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Road to Demo Day: a founder’s perspective

Road to Demo Day: a founder’s perspective

Guest Post: Kela Ivonye is the CEO and co-founder of MailHaven, a smart mailbox that tracks and protects your packages. 

Demo Day is an invite-only event hosted by 500 Startups for investors to get a first look at the startups from the accelerator program, meet the founders, and network with other attendees.

For founders, it’s the culmination of four months of hard work. As a batch company at 500 Startups, you start preparing for your last day on Day 1. That two-minute pitch on stage at Demo Day is our opportunity to show hundreds of top-tier investors what we’ve been working on.

The first thing Batch 22 learned about Demo Day was to have fun, be genuine, and to own and tell your story. The message from 500 was clear: You belong here. And you deserve to show your hard work to a crowd of great investors.

But that doesn’t mean the road to Demo Day was without its bumps.

“Is This Useful?”

Our cohort had all types of personalities: Outgoing, reserved, critical and optimistic.

So, some activities were met with skepticism. For example, acting coaching. Not everyone immediately saw the value in meeting with an acting coach. For me, it came in handy right before I presented. For an engineer, a storytelling session might seem like a waste of time, but it proved to be critical to learning how to make your passion resonate with others.

We were also taught techniques to ease our nerves. Nervousness is natural, but preparation can help minimize it.

Repetition

We practiced, practiced and practiced some more. Practice is the key to a successful presentation. It’s the ultimate equalizer. Whether you’re a veteran presenter or a novice, with enough practice there is no difference. This was a calming factor for my cohort. There’s no need to fear presenting, as long as you practice enough. Shoot for more than 100 renditions. After that, it will come naturally. You won’t have to rely on memorized words because your mind will readily offer up a synonym for any word you forget.

And the 500 mentors were there for us each and every time. “We are here and will be available at your request to practice morning, afternoon and evening. Those who take advantage of this are proven to do the best job,” they said.

Have Fun

We were encouraged to have fun while we worked and to take breaks to enjoy the company of our cohort. Every Friday, a different startup hosted a happy hour. The two happy hours leading up to Demo Day were the best. In the penultimate week, I saw our cohort grow even closer.

One of the antidotes for our Demo Day anxiety was the time we spent together. I’d like to talk more about it, but what happens in Batch 22, stays in Batch 22. 😉

 

D-Day!

“Building a startup is hard, but building one alone is even harder,” is a quote founders hear a lot.

Demo Day was a team effort, and the work the MailHaven team performed behind the scenes was the most important. Leading up to Demo Day, they allowed me to focus solely on my pitch for a week, while they took on running our startup. And on Demo Day, my one job as presenter was to be high energy and trust that my practice and repetition would get me through.

At 9am, we started setting up, my energy was high and the rest of the cohort were giving each other motivational high fives and taking photos while we worked. In the fleeting moments of our time together physically, the need to capture the excitement was irresistible.

By time the pitches started, I was so excited to help my cohort and Mailhaven make sure the audience would not forget our stories. And while Demo Day was the grand finale to our program, it’s really only the beginning in building our companies.

Demo Day in the Words of Batch 22 Founders

Tomi – Mobile Forms

“Preparing for Demo Day was filled with a lot of ups and down. I had a unique challenge, how do I describe an African problem to an audience based several thousand miles away and who have probably never been to Africa before? I started by putting my story on a word document and sharing with colleagues and batch mates to get feedback. The feedback was mixed. Some got the problem, others struggled to understand. This gave me nightmares. I spent days locked up in my room until I got something that spoke to 90% of the crowd – and Boom! I rewrote my story. Kept working on my pitch.

By Demo Day, my pitch story and I had become one. So, when I took the stage I spoke with my heart and the rest was for the audience to decide. I was super happy to hear we were featured No. 2 standout pitch on the day. I nailed it!!!!!! :)”

Shuo – Mira Financial

“It was fun seeing everything come together on Demo Day and every company sharing their vision.”

