching. I can obviously see the impact of my inherent biases. I pitch more carefully to people in suits and with the words “venture” in the company name. I have simplified pitches for students and younger folk. I also found myself constantly thrown off by the Eastern Europeans. They were always polite and impeccably dressed although that clearly had no intention of a follow up. Which brings me to my next point…
- The world was at Disrupt
I left a Singaporean start up circle heavily overrepresented by upper middle-class overseas educated English speaking Chinese males, to go to what I assumed was the centre of upper middle-class English speaker Californians.
That was not what I saw.
Firstly, while Singaporeans are multi-ethnic and multi-racial, our mannerisms and thoughts are distinctly Singaporean. In contrast, the Disrupt crowd there was both combatively, aggressively individual and truly international. Looking through my contact list, I have Japanese, Indian, Mexican and Swedish follow ups among others. It was amazing and that was absolutely the point of it all.
- The audience is nothing like those in Singapore
When I was working in NY raising money for an on-demand economy startup, I remember people telling me how you would raise money in the East Coast by showing investors how they would not lose money and raise on the West Coast by showing how they would make money. This proved unerringly true my time there, but I never connected this back to the Singapore scene since I was not part of it at the time.
When I came back to Singapore I learnt that this is present in the extreme. Our inherently risk adverse Singaporean psyches were doubly restricted by the highly directed nature of government incentives. Startups were not so much good or bad, but in line or not in line.
This clarity of direction is both liberating and suffocating, smothering valuable inspiration with the same stroke as it fans the growing local startup community. I contend that the suffocated ones might be more valuable to the startup environment in general. Time will tell.
- Disrupt will transform your start-up and your product
As I mentioned in point 4, a lot of the variation in my pitching can be explained by temporal factors, but the rest of the variation comes from something special.
There is a certain magic about articulating your gift to the world again and again to interested parties.
Over time I become so much more confident about Lauretta.io. Not just the pitch, but the very idea and future of the company became crystal clear in our minds.
Lauretta.io left Singapore as a random mess of energy looking for direction and returned as an opinionated company ready to conquer the next challenge.
We have never been more excited. Stay tune for more!