Yes, we won! A retrospect on WebSummit 2015

It’s been slightly over a week since our return from Web Summit 2015. It has been a hugely rewarding experience and we are grateful to Web Summit and Audi for making this happen. We’ve had several folks approach us to ask what it was like, and how prepared we were. I thought it best to spend a little time to reflect on the past week.

For us, Web Summit began about a year ago during its 2014 run. I had spent some time tuning in live for some of the centre stage sessions and had pretty much made up my mind that next year, this is the event where we go public. We needed about a year to get our MVP build, tested and live and so we drew a line in the sand and set November 2nd as our deadline for ‘soft launch’. We had also decided that we will not make any attempts on PR or publicity till then.

Anticipation

The web summit process starts early, by January 2015 we had already started receiving emails on ticket discounts and for application to join the startup community. We went in early and had purchased tickets and applied for Alpha by March/April. Each time Web Summit started a new milestone, the realisation that we have to continue to make progress kept itself fresh. By May, we had signed up, had a few screening calls and were accepted into the Alpha Category of Startups. We didn’t quite know how many others there would be but we didn’t have to worry about that.

Our product development was going well we needed to set a clear goal and ‘vision’ of what web summit would be for us. We simplified this into the following goal: “At Web Summit, on November 2nd, we will be doing live demos of our end-end platform with a live video feed from a farm and real-time detections on our platform. In addition, we will have signed up distribution partners and have a 1K node customer pipeline”

The above goal becomes our north star and we came back to this time and again to prioritise what we kept in our task lists and what we discarded.

Preparation

Summer mostly flew by with our first field trials, followed by vacations and then we had about 3 months to go until November 2nd. At this point, we started preparing our investor pitch deck and also applied to the PITCH competition in September. About a month before, in early October, we were informed that we had been selected for the PITCH competition out of the 2K that had applied, 200 were selected. The list was public, it was on the blog and the competition looked tough.

Our deck had to be submitted by 24th October and at this point, we were running at full speed on engineering, customer trials and working towards our milestone goal. We had very little time to work on the deck so we shuffled around a few slides from our investor deck and submitted it to PITCH. There. that was done.

Arrival and First Impressions

We almost didn’t make it. Ryan Air had messed up our check-in tickets and well, long story short, we were the last to board the flight. Once in Dublin, we decided to spend the day preparing the strategy for the week. Who was going to do what, where and when? The first impression was that this place was crowded! It was impossible not to see a startup somewhere. Of all shapes, sizes and types. And this was just one day, every day there was going to be a new set of startups on the stands and that meant there was almost no way you could get a sense of everything. We had a few investor meetings on day 1 however due to bad weather conditions two could not make it and one that we made was a late stage investor so that wasn’t going to go anywhere. It was a slow, somewhat disappointing day as the realisation sunk in that investor: start-up ratio was skewed, our ‘big leads’ didn’t show so we needed a change of game-plan. We decided to call it an early day, went back at 1600 to the hotel and decided to rethink our goals. The plan was now to focus on the pitch startups, learn from them and split the team to focus on some of the talks see if we can cold call some investors.

The Pitch

Little did we know, the pitch on day 2 would change everything. The morning pitch session started at 11:15 and by 1300 we were told we were through to the semi-final which was at 1430 the same day. I had to prepare for this even more so I skipped everything and started tuning my pitch. I was beginning to regret not spending more time on the slides, they looked a bit pedestrian compared to the others up there. The semi-final was tough, we estimated a 50-50 chance to the final and by 8 pm that day we were through. The next morning, around 0800 we had people lining up at our stand. News had gone out that Connecterra was a pitch finalist and that attracted quite a crowd. It was all hands on deck so we started taking turns on manning our stand. I was holed up in a corner rehearsing the final. Winning the final put mostly everything into complete overdrive. Twitter went ballistic and the media folks suddenly found us most interesting. We had a quick sync on our key messages for the media and then we split up to handle the interview requests.

The Aftermath

The 48 hours right after the announcement were the most exciting and exhilarating but also challenging. We had a huge platform to get our message across but at the same time we had to be careful about what we said and didn’t say and we had to be perfectly aligned. We didn’t sleep much and were answering phone calls, emails and tweets way into the weekend.  While the publicity was great, the most rewarding part came from family, friends and also leads from customers and partners. It is still not over but going well. We’ve had super feedback and interest from all the right partners and investors and are working through each of them systematically. Being agile at this time has been key.

Advice to others on the Pitch

Many have reached out to ask why we think we won? While this is best answered by the Jury, here are a few things we think worked for us:

  1. Focus on our core product and business, not the event:  If you get your product at just the right place, you will have no problems pitching it. We started a year ago on what was going to be our ‘state’ at Web Summit and we focused on that.
  2. The Pitch competition is not an investor pitch only: Several pitches we saw were investor-perfect pitches. The product was interesting, a rockstar team and revenues looked good, but they still did not make it to the semi-final or final.
  3. Bring in the big picture: Our understanding is that the jury is not evaluating businesses, its impossible to do that in 3 minutes, they are evaluating potential and that means your pitch has got to talk about the bigger picture and yet make sense as a business.
  4. Measure your time: By the final, I knew at what time I need to be midway through my slides. I knew I needed 15 seconds to close, precision in delivery was key.
  5. Answer as many questions as possible: Don’t give long answers, stick to short answers, the more questions you answer, the more you can communicate your product.
  6. Everyone is a winner: The process of going through the pitch itself yields great exposure, leads and interest from media, customers and investors. Each stage increases the footprint but everyone at the end of the day wins something out of the process.
  7. Be Prepared for What You Ask For: If you make it to the final or beyond, be prepared for what comes then–you’ll need to move fast so have a press release and aligned answers ready and on hand.

I hope this helps some of you heading to Summit next year. Good luck, it’s worth every minute.

By Yasir Khokhar, CEO at Connecterra.