Day 90 – Results are In… Springboard Awards!

You are ALL winners – some are just more ridiculous than others

I often get asked, ‘So who won Springboard?!’ and it’s exhausting to repeatedly explain it’s not a competition between teams. So guess what. Let’s just make it a frickin’ competition.

Business aside, there were those who amused, impressed, confused, and inspired us a little more than usual behind the scenes.

Ballots were cast by the Springboarders themselves, on the very sober night of Investor Day, and the results have finally been counted. Some of these were won by miles while others were a neck-and-neck battle, but without further ado let’s get a *drumroll* …

1. Most Likely to Inspire a Reality TV Show: Dave Hazell, Hubflow

2. Most Likely to Make You Laugh: Dave Hazell, Hubflow

3. Most Quotable: David Buxton, Arachnys

4. Most Likely to Be a Spy: David Buxton, Arachnys

5. Best Dressed: Marius Arras, Publification (it was later suggested I should only have asked for 2nd best dressed – our biggest landslide win!)

6. Most Likely to Write an Autobiography Best Seller: Jim Mann, Total Gigs

7. Most Likely to Wind up on a ‘Most Wanted’ List: Janek Priimann, Publification

8. Most Likely to be TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year: Jakub Nesetril, Apiary.io

9. Most Likely to Get into a Fist Fight at a Pub: Mike Parker, Total Gigs(well he is from Newcastle…)

10. Most Likely to Retire Early: EG Jarasunas, Adwings (it was a tie with ‘nobody’, so we’ll let EG decide if he wants it)

Congratulations to all winners here, and congratulations to those who steered clear of the battlefield! Please feel free to email me your acceptance speeches should you wish you claim your prize.

I think Jon said it best with his recent 6 word email to the teams: ‘Thank you. You did me proud.’ You guys sure did!

Day 89 – Saying Goodbye but Holding on to #11

There’s no easy way to say it.

We’ve had an intense, emotional, wonderful 13 weeks full of ups, downs, and surprises.

Whether it was Apiary.io getting its first sale, Hubflow returning from a successful client meeting, or MiniMonos getting their 200,000th and later 300,oooth user, we’ve celebrated together. And whether it was a shit day of feedback, an overwhelming email to do list, a tear-your-hair-out frustration or an exhausted-beyond-belief week, we’ve picked each other up off the floor.

So waking up the day after Investor Day, anticipating the teams’ imminent moves back to Newcastle, Lithuania, New Zealand, how could we possibly spend the final hours?

While some slept to recharge batteries, others popped awake bright and early, full of adrenaline from Friday’s ordeals. Kaila and Greg invited the early birds to join for coffee – I’ll confess my 5 hours of sleep left me in bed until 10am, so I didn’t quite manage. About a dozen of us met for lunch, and winding up back at La Mimosa we decided to re-enact the previous night’s dinner for anyone whose memory was hazy. My favourite part was thanking Dave for picking up the £500 tab the night before, and watching him sweat as he tried to find a receipt in his wallet. We were also amused by a PlayMob sticker left on the restaurant lamp, like breadcrumbs of our evening’s trail, and the waitress was only disappointed we left the monkey at home this time.

Re-enactments continued as we went punting in the afternoon for anyone who missed it on Friday. Visitors Petr Ocasek and Lukas Hudecek even brought a video camera onboard, filming an interview along the way to use for Czech Republic’s new accelerator StartupYard. It seems everything is better on a punt, eh?

By nightfall our numbers were dwindling, and I joined Julian and Marius for a final Springboard night at The Fez. Earning my third Fez stamp in four days, I was probably breaking all local health warnings but it was well worth it to enjoy the company. A 3am trip to Trailer of Life topped off my ‘Best of Springboard in Cambridge’ day of reliving.

The goodbyes didn’t get any easier, but they did get funnier. Rait told Jakub, ‘Let us know when you come to Estonia – hopefully we’re not there anymore…’ You can always count on Rait for a surprise laugh. I suppose I’d be concerned if it weren’t difficult to walk away, if we hadn’t celebrated and suffered together, if we hadn’t grown close in 3 months of madness. I’m trying to be thankful for all the good times, and look forward to seeing everyone in random adventures, future events, TV commercials, Forbes Magazine – we’ll be cheering for you guys all the way.

