During the past few months we have been involved in the process of applying to one of Europe’s largest startup accelerator programs network, Startupbootcamp. It all started when we applied to Istanbul’s program in which we managed to get through all 4 interviews and be among the final teams right before the “Selection Days” process. “Selection Days” would welcome 20 teams to only accept the 10 that would make the cut, into the program. Mysteriously enough we weren’t invited to participate in the “Selection Days”, neither were we rejected. Getting no official response from Istanbul for several days we contacted the corresponding program in Germany, Startupbootcamp Berlin.
The Berlin program is focusing on “Smart Energy & Transportation” which basically covers what we do at Navideck. Thankfully our application was transferred from Istanbul’s program to the Berlin one and after 3 Skype interviews, at June 27 we were finally invited to participate in Berlin's “Selection Days”.
We were very excited about this as it was something we wanted all along and everything seemed ideal. The program was focusing on automotive, it was happening in Germany which is basically the center of the worldwide car manufacturing these days and we would have the chance to speak to representatives of large automotive companies in person! We had to be in Berlin in July 4 so things had to happen fast. We had to book our flight, prepare our material, print handouts etc. After a few days of restless preparations on July 3 we headed to the airport in order to catch our flight to Berlin. A few final touches were left to be done during the flight!
“Selection Days” would last 2 days with an optional pitching practice session the day before. Let's call it "Day 0".
Right after we landed in Berlin we headed directly to Rainmaking Loft, the venue of the event.
We made it just in time for the practise session. Pitching right after the trip, was a bad idea but it had to be done. I was tired and a bit nervous and the final result was not ideal so, friendly advice, try to be fresh if you are to pitch somewhere. We got some precious feedback from the program’s head, Alex Farcet, which we used to improve our pitch for the next day.
It turned out that only 16 startup teams out of 20 showed up for the “Selection Days”. The first day started with an introduction to the program and then continued with a very interesting alumni discussion panel.
What caught my attention was Daniel Rieth's story, who took the brave decision to leave Flux, the startup he co-founded and graduated from the program back in 2013. He was not part of a Startupbootcamp team anymore, yet he was there sharing his experience and giving useful advice. As it finally turned out he was the one that gave us some of the most useful feedback we could get. He really spent time with us and did questions that really mattered. We would like to thank him through this blog...
Right after the talk, there was lunch and after that the teams' public pitches. It was a bad decision to put the pitches right after lunch as most of us were already tired and the lunch made us a little hypotonic. Nevertheless our pitch was still fairly good. Following the pitches, rotations began. Groups of mentors were sitting in tables, and us teams were switching tables every 20 minutes during which we had to pitch our project and answer the mentors' questions. We did this 6 times the first day and 5 times the second day. After each rotation the mentors would rate the team and all ratings would create the final score.
During this process we had the chance to speak to every mentor that was present. We met some very positive people and some very negative ones. Some of them gave really useful feedback and some others were only noise. The day ended with us having gathered a pack of notes of things to improve for day 2’s pitch as well as Alex’s comment that all pitches were below average and could definitely improve.
The second day started with public pitches. Trying to suppress the relative anxiety we felt and using last day's feedback, we can say we did improve our pitch. However, It may be my own impression, but on average every team's pitch was a bit worse than the first day's. It may was due to the fact that everyone was tired and had little time to practise the changes that have been done in the pitch.
After the 5 rotations, a deep dive followed. Deep dive meant that we had to spend 2 hours with 3 mentors examining every aspect of our team, product, market etc. We were lucky to have 3 great mentors for this session. We had a little fear because one of them, Philipp Strube, gave us the impression that he was a bit negative to us during the rotations but during this session we realised that we was only trying to be fair and helpful. The thing is that the 20 minutes of the rotations weren’t enough to get to know each other and assess the intentions or quality of each mentor. Keep in mind that you always have to filter out irrelevant or wrong feedback. After the deep dive our part was over. We had to wait for the final results. During this time, finally relaxing, we got to socialise with the other teams and create some new friends! What I realised is that we all shared a little bit of the same mojo no matter where we came from.
The big moment had come. Alex was announcing the final teams that would make the cut. We had the impression that we would be among the final teams but finally we weren’t. They decided to take only 8 out of the 16 teams and Navideck wasn’t one of them.
So what went wrong? Now that a few days have passed and things have cleared out in our minds we think we have formed an opinion. We were told that that we would be judged on 3 things: team, idea and market. The team was great and we knew it. The idea was also good and we weren’t told otherwise. So what is left is the market. And in this area we got 2 surprises.
- First of all the vehicle manufacturers that were there, have little to no intention in collaborating with a 3rd party company (see Navideck) in order to solve the rising problem of distracted driving. I don't say that they don't care but apparently they prefer to keep things to themselves. Daimler & it's division Mercedes who were there, told us that some of what we are suggesting is already being designed and integrated into the near future’s cars. However keep in mind that this could mean that you still may have to wait 5 years and pay a big load of money to get those features. It may be the 2018 S-Class, a car which most people will probably never own. We don't think that automotive safety should be a privilege of only those who can pay. It actually affects more those who cannot pay and use their smartphone as a replacement of an expensive infotainment system.
- The second surprise was that the Startupbootcamp would more or less reject "mobile app" companies. "Apps come and go in the blink of an eye", we were told, and what we realised is that they looked for ideas that could scale beyond an app. B2B was indeed a "secret" requirement. Nevertheless we didn't exclude it from our business model but we intentionally didn't put all our focus in it for this phase.
Despite a few annoying facts we can definitely say it was an important experience. Not life changing but definitely interesting. It was indeed a great achievement for us as we were selected among 20 out of 700 teams worldwide. We got the most crucial feedback since the beginning or Navideck. As you may know most accelerator programs give little to no feedback upon rejection. But in this case we were talking to mentors in person, spending a lot of time with them and of course it was more than fortunate that the program was focusing on automotive so they were the ones that would give the most appropriate feedback.
What came out as a conclusion, after all the iterations we did on our pitching, is that it's impossible to satisfy everyone. The same slide in the pitch deck that would appeal to one wouldn’t appeal to another. What someone would love another could hate. In addition it turns out that the pitch process had little to no effect on our selection decision. There were teams that were great at pitching that didn't make the cut and teams with lousy pitches that did. We were also told that they wanted to see how much we would improve our pitches between days. Something that we did and yet played no role.
So what now? Of course a rejection is not the end of our journey. After all everyone recognised the problem we are trying to solve and had only good stuff to say about the team. We will continue preparing our MVP like we did before. We will however redefine our business strategy based on our new learnings. In the meantime we will be working on a small side-project that was discussed privately during the event and sparked some interest. You can expect to see the products of this work really soon!