Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Our path to Slush 2013

There are just a few days left to register your startup to Slush, in case you're interested in the early bird price. Note the comment!
Post by Slush.

And then there's the registration form.

When we filled the form a year ago, we really didn't have much clue on what to write there. We did the best we could, submitted the form, and waited. And waited.

Then, just two weeks before the event, we got an email announcing that our company was not among the 100 companies selected for the pitching competition. They recommended that we concentrate our efforts on networking during the event.

We were devastated. It felt that mail destroyed everything we had been working for over the past months. We were very disappointed with the application process, that was just a black box. Had we known what kind of info they expect in each of the form fields, we could surely had filled it out better. The world seemed to be a very unfair place for a moment.

But after a day or two, we got a new mail, saying we had been selected to be present on the Health Track and we'll get a demo booth for one day. So instead of pitching for one minute for a random audience, we'd have the chance to present our service to many people interested in healthcare services, without time limits - and we got the stand for free! Things were looking very bright again.

A week before the event we got yet another email. We were offered 5 minutes stage time to launch our service on stage as part of the Health Track program. This was just superb. So much better than the pitching competition would have been for us. Of course, there was only a week left and we had all of that week already scheduled for other preparations. But we just had to take this opportunity as well.

So we quickly created a launch campaign and the presentation. We couldn't get everything done in time, so we were probably one of the only companies with a booth but without a rollup (we used a screen instead). Free tip for you, startups, get your rollup ready in time. You're going to need it.

During the event, there were some last minute changes again and a bit of hassle, but that feeling of creative chaos is just part of what makes Slush so great, I guess. Our booth was busy the whole day and the launch was received with a lot of love and plenty of registered users.

In the end, there was one more nice surprise, when Slush featured us in their blog. We ended up getting so many good things. For us, this still is perhaps the most striking experience of what it means to be an entrepreneur. We lived through the initial disappointment and through every new positive turn so fully and with so much emotion. And it taught us that even in desperate times there are amazing things ahead.

This year, we still don't know exactly what to write on the registration form. But we do know there will be ups and downs on our path to Slush and beyond. And we'll most likely be devastated and depressed at some point again. But this time we'll face all obstacles with a new kind of confidence.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Our Learnings from Startup Sauna

Startup Sauna just published their schedule for Local Events, and are welcoming applications for the 2014 autumn batch. To help you make up your mind on whether to apply, we decided to share some of our experiences from the spring batch.

We had a hard time deciding on whether to even apply. When we did and managed to get in, we still weren't sure whether that's the right move.

For us, the main question was timing. We had graduated from the Protomo startup incubator some time earlier and had our business model and financials together in some form. But we weren't really fully satisfied with them and thought we could improve.

On the other hand, our product required development as well, and we knew Startup Sauna wouldn't help us much with that. We were also in a process of including a new member into an important technical role in our team, and being present in two places at the same time would not really be possible. Concentrating on product development seemed to us to be more important.

When making the decision, we thought it would be awesome to concentrate on business development for just five weeks really intensively, so that we'd get all of that figured out and our materials ready for a long time ahead. After the accelerator period we would really be able to concentrate fully on product development. If there was a pitch event somewhere we could just attend and deliver our fine-tuned pitch, and when a potential investor would ask for some material, we'd have all those in stellar condition and could just send them.

We talked with some teams from previous Startup Sauna batches, asking what they had gotten out of the program. Everyone spoke highly of the spirit within the accelerator and praised the amount of contacts you get, but some also warned us that the time spent with coaches may not be enough to really develop the business of the company.

In the end, we decided to take the opportunity. We had gotten so much out of Slush, and it was organized by the same people.

The program consisted of lectures by experienced startup entrepreneurs and professionals in the field, pitching training, and one-on-one sessions with investors and coaches. The lectures were of high quality, but not that different from the ones from our incubator. Same with the training. The one-on-one sessions lasted typically 20 minutes, which is certainly not enough for any coaching, but is really good for getting to know a bit of each other and see whether it would make sense to meet again separately from the accelerator program. In our incubator, we typically got a longer time with the coaches, from an hour to two. These are clearly different approaches, Startup Sauna way being much closer to matchmaking than coaching.

Our company is located in Tampere and Startup Sauna resides in Espoo. We decided not to move to Espoo for the five week period, rather commute by train (around two hours in one direction, but almost all of that is efficient working time) and stay overnight occasionally at friends or family members who live in the capital area. This way we were still able to meet as a team in Tampere every once in a while.

Our hopes were high, but the biggest ones did not materialize. Our pitch surely improved during the program, but that was never one of our main problem areas. We also got a lot of contacts that could help us forward at some point. But we can't really say our business plan and investor materials improved that much during our stay at the accelerator. And the five weeks certainly had a negative impact on our product development and also damaged the team. We ended up losing the potential hire.

So if you're considering applying to the autumn batch, there are a few things to consider. Don't expect too much development to happen over the accelerator period. The thing our batch spent most time developing was the pitch, so if you think yours is in a bad shape, this might be a good opportunity. Of course you need to find a way to get in with your poor pitch, which may not be easy.