Through all of these tough goodbyes, I’ve finally come to a firm conclusion: ten teams may be dispersing to their separate cities or countries, but the 11th team isn’t going anywhere.

Day 88 [Part 2] – Pitching on a Punt; Bottling Investor Day Goodness

Being in Cambridge, it just had to be done!

A walking tour and punting trip entertained our touristy spirits for the afternoon, offering a taste of Cambridge history and charm.

The walking tour was bravely led by super knowledgeable Carol Atack, kindly volunteered by husband Alex van Someren, and a group of walkers hit the streets to sight-see the lovely town and Cambridge colleges. A surprise highlight was running into Rory McGrath on the tour, or perhaps Carol sneakily arranged (nicely done in any case!), but in a place like Cambridge you never know what famed people you’ll encounter.

At the same time 50 of us sight-saw from a different perspective, hopping into punts for a classic Cambridge adventure. Punts, by the way, are these stereotypical Cambridge boats that get propelled along by long poles & ideally a punter to do the hard work for you (I had a few adventurous sign-ups for ‘punting, whatever that is’). I’m not sure who managed to pitch on their punts, but Daniela gave us a good 30 second rendition of PlayMob‘s pitch while having a go at punting herself. I, on the other hand, turned our punt 90 degrees into a wall in just one stroke – apparently my navigation skills are as impressive on water as they are on land.

In the continued theme of Investor Day, we passed wine bottles around the punts and turned our lack of cork screws into a team challenge. No surprise all the bottles did get opened with clever minds onboard, and our boat likewise managed our screw top without great struggle. The funniest sight was surely the punting monkeys, as MiniMonos took their cut-outs for a ride, and I’m sure they’ve made their way into photos of many punters passing by. It was all quite a good laugh!

Meanwhile Jon and Brad Feld ran off with Eric Van Der Kleij for a cuppa at Number 10, as one does, meeting with one of David Cameron’s senior policy adviser to talk business. This, Jon claimed, was the reason for his suited attire in place of the usual Friday cowboy hat – combined with the beard shave, he was hardly recognisable! I hear it was a productive startup-related chat with those parties around the table, but have yet to get all the gossip – will see if I can reveal more later in announcements to come.

In the evening we viewed the world from above once again, with a drinks party on the roof terrace of The Varsity Hotel. We were all wowed by the views of Cambridge from the 7th floor, which almost felt like the 100th, and more than half our morning crew reconvened to join in. Formalities went out the window – or roof – as everyone relaxed and enjoyed themselves, and we poured through the planned 30 bottles of wine in half the time. Another 20 bottles later, I was just thankful for the sturdy glass walls so we didn’t lose anyone.

Festivities continued for the Springboard team members with dinner at La Mimosa, where our waitress fell in love with the monkey, and eventually led us to the usual late-night haunt of The Fez. I was impressed mentors Jens LapinskiKaty Turner, and visitors Lukas HudecekJosh Russell, and Robbie Beak kept up with us the whole way, and by the end of the night even Jon was breaking out his dance moves.

3am goodbyes in the street took over half an hour, full of hugs and promised visits. I know with people’s jet-setting styles we’ll be crossing paths in no time, but it really was hard to walk away. We could hardly have concluded on higher note, though, so thank you again for everyone’s incredible hard work, dedicated support, and utmost positivity. Let’s bottle up all the goodness and tap into it for years to come!

Day 88 [Part 1] – Investor Day on Top of the World!

Turnout was tremendous and anyone walking in past 10am got to pick their favourite floor patch or standing position. Attendees were a mix of angel and VC investors, cool corporates, and entrepreneurs like the founders of eHarmony and Red Gate; we were absolutely delighted so many great people could make it.

Guest of honour Brad Feld took time away from his holiday in France in order to join us, which was really above and beyond, but as Co-founder of TechStars and Foundry Group (invested in Zynga) he’s of course known for going out of his way to help the startup scene. There was a buzz about the place knowing Brad was joining in.