Charu – NextPlay

“It was a unique opportunity to share our progress in front of 300+ investors and media. We got featured on TechCrunch, built a pipeline for fundraising and, more than anything else, it was a Once-in-a-Lifetime experience that we shared with our batch mates who have become lifelong friends.”

Vittorio – BotSociety

“Demo Day was an incredible experience. Think about the day you graduated mixed with investor-speed-dating mixed with the adrenaline of stepping on a stage in front of 400 people. It has changed how we communicate company goals and achievements. Being a chatbot design company means that we are used to designing long conversations. We tended to do that as well when talking about the company itself. We are now able to condense to two sharp minutes. That would have never happened without DemoDay.”

Srikant – Curio.io

“Preparing for Demo Day actually helped us really make our pitch razor sharp and tell our story as efficiently as possible. The day itself was quite exhilarating and it was great to have Curio.io be shown off to so many investors and people in the media.”

If you’re interested in Saola Accelerator Demo Day, get the latest updates via our newsletter and Facebook page.

 

Ready to turbocharge your startup? Apply for funding from 500 Startups Vietnam

San Francisco
814 Mission St., 6th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103, USA

© 2010-2019 500 Startups

5 things you’ll learn in the 500 Startups’ accelerator program

5 things you’ll learn in the 500 Startups’ accelerator program

Written by Poornima Vijayashanker

As a founder you might be thinking, “Is a startup accelerator program worth my time? What could I possibly learn from a startup accelerator program that I couldn’t just learn on my own?”

I’d say if you have a network filled with prospective investors, employees, customers, and attorneys who have years of expertise on the ins and outs of your the particular market and industry your company is serving, and of course, the time to share all of it, you’re all set 😉

Don’t have it all? Here are 5 things you’ll learn, specifically from the 500 Startups’ accelerator!

PreMoney 2018

1. The startup accelerator program keeps up-to-date on what is going on in the fundraising market.

The fundraising market is continuously in flux.

One area of flux is the amount of investment. In a span of 15 years, the private investment market has gone from contracting to expanding to contracting again. Many factors contribute to this caterpillar effect, here are a couple:

Fundraising typically expands during a period where companies have exited by either going public or have gotten acquired. As a result, founders decide to put their new funds to use by becoming an angel investor or contributing to private investment funds in hopes of receiving better returns than what public markets are providing at the time. Venture capitalists operate the same but manage other people’s money and receive it from limited partners.

Contraction soon follows an expansionary period, and how much depends on if there was a glut of companies that received funding, who couldn’t raise additional capital, were not able to successfully exit, or if limited partners and angel investors start pulling back and scrutinizing investment practices and areas. Usually, they go into a holding period until one of their investments has successfully exited.

As a busy startup founder, do you think you’ll have time to keep up with the flux?

In the 500 Startups’ Accelerator, our staff is dedicated to keeping up with these trends. You’ll have an opportunity to meet with them, and learn what matters to the success of your company, such as:

  • how to grow your company to attract investment
  • how much capital you need to raise
  • which investors are actively looking at companies like yours and writing check
  • what are acceptable or unacceptable deal terms, for you and your investors

PreMoney 2018

2. The startup accelerator program knows how investors think and will prep you for meetings.

Another area of flux is how investors evaluate companies for the various stages of funding, e.g., Seed, Series A, B, C and so on. Here are a couple of examples of this flux:

10-15 years ago, a first-time founder who had built a prototype (irrespective of the industry they were disrupting) could probably get meetings with investors and raise around $250K of seed capital to get going. Fast forward, and today, first-time founders better have traction, traction, traction, and know what that means concerning their industry and business model. Not to mention having answers to questions like why now, why them, why they chose specific distribution channels, and how their product is defensible?

The investors who previously wrote $25-$50K checks to 10-20 founders are now deploying larger checks to fewer founders.

Plus, it’s hard to tell how an investor is evaluating your company.

  • Did they say no because they have 10 other similar investments?
  • Did they say no because they have seen 10 other similar investments fail?
  • Did they say no because have talked to 10 founders like yourself, and they don’t think you and your team are the ones to execute?
  • Did they say no because they think the market you are going after is contracting?
  • Did they say no because they don’t understand how the market you are going after is expanding?