I would also suggest you make it extra clear to yourself what it is that you're expecting to get and communicate that clearly during the application process. Tell the coaches what it is you want to achieve and push them to help you make that happen. For our batch, there was no real per-company curriculum, rather the program was pretty much the same for all of us. And it was hard to get one-on-one time from the head coaches. After all, there were 17 teams, and even the head coaches seemed to be present less than two days per week. And a significant amount of that time was reserved for scheduled activities. So again, perhaps 20 minutes of one-on-one time weekly. You really need to think how to use that time to communicate what you think makes sense for your company.

Finally, these are just experiences of one team. Also remember that the Startup Sauna is different each time. I'm sure they have analyzed the feedback from the teams in our batch, and made many changes for their autumn batch.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Evolution of a Pitch

In this post, we'll take a look at how our investor pitch has evolved over the past year.

As securing financing is perhaps the most important task of any startup, and as the pitch deck is perhaps the most crucial tool in that process, you'd think that's the one thing startups do really well. But it turns out that in addition to the pitch deck, there's so much other stuff that a startup needs to be involved in, that one never gets enough time to get the pitch perfected. So some of our pitch decks below are just plain horrible, whereas others we feel are OK, meaning good enough to deliver the message. But there's no pitch we're even nearly 100% happy with.

Our first ever public presentation was at FiBAN Pirkanmaa Pitching Competition, after having worked as a team for less than two months. Despite the appearance of the slide set, we ended up on second place out of 12 teams and companies.

For Slush, prepared a deck for sit-down meetings with investors, and another one for the product launch (above). You can also see the video of the launch presentation. It annoys me quite a bit that we use the term HIE on one slide, where the correct term had been PHR, a Personal Health Record. Nevertheless, the presentation was received with a lot of love from the audience, perhaps partly because I almost cried at the end. It was just such a big moment for me. I've met people who tell me six months later they still remember me and the company from that pitch. That just reminds me of the fact that it's never about the slides.

Seed Forum had quite strict guidelines for the 6 minute pitch in their event. That's good in the sense that there's less pondering about what to tell. On the other hand, there's no universal pitch format that would suit each and every startup.

We've given some very informal presentations as well. For instance, the presentation on startup's point of view in a seminar discussing the current state of diabetes treatment (in Finnish, see also the video recording). It really feels strange to keep a presentation for 20 or 30 minutes, after getting used to shaving off seconds from an investor pitch to make it fit to the allotted time.

Our latest investor pitch is the 3 minute one from Startup Sauna demo day. I'm still not loving it. I don't think I'll ever be really happy with the pitch. There's always things you can do to enhance the visuals, the story is never straight enough. I feel we also need to cram in all the drama and death and such, whereas I'd much rather talk of my own problems that are closer to irritation and annoyance towards devices and apps that require me to copy information manually from one place to another, measurement by measurement. That's what we're really solving right now. But for a big stage, you need bigger drama, and we'll try to roll with that.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The First Year of Sensotrend

It's hard to believe a full year has passed since the first post in this blog.

To recap Sensotrend's first year shortly, I'd say we've gotten plenty of praise and publicity, and learned a tremendous amount about startup business and financing. On the other hand, a year ago I certainly imagined our product to have been launched by now. There has hardly ever been a better time to be a technology startup entrepreneur in Finland, but it still feels incredibly hard to get a company off the ground.

From the start, our worst scenario was that we'd spend all our resources into developing a product and then exhaust when the time came to bring it to the market. We've heard time and time again that this is the most common case for startups, especially so in Finland where engineering has traditionally been the strongest part of any technology company.

So we decided to concentrate our early efforts into communicating our idea to the public. That way, even if we would not succeed, more people would have learned about the need, and the next company implementing the same idea would have better chances of success. In the end, what really drives me personally is the need for a solution. I need the product that combines my data from all the different apps and devices much more than I need to be the one implementing it.

In our incubator we also learned that startups that start by implementing a product almost always fail because their product ends up not meeting the needs of the real users. Rather, the product must be developed together with the end users, constantly validating the assumptions of the engineers implementing the product.

So we have been 'out of the building', as they say in the Lean Startup scene. And we've certainly been out a lot, discussing our product with people with diabetes, doctors, nurses, partner companies and investors. A lot more than we've been inside the building, implementing the service.

Right now I feel we need to get back into the building for a while. We need to take all that we have learned and validated so far, and start working towards a MVP (minimum viable product, another Lean Startup buzzword) that we can give to end users, to take our learning to the next level.

Focusing on product development means saying no to a lot of offered publicity and most likely also to some opportunities to secure more funding. We'll still do our best to get a message out every now and then in this blog or through our Twitter or Facebook accounts.

But our main priority right now is to get a product out for initial test users. We've got a bunch of alpha and beta users recruited, and we'll involve them in every step of the development of the product. If you're a person with diabetes, eager to test cutting edge technology and not afraid to see it break to pieces momentarily, you can still get involved. Just send us an email at