The theme of community was clear and strong, with the emphasis on mentors being the key ingredient. If you can get quality mentors and teams together, ‘you actually can create a phenomenon that changes the way entrepreneurship works’.

And to the mentors who have been involved in Springboard, Brad added, ‘Thank you for engaging and participating because that’s what makes the magic happen.’

With the scene set, and the mood just right, pitches began. Each team took the floor for 5 minutes of fame, subjected to Jon’s oh-so-serious introductions. One founder of Lithuanian team Adwings does a stellar Robbie Williams karaoke, one member of Apiary.io got married in Czech Republic two days before Springboard began, and the members of Tastebuds just released their first full length CD album.

As for the pitches, the 10 teams of Springboard were finally revealed! In alphabetical order – spanning consumer apps, gaming, enterprise software, developer tools – they are:

  • Adwings is a one stop advertising destination that lets advertisers plan, book and track advertising across various media channels, ranging from print to digital media, from mobile to outdoor, and even video (TV to YouTube).
  • Apiary.io is a hosted suite of tools that helps companies build web APIs quickly, test/monitor them easily and document them effortlessly.
  • Arachnys consolidates valuable business information from emerging markets helping companies increase opportunities and reduce risk in complex but attractive markets like India, China, and Russia.
  • Hubflow enables companies to distribute training content to their workforce’s mobile devices, saving them time & money that would be spent running training workshops.
  • Mayday alerts companies to problems users experience on their website, saving the business lengthy testing time and preventing lost sales.
  • MiniMonos is a virtual world for kids who love to play & love the planet.
  • PlayMob enables charities to fundraise through games with a platform that links virtual objects to causes.
  • Publification is a platform for publishers to convert their file-based ebooks to platform agnostic Browserbooks that can be read on over 2 billion existing devices.
  • Tastebuds is an innovative dating website that helps you meet like-minded people who share your love for music.
  • TotalGigs enables disparate groups of users to collectively share and relive event experiences.

Then came the demos! We moved to The Hall, enjoying a scenic little walk through Christ’s College, where everyone was able to check out the products in action. There is something quite funny about such an old classic venue showing off the latest startups in mobile and web, but it had a fun vibe (surely unrelated to our 100 bottles of wine on hand – blank cheques anyone?). I was also amused by the clever Adwings T-Shirts with their funding ask 250K in giant print on the back, and MiniMonos surprised us with the biggest monkey cut-outs I’ve ever seen – taller than me!

So, what was it actually like for those involved? Pitchees definitely seemed more excited than nervous, with Wednesday’s rehearsal apparently having been more nerve-racking than the real thing for some. Others commented how many Calories they must have lost in the stressful lead up. In any case teams were completely beaming after their presentations, with emotions ranging from relief to pride.

Many mentors were shocked. Wow, are those really the same teams I met with 12 weeks ago? I heard totally surprised reviews time and time again from investors who had spoken with the teams very early in the programme. Others complained that they wish there had been some weak presentations to make an investment decision easier. ‘If I had £100,000 to invest, I’d have to give money to each of the teams because they all have a real chance at making it big.’

After seeing teams pitch countless times, I was certainly happy for them and full of big hugs when each one finished. I’ve seen most founders in two modes: 1. the oh-gosh-what’s-the-next-slide mode and the 2. I’m-on-top-of-the-world-and-we-kick-ass mode, and Investor Day was 100% the latter. ‘They were on top of the world’ I was pleased to hear Brad Feld agree. And judging by reactions, it’s a good place to be.

Congratulations everyone, and enormous thanks to the wonderful mentors, supporters, founders, networks, and attendees who have made the Springboard community what it is today!

Day 87 – Hi Ho Hi Ho It’s Off to Investor Day We Go!

It’s here! It’s here!

Like children waiting up for Santa Claus to come eat the biscuits we’ve carefully laid out, we are anxiously awaiting the day to finally arrive. And now, at 7am on the 29th July 2011, I can finally say – today’s the day!