Hard to say, and you probably won’t get a ton of detailed feedback even if you ask! However, having invested in 2000+ companies, you can count on 500 Startups to teach you what will and won’t resonate with other investors.

500 Blockchain Track

3. The startup accelerator program connects you to other founders. You can learn how other founders run their companies.

Everyone has their style of leadership, but entrepreneurship can get pretty lonesome without a trusted peer group to lean on.

The 500 Startups’ Accelerator provides co-working as part of its 3-month startup accelerator making the daily grind a lot more manageable and friendly.

Here’s why other founders found it invaluable:

“At the low-point of my startup, I had a serious founder issue that I could only chat with my fellow 500 Startup founders. Thanks to 500 Startups’ accelerator for the great friends and family, who provided me solid advice and support when I was down.” — Aaron Blumenthal

500 Batch 24 Demo Day

4. The startup accelerator program stays up-to-date on the legal landscape.

If you’ve launched a product and are making money, do you need to worry about legal?

You have probably received advice like: “You don’t need an attorney to start a company!”

It’s when there’s a “people problem” staring right at you, such as a disgruntled employee, co-founder issue, or customer complaint that you think about getting legal counsel.

Even waiting until things go well is too late. Founders who start looking for counsel when they need an LOI, convertible note, or some other legal document drawn up become THE bottleneck to closing deals!

Not to mention that business law is also in flux.

Do you know what general solicitation means?

Case in point, as a founder you need to know what the boundaries of doing business are in the US and abroad. 500 Startups brings in attorneys to give talks and share best practices around building a company. They also showcase what to look for and how to work with legal counsel.

This alone ends up saving you $$$$.

500 Batch 20 Demo Day

5. The startup accelerator program provides access to growth marketers and growth marketing techniques

“There are many marketing channels. I’ll try them all till I find the one that works!”

However, do you have the budget, time, and energy?

You might think of hiring an agency or a growth hacker, but finding, vetting, and hiring them can be challenging!

The challenge with going with an agency is that they typically require a 6–12-month retainer and usually a minimum of $3K-$5K per month, not including ad spend. In case you’re curious ad spend, depending on your market, could be a minimum of $2K to $10K+ per month.

Hiring a growth hacker is similar to the agency, you’d need to hire someone on an ongoing contract and set aside funds for the ad spend.

The other BIG issue is that if you hire a growth hacker-slash-agency when you aren’t sure which channels your customers are on, you will blow through a fair amount of money running experiments. Of course, growth hackers and agencies don’t mind. They are getting paid to run experiments regardless.

Moreover, while they do their best, they cannot guarantee results immediately, which is why they ask for the retainer.

At the 500 Startups’ Accelerator, we’ll walk you through experiments, and help you optimize the results.

The 500 Startups’ Accelerator assigns each company an advisor focused on distribution. Their sole role is to help you grow, grow, grow.

These are experts who know what is and isn’t going to work and why, which saves you time, money, and energy!

Chandini Ammineni who runs 500 Startups’ growth program says:

“Startup founders tend to do what’s the next coolest thing in marketing, instead of what is right for them. Part of that is lacking focus and not knowing how to prioritize. The 500 Startups growth program, helps startup founders figure out next steps for the stage of their company. We have people on staff who have worked with hundreds of early-stage startups and have amassed a wealth of knowledge. They know what does and doesn’t work based on the size of a company, customer segment, product type, pricing, and other factors.”

 

NOTE: This post first appeared on 500.co under the title “5 Things You’ll Learn In The 500 Startups’ Accelerator Program

 

 

Looking for help in these 5 areas and more?

Apply for funding from 500 Startups Vietnam

San Francisco
814 Mission St., 6th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103, USA

© 2010-2019 500 Startups

More on Saola Accelerator

More on Saola Accelerator

Image: 500 Seed Accelerator Batch 23

This is a “saola”, a long-horned ox so rare that it’s often called an “Asian unicorn.” (nevermind that it has two horns!). Saolas are found almost exclusively in Vietnam.

