Sunday, 21 December 2008

Georgia and the Dragons!!

Dragon's Den – Northern Startups 2.0

OK guys this blog post is gonna be the quickest ever as I am rushing around madly preparing for the festivities and racing around at work trying to hit numerous end of year deadlines! I am sure many of you know exactly where I am coming from!!

However, I just couldn't let the opportunity pass without telling you all about my recent success!! December's Northern Startup 2.0 event took the form of a Dragon's Den style pitch, with eight startup companies each presenting a five minute pitch and fielding questions from a panel of three Dragons.

These early stage companies provided the Dragons with some great opportunities to invest and my favourites on the night included:

  • Locally Compared: a local listings directory with inbuilt functionality for businesses to upload and associate adverts and special offers with their website listing and the ability to build a contacts list and email potential consumers with latest news and offers.
  • Talent on View: a service aimed at the HR and recruitment industry, providing candidates with the opportunity to upload a virtual/video interview of themselves. The videos are designed to support the recruitment agency in providing the employer with the best possible candidates for the role, without the expense and resource of meeting every single person.
  • Instant Ticket Seller: a hosted system for small and medium sized visitor attractions to upload ticket allocations for sale on their own website or through affiliate websites.

For more information about these companies and the others pitching on the night visit

Of course, were one of the companies pitching on the night! I was second up and pretty nervous, but glad I didn't need to wait any longer. Presenting is not something I enjoy hugely and the nerves always get the better of me regardless of how thoroughly I have prepared. I have to admit that I basically read my pitch from prompt cards, which I know is not as effective as a more natural presentation, where you just talk around each slide in the pack. However, the one and only time I attempted that technique I was so nervous that when I finally got to the stage I found that I couldn't even remember my own name!!! So, my technique may not have been as charismatic as some of others, but it did have at least one advantage, my presentation was one of the few that ran pretty much to time, thus ensuring that I didn't miss or skip any important points due to running over on time.

So what makes a good pitch, well I think you have to be careful to consider your audience, i.e. who the presentation is aimed at and the amount of time you have to get your point across. In my pitch I identified the opportunity in the market, described the service focusing on the benefits to the Web user, Website owner and the resellers, rather than the features of the technology. I identified the competition and explained how the service is different and can add even more value than the competition. I discussed our proposed approach to market and how the revenue flows between all the parties involved. Lastly I detailed our aspirations for the business and explained to the Dragons what we needed from them.

At the moment we are not actually looking for financial investment, we feel that due to the current economic climate that now is not the right time to be look for investment. Therefore we have decided to 'bootstrap' the business and focus on developing a user/customer curve, in order to achieve this we will need as much help as possible and so we have joined the NWDA High Growth Programme, we have secured NWDA Innovation Vouchers and we are also part of the Knowledge 2 Innovate scheme. With this type of help and other support, specifically in the areas of sales and marketing we will be able to take the service to market. Once we have succeed in proving the business model and the market, we will then be in a stronger position to take a significant financial investment, if required, to grow the business more rapidly.

So, I ploughed through my pitch which I knew was pretty clear and concise even if it wasn't the most dynamically presented. Next came the Q&A! The Dragons on the night included:

  • Roy Shelton – Dropjaw Ventures
  • Paul Barraclough – Tech Mentor
  • Andrew Burton – Viking Fund

They asked some pretty tough questions, primarily they were interested to hear whether the service was really ready to be rolled out to the mass market. I explained that we had already carried out significant technology testing using the open APIs of the social media websites Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. These websites provided us with the opportunity to test our technology against larger volumes of users, unfortunately however the users of these sites generally expect web services to be free of charge, making it difficult to test our business model. Therefore the next stage was to obtain some early stage customers, these have tended to be startup companies like ourselves, young agile organisations in a position to be able to try new things. However, because these companies are themselves newly established they tend to have small volumes of users and therefore do not generate noticeable revenues. are now ready to launch to the market on a larger scale and because our business model relies on large numbers of users we intend to approach the market via reseller channels, this will enable us to grow more quickly than would be possible through direct selling alone.

The Dragons also wanted to know about the scalability of the business, I explained that we are able to scale the business as demand for the service increases. This is possible as the business model is not reliant on an increasing human resource, however we will need to rent servers, buy bandwidth and telephony minutes and since these are all commodities, we are in a position to buy them as and when we need them and at the best available price. This means that we do not need to invest in setting up expensive infrastructure prior to generating revenues, but simply buy in the resource we need to support the customers we have, when and where we have them.

Finally the Dragons seemed satisfied and the questioning was over... I was free to return to my seat!

At the end of the evening, after all eight of the companies had pitched, the audience and Dragons the voted (by a show of hands) for the best pitch of the night and ... I WON!!! I can hardly believe it but it is true and even better than the excitement of victory itself we won a FANTASTIC prize package that will really help me in getting the first reseller channel off the ground at the beginning of 2009! Brilliant!

Thanks so much to the following people and organizations for the fantastic prize package, in a future blog post I will talk about how we used the prize to develop the business.

  • ThinSpace – 5 thin clients
  • Roy Shelton – half a days consultancy + £1,000 worth of advertising on
  • Aaron Partners – half a days legal advice
  • The Lever – half a days consultancy on marketing and communications stratergy
  • eOffice - £1,000 worth of services and meeting space

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