I’m delighted Tony Quested added an Investor Day special to his already amazing Springboard Rap, with the addition going a little something like this:

It’s time that we came out to play
as we head for Investor Day
the bogeymen have gone away
our companies are here to stay
We’re not about to run amok
but maybe if we ride our luck
the angels will invest a buck
and if they don’t – who gives a f…

I love it, thanks again Tony! I don’t know how you capture our spirit so well in song, but we may have to add a song-a-day to our blogging mix! So how is everybody feeling? It’s a real range of emotions for most people, largely consisting of excitement, nervousness, more excitement, and a bit of sadness (or is that just me?).

The excitement is obvious – it’s a chance to be heard by a star-studded audience, show the world what products and services they’ve poured their sweat and tears into, and speak with people who could really change their businesses and lives.

The nervousness speaks for itself as well – with so much potentially to gain, there’s an obvious pressure for teams to do themselves justice and truly show off everything they’ve accomplished to date, building confidence in their plans for the future. Stand straight, speak slowly, remember my lines, make eye contact, don’t forget anything, hope the slides work properly, and don’t let the demos go awry. Piece of cake.

And as for the sadness, well, Investor Day marks the final official day of Springboard 2011. Perhaps a relief for most initially who have been working far beyond sustainable lifestyles in this crazy accelerator out-of-body ‘how the hell did that all happen in 3 months’ experience, but difficult to see everyone spin out in different directions to office desks that are more than breathing distance apart. Ok, I’m getting ahead of myself, I’ll check my soppy emotions at the door and return to them next week.

Wishing everyone the best of luck today – you have a lot to be proud of, and a whole lot to offer the world. Don’t forget to enjoy it!

Day 86 – The Perfect Pitch: Practice. Practice. Karaoke.

Yes, it’s the missing ingredient in all great pitches. Teams have been pitching their hearts out, not just with popcorn but this week in a more serious fashion. Today we ventured to Christ’s College for a pitch practice in the real room, with the real stage, the real slide projector, and the real audience seating.

Day 84 – Playing with Firefox: 10 Hottest Lessons

It’s Day 84 at Springboard and we’re not burnt out, we’re burnt in!

We were stoked to have  not just one Mozilla visitor, but eight, as Mozilla’s QA Automation Services team came to join us today. They’re a newly formed team with members from San Fran Bay Area, Canada, UK, and even Germany, here in Cambridge for their first team gathering off US soil.

The cool Mozilla gang included Dave HuntMatt BrandtGeo MealerHenrik SkupinOwen CouttsDavid ClarkeDavid Burns, and Anthony Hughes, and teams happily took the opportunity to pitch to fresh faces. They were very good sports and offered valuable feedback on pitching styles, highlighting how communication could be improved and opening discussions on cultural differences.

We had a final beer & pizza fest with other ideaSpace members, and inevitably ventured to a local favourite – The Castle Inn. It was both Nick and Melissa’s birthdays, so we had to celebrate in style (while Melissa missed us dearly partying in Paris). We particularly enjoyed Matt’s provocative laptop skin, as we pretended that his typing in the pub was shocking behaviour – as if we’d ever do that…

So what was the feedback from Mozilla and from fellow teams? Did we escape the flames, or did we go up in a foxy fire?

10 Hottest Lessons

  1. Find a conversational approach; ‘I felt like you were talking at me.’ I didn’t want to come talk to you after, because I thought you’d just talk at me and I’d want to walk away.
  2. ‘If you can feel the passion, that’s what engages the audience.’
  3. ‘You cannot come across as rehearsed for that joke.’
  4. ‘I thought for UK standards, they were good… I’ve seen a lot worse presentations.’ (Ha, let’s just say we’re not satisfied with ourselves at that!)
  5. I didn’t understand what your product actually is, or have any idea how it works. ‘It all seemed like black magic.’
  6. ‘If it’s fun, make it fun!’
  7. Pitchee: ‘Don’t lie to me. We’ve been through everything together.’ Fellow Springboarder: ‘Slow down and learn to speak English!’
  8. ‘That’s like a million times better than 3 weeks ago.’
  9. Jon: ‘I quite liked that.’ Pitchee: ‘I’m trying to remember what I said now.’
  10. ‘I think you’ve got the best presentation to make; I don’t think you’ve gotten there yet.’