I believe there are other Asian unicorns to be found in Vietnam, which is why 500 Startups Vietnam is pleased to announce the launch of the Saola Accelerator, our version of 500’s flagship program in San Francisco with local experts weighing in. It’s the right time to build a springboard for Vietnam’s next tech unicorns. Read on for more information about the current landscape, what Saola aims to do, and what kind of startups we’re looking for!

(tl;dr — Apply here now: bit.ly/500saola)

 

The Current Startup Landscape, Briefly

Vietnam has shown how much it can do with very few resources. From one of the world’s poorest economies in 1990, it has averaged nearly 7% annual growth since; no wonder Bloomberg has called Vietnam “Asia’s newest tiger economy“. The BBC has even speculated that this country could become the next Silicon Valley, though I would like to think that Vietnam’s entrepreneurs are building something else, with meaningful value-add especially to the world’s emerging economies.

Early-stage Vietnamese startup founders are symbolic of this scrappiness. They have demonstrated the courage to take the entrepreneurial leap, the heartfelt candor to attract early hires, and the all-in hustle to hack out a product and bring on customers, and they have done this with very little financing and experienced guidance compared with more mature ecosystems. Some startups have hit meaningful scale anyways, such as VNG (thought to be Vietnam’s first unicorn), Sendo (closed $51M Series D led by Softbank Korea), Topica EdTech (closed $50M Series D led by North Star Group), and Momo (closed $28M from Goldman Sachs and Standard Chartered Bank). They’re empowered not only by the pursuit of financial gain, but by the desire to benefit Vietnam as a whole and to bring Southeast Asia up to par with any developed region of the world. Hence the presence of 500 Startups Vietnam and our belief in the birth of more unicorns to come.

 

First-Stage Accelerators

Being a founder may be one of the loneliest jobs in the world, but they shouldn’t have to “go it alone”. In more developed startup ecosystems, there are usually many accelerators. In the U.S. alone, there are more than 700 accelerators (Crunchbase searchBrookings Institute study), providing financing, knowledge, skills, access to customers, hands-on operations & growth help, and/or social & emotional support. 500 Startups, Y Combinator, Techstars, and Mass Challenge are among the more notable accelerators. Yet many other accelerators struggle or fail, due to various reasons including too little mentorship, lack of business development, misaligned stakeholders, and others. (Read: it’s really hard to run an accelerator!)

Vietnam is plainly earlier in this journey. According to the Ministry of Science and Technology, there are fewer than 50 self-described accelerators and incubators. The most active programs include:
– Topica Founder Institute (TFI), the Vietnam chapter of global startup launch program Founder Institute
– Vietnam Silicon Valley (VSV), a public-private partnership with the government of Vietnam
– Vietnam Innovative Startup Accelerator (VIISA), a joint venture between local technology company FPT and investment firm Dragon Capital

These programs have generally worked with founders in their earliest stages, as reflected by their programming (e.g. TFI’s) and their investment amounts (TFI – N/A, VSV – $20KVIISA – $15K). Yet several notable Vietnamese tech startups have emerged, such as Appota (TFI), WeFit (TFI and VIISA), Lozi (VSV), and WisePass (VIISA). The programs have played a role in startup formation and founder education, which is why we’ve been happy to spend time with participating founders in trainings, mentor sessions, etc. However, Vietnam has been lacking in programs specifically for founders that are ready to scale.

500 Startups Vietnam has been aiming to fill the gap with our straight seed investment:

  • We have invested very actively. We invested in 18 startups from 2016 to 2017, which made us the most active VC investor in Vietnam over that time (compared with other investors in TFI’s 2016 and 2017 annual market reports). And our 2018 startup total has surpassed our combined total of the prior two years.
  • We have offered a variety of tactical business support, including connecting founders with potential key hires and business partners, supporting PR, reviewing UX and IT infrastructure, etc.
  • We have provided advice for fundraising including strategy, messaging, and connections.

I’m pleased to say that most of our startups are making substantial progress so far. Among those we invested in more than 1 year ago, more than 70% have raised additional capital or exited. Our startups have raised more than $90 million from downstream capital. 3 companies are already “centaurs” or on track to be soon. 2 companies have closed money from Sequoia. 1 company has been acquired.

