Lessons learned from Y Combinator and Seedcamp (Volume 1)

In April, we were fortunate to be selected to attend Mini Seedcamp Berlin 2011 and invited to Y Combinator interview in Mountain View, California. We were not actively looking for funding, but we wanted to get feedback to Pipedrive as a product and to our business strategy. With this in mind, we headed to Germany and USA.
Others have written thoroughly about the differences between these two seed-funding companies, so I’m not going to repeat this here. Instead, I will try to paint a picture of what happened at these events and draw some conclusions on our experiences. Since both of these events deserve separate attention, I’ll do two posts.

Mini Seedcamp Berlin 2011

Pipedrive Finalist Seedcamp 2011We applied to Mini Seedcamp Berlin 2011 and to be honest, even this first step proved to be valuable to our team. The application form with 20+ questions looked long at first, but once finished we felt like we had a much better understanding of what we want to do with Pipedrive! We answered some very good questions for any company that wants to grow as a business.

We knew the basic schedule of the event (5 minute presentations by the teams, a panel discussion and 5 one-on-one mentoring sessions) and focused on preparing the 5-minute pitch first. Let’s be honest – we drafted the final pitch 2 days before the actual event and were really fortunate to organize a demo pitch to Ahti Heinla, one of Skype’s founders and a Seedcamp investor/mentor, and Jüri Kaljundi, a serial entrepreneur with Mini Seedcamp experience. So we got some really good feedback before we even got to Berlin.

We arrived in Berlin one day before the actual event and spent an entire afternoon and night, almost ten hours altogether, practicing the pitch. At the same time, Urmas (the other co-founder) prepared for mentoring sessions, going through the mentors’ background in the internet (using LinkedIn mostly) and thinking of best questions to ask them.

I feel I could write a short book about this practicing experience, but it would be much valuable to you to experience it yourself after you apply and get selected. So, I stop here. By the way, the day before the event, Seedcamp normally gives participating teams a chance to practice their pitches at the actual venue – definitely use this opportunity if you want to get more feedback and more familiarized with the place.

The Day of the Event
We knew the day would be long, and that was to be the case. At 9am the Seedcamp guys did the short introduction to the day, and from 9:30am the stage was set for teams to deliver their pitches. 20 teams, 20 pitches, 5 minutes (and not a second more) to each pitch. A crowd of 60-70 angel investors, vc-s, entrepreneurs and some media representatives in the audience. Of course, to feel good and to be good, we had to be prepared.

Having done more than 50 repetitions of the pitch, I felt good enough to take the stage. Throughout the delivery, I thanked myself for taking the time to practice – at places it was still difficult to be very clear and powerful, but overall, it went well and I could deliver what we had planned. Besides that, we had a chance to listen to 19 other pitches from the hearts of very exciting founders and teams.

After listening to a very motivating and useful discussion panel featuring the founder of SoundCloud (Alexander Ljung) and investors that had invested in his company, we had a quick lunch and the time was there to meet the mentors assigned to us. All together, we spent five 45-minute sets with 3-5 different mentors at each time. Boy, this proved to be the killer! We were asked to shoot with our questions and so we did. Every mentor answered from their own perspective and with their own excitement and energy, but all of them showed enough commitment for these sessions to prove extremely valuable to Pipedrive.

After the day was done, all of us gathered for drinks and snacks at an “after-party” organized by Seedcamp which was a good set to make even more contacts.

The Conclusions from Seedcamp

  1. Apply. I mean, if you have founded a company that you think should rock (at least some part of this) world, go outside and tell people about it! And the very first step is to apply to an event like that – once selected, you get a chance to be in front of 60-70 investors at once and find out if they see what you see. It’s very consuming to pull this off without attending an event like that. To be honest, I had doubts about the value of attending a thing like that, but now I feel that no start-up should do without it!
  2. Prepare. Develop a killer pitch. Practice your pitch in front of others.  Swallow the feedback and make it better. Practice until you start to feel good on stage. Be prepared to be torn apart – that could lead you to many times better pitch you had. Even though we practiced, I feel we could have practiced it more before the event and find more people to deliver it to.
  3. Come up with Questions that Matter to You. Know what you want. Be specific. If you want money, know how much and what for exactly. If you want advice, ask specific questions that you are dealing with in your company.  Imagine you could ask a question from an entrepreneur that has done what you want to do – what do you want to know? Mentoring sessions give you a chance to do exactly that. Check the background of your mentors to get the most out of them. Remember that each of them comes from their own history and you cannot get equal answers from all of them.
  4. Make Contacts. You meet all kinds of people. Sometimes you meet people there that can provide you with introductions to just the right people you need to see, but this is not written on their foreheads. So, go nuts! Greet, talk, smile, ask who they are and what they do. Be a contact making machine for the day. You will know if it will help you later. PS. Have enough business cards with you (at least 100 to be on the safe side) – we ran out and needed to use photocopies of our last existing ones (!).

You could say that Seedcamp does not end at the event – if you follow up on your contacts, you can get useful insights, answers to your questions and intros to other people.

What did Pipedrive get out of Seedcamp? We were invited to an investment interview with 8 other teams, but we did not receive funding this time (two other great companies did, though). It was okay for us since we went there for advice first and boy, this we did get. Out of mentoring sessions alone, we got 4 fantastic ideas on how to improve our product and 2 major perspectives on how to take our business further towards growth. With lots of new contacts on top of this all, we came home feeling victorious.

We are extremely thankful for the chance to participate on the event and I sincerely recommend this to all start-ups looking for either top of the line feedback or seed-funding.

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Timo Rein

CEO and Co-Founder of Pipedrive