What a ride. Looking back is not something we tend to do these days since it’s all about falling forward, let alone looking forward. I’ll make an exception in this case by casting my mind back to a little over four years ago, and to the oft-frequented coffee bar from which all this was launched. That coffee bar is where we developed an embryo of an idea, shook each other’s hands, while looking each other in the eye, and said ‘let’s do this’. We had both been down the entrepreneurial road before, having launched various businesses in very different fields and using different battle plans, so we felt prepared for what lay ahead.
Back then our businesses were black and white and we knew exactly what we had to deliver. This time around we were embarking on something very different – we were facing the mother of road trips across uncharted territory. We had to get to grips with lots of new technology and develop a working relationship based on mutual faith in and respect for each other’s experience and expertise.
With both of us in our late forties, we knew this was going be the ride of our lives. As we entered the digital realm and started building our online platform, we allocated roles and responsibilities, applying our tried and tested methodologies, but it was like pushing water uphill. We needed to reboot, rethink, and relearn everything.
As a young startup we had to accept that there were various growth phases to negotiate, and that it was not possible to effortlessly move from start to finish. Along the way there were countless new steps to understand and implement, often after what seemed like countless iterations. We learned that we had to be agile in our approach to everything, with rapid change of direction becoming the norm. We did what we could with the resources on hand, reprioritising our focus areas on a regular basis.
Although we kept a close eye on our vision, which was to connect the fragmented world of events, we would often take giant steps forward only to be forced to take even bigger ones backwards. It became critical to ensure that we had the right infrastructure in place across the board, and not only the tech, in order to get us to the next milestone.
At first, the only resources we had on hand were our own. We’d burnt the lifeboats and needed to learn to move fast. Unlike in our previous careers, we now had access to information on tap. Like sponges we learned and digested everything we could get our hands on. We made some good, bad, and even horrific decisions along the way, putting our money and houses on the line. But as the saying goes, at least we had skin in the game.
There is a certain art to deploying limited resources in a way that drives the right outcomes at the right time. Running various aspects of our business in different hubs and time zones, allowed us to extend our runway by utilising top talent wherever they are situated, without the eye-wateringly expensive Silicon Valley price tags.
With one eye on development and the other on investment, we embarked on our next phase – finding ‘seed funding’. Our focus paid off, with more than one million US dollars in seed funding sourced from friends, family, as well as some leading entrepreneurs and iconic figures in the events industry. En route we checked a few important boxes – apart from fuel to keep the engine going, seed funding is always a good sign of industry and market buy-in, i.e. who got in early and why?
Getting that buy-in from potential investors isn’t always easy. Selling our vision is not a problem, but we often have to explain why we are not yet showing any revenue. As an early-stage SaaS platform we are not supposed to be showing revenue, since our focus is where it should be at this stage – building the right infrastructure for rapid scaling, market adoption, and growth. Many potential investors seem to be stuck on outdated business models and focused on immediate gratification, instead of the massive potential on offer. To us they’re simply not brave enough to take cognizance of the new platform economy that is changing every aspect of how we conduct business and organise our lives.
So for the next level of funding we cast a wide net to secure some of those all-important warm introductions. Since we were located away from most of the early-stage investment action, we’d often get through the digital doors only to be told by potential investors that they liked the idea, but that we lacked proximity. It seemed that most investors in our field were only interested in US-based businesses, specifically those in the San Francisco Bay area. It almost felt like they wanted to be able to hop on a skateboard and come and see us in person.
So, if the mountain won’t come to us …
During 2017 we were fortunate enough to be accepted to participate in a three-month accelerator programme in the heart of San Francisco. This gave us an opportunity to get up close and personal with relevant investors, so we dispatched our CEO, Götz Thümecke, into the lion’s den to establish our US presence where it counts.
This temporary proximity to the world’s number one tech investment hub paid off with the achievement of a significant milestone at the end of 2017. We agreed terms with a US investment bank and launched our Series A private equity raise, showing that engaging with the right parties in the right environment still counts for a lot when it comes to building a trailblazing product.
And so our journey continues …