But there’s so much more to be done: investing in more startups, supporting our portfolio companies scale to greater heights, and generally helping to elevate the ecosystem.

 

Announcing the Saola Accelerator

Since our first Silicon Valley accelerator batch in 2010, 500 Startups has worked with 1,000 companies in more than 40 program batches around the world, including the Americas (e.g. San Francisco, Mexico City, Miami), Europe (e.g. London, Stockholm, Berlin), the Middle East, and Asia (e.g. Seoul, Kuala Lumpur). Lots of hard lessons learned during that time, but we think we’ve gotten pretty good at it. 500 Startups is often called one of the top accelerator programs in the U.S. (including Forbes and Entrepreneur); and we even teach best practices to other accelerator managers.

We’re excited to bring that experience to Vietnam. We’ll invite one of our experienced partners to direct the accelerator and have an all-star cast of folks to help localize the program and work closely with participating companies. I’m also excited to be doing this in partnership with GS Shop, Korea’s foremost retailer with a very active corporate venture team (nearly 500 direct and indirect portfolio companies internationally). GS Shop and 500 Startups have had a close relationship for years, with investments and collaborations spanning from Korea to the U.S. and the Middle East. GS Shop plans to send aides to the program and also match 500VN’s investment in select portfolio companies.

This all means that participants in our accelerator program can get

  • MOAR support — scientific, actionable, no-bullshit help — from our accelerator team members with real experience on strategy, product, marketing, sales, & business development, fundraising, and international expansion.
  • MOAR money. US$100,000 net investment from 500 Startups Vietnam, plus a potential additional US$100,000 from GS Shop for select startups
  • MOAR perks. Access to US$500,000 in perks (free or discounted services) from more than twenty 500 Startups partners including Amazon, Microsoft, and Google.
  • MOAR community. The global 500 Startups family of more than 2,000 founders and mentors are here to support each other, be it resource allocation or wrestling with the most difficult questions 24/7.

As with any of 500’s programs, I expect that we will make some mistakes and need to adjust some things along the way. But overall we’re aiming for this to be a transformative experience for not only participating startups but also for the broader Vietnam startup ecosystem!

 

What We’re Looking For

Any startup can apply if it (a) is a tech or tech-enabled startup, and (b) has a Vietnam connection (e.g. serving the Vietnam market, having a Vietnamese co-founder, and/or having a meaningful portion of the team in Vietnam)

Those are just basic criteria. From there, we’re looking for startups with several of the following:

  • Great founders with commitment, integrity, speed, coachability, and resilience
  • Compelling product that is truly solving a real pain point, and doing so substantially better and/or cheaper than competing solutions. Bonus points for companies using deeper technology.
  • Big market opportunity, e.g. large and/or fast-growing
  • Meaningful traction. Founders often ask us what number they should hit before applying for funding. Unfortunately there’s no single metric or fixed level for this. Each business has its own numerical story to tell. Check out these posts by a16z for an idea of some metrics that we may look at.

Apply here now! bit.ly/500saola
Early Bird / Early Unicorn deadline: January 2, 2019 (your best chance to get in!)
Regular deadline: January 20, 2019

Late deadline: February 15, 2019 (applications are still considered)

PS: thanks for the regional coverage from:
Yahoo!,
Tech in Asia,
DealStreetAsia,
e27,
Vietnam Economic Times,
KrAsia,
Nhip Cau Dau Tu,
Vietnam Investment Review,
and others!

NOTE: this article first appeared on 500’s website under the title “Announcing the Saola Accelerator in Vietnam”.

This article reflects the personal views of Eddie Thai, and not necessarily the views of 500 Startups. Nothing in this article should be construed as an offer, invitation or solicitation for investment, or be construed as investment advice. Data provided is as reported by portfolio companies, third-party sources, and/or internal estimates and may not have been independently verified.

San Francisco
814 Mission St., 6th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103, USA

© 2010-2019 500 Startups