(This article was original published by TechHub on the 12th Oct 2013)
We raised our first round of investment by pitching at an event that was called the Lion’s Cage – like Dragon’s Den, but with 200+ people in the audience. It’s lonely up there on the stage, but in that three minutes, it’s all in your hands. It’s not like being in a band or a sports team – everything is on you to make something out of nothing, and then communicate that to someone who’s never heard of you before, more often than not in less than five minutes.
And so earlier this week, I found myself staring at a mound of bacon sandwiches and oversized vats of coffee in the arena room of Google Campus, for an event organised by Techhub and Enterprise Ireland.
More than 30 startups were there, pitching for a chance to get flown over to Ireland, free tickets to Web Summit, and the chance to go on pub crawls with the likes of Facebook, Google, and just about everyone else in the tech industry. As a young, bootstrapping startup currently looking for our next round of investment, it’s not hard to see why this would be a pretty great prize to win.
The teams were separated into tables of eight, with each startup given two minutes to pitch their business idea for a chance to go through to the final, where they would pitch onstage, to the whole room. I was going to be the last one to talk. Virtually every other startup was still pitching when the bell rung the ten seconds warning. When it was my turn I rattled off a load of stats about what Planet Ivyhave done so far (around one million pageviews a month, having our articles republished on the Guardian, Gawker, Buzzfeed etc.) and some other things I don’t remember. But I do remember being the only one to finish early, so organiser Paul McDonnell asked me a few questions. I had no idea if I had said or done enough to go through.
10 minutes later they read out who would be pitching onstage in the final. We got through, and so joined the few other startups shuffling around the stage, queuing up to do the big pitch.
I made a lame joke to some of the other successful pitchers about how we’d made it through “Startup X-Factor.” There were four judges sitting onstage with a crowd in front of them, leaving the us with whiplash as we tried to pitch to both the judges and the audience in the strict three minute time limit.
As Planet Ivy are talking to investors right now, I had a beautiful pitch deck ready. It is a thing of beauty: black with subtle, off-white letters. As each startup in turn blasted their pitch deck onto the big screen, it felt very much like the business card scene from American Psycho. All those Friday nights spent reading Y Combinator and Guy Kawasaki articles, while revellers walked past my flat eating chips and urinating were about to pay off. Planet Ivy was called. I plugged in my laptop, powerpoint at the ready.
And… my desktop was projected onto the massive backscreen. A beautiful beach background, as vast and infinite as time itself. However, what I needed to see was my presentation. I clicked around. No joy. My three minutes were burning up in unexpected silence. And so, no powerpoint. My words alone would have to be enough.
I told the judges the story about why I had started Planet Ivy, and what we were going to do moving forward. This time, I was cut off early by the bell. I was asked some questions and then received the standard polite round of applause. More people pitched – strong pitches, great ideas.
Given the technical problems and how strong the other teams were, I was amazed when, after some deliberation, the judges read out those two words: “Planet Ivy.” We won! Two tickets to the conference, flights included, plenty of help from the organisers networking and meeting investors. Of all the startups who heard about the competition, of all those who entered, we had made it and were now on our way to one of Europe’s biggest tech conferences, just for telling people what we do for a living.
It’s a small win in the grand scheme of things, but amazing to a tiny startup like ours, validation for all those months neglecting friends, housework and (sometimes) hygiene in order to give it everything you’ve got, and put it across in those few minutes.
It is a lottery and it’s a lonely, weird world running a startup, but days like this make it all worth it. So thank you to Techhub and Enterprise Ireland for giving us the chance to take our little startup to meet the big guns. On Halloween I’ll be in Dublin with the biggest tech companies in the world. What happens next is, once again, up to us.