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Startup Diaries Week#14: The Show Must Go On

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Startup Diaries Week#14: The Show Must Go On

That’s it. Ignite cohort #8 is done.

14 weeks of my life have flown by in the blink of an eye. It’s fairly odd, being honest, as it feels as if January 11th (our first day here) is SO long ago, yet the time itself has passed so quickly.

Having been immersed in the startup world for 14 weeks, I can’t remember what it was like NOT to think like this.

I can’t remember not having the knowledge that I have now and I can’t imagine approaching any business (or even personal side project) with anything other than the approach that we’ve been through here on Ignite.

The experience has changed me; it has humbled me; it has made me better both personally and professionally.

In fact right now, it hasn’t sunk in yet.

And so, all I can do is simply carry on.

Enough of that, let’s get to the meat of it

Early on this week we had the third and final investor lunch, where we get together with angels and VC funds to begin to build relationships with them, ready for working together later.

I mentioned it in week #12, but these are really informal and for anyone from any accelerator or indeed from the fabulous Ignite cohort #9 up in Manchester, the lunches are there to help you.

Going into the lunch with that kind of attitude takes a heck of a lot of the stress away from the “pitching” and means that you can just be yourself, enjoying the free food and the high quality conversation.

And so, with that approach, investor lunch #3 went just fine. I opened up some great communications with a number of VC funds and followed up with some really positive meetings booked. It’s still early days, but having decided on exactly we want to raise as our seed round, I feel confident that we’ll be able to raise that as we move forward with Pip™, the product.

The latter part of the last week of the programme was push, push, push towards the final showcase on Friday 15th April.

Thanks to that, there haven’t really been any major challenges this week, nor any lessons really learned.

It sounds really odd to say that, but let me explain.

We’ve done 13 weeks of preparation that should get us ready for a couple of things:

  1. Preparing for our seed round
  2. Being able to pitch our startups to anyone, in any amount of time

In short: by now everyone should know their startup, as it exists today and as the vision anticipates it will exist in 6, 12, 18 months, by heart and entirely.

And so, we spent the week practicing the pitch.

I’d put together a deck that was REALLY simple. I’m a big believer in less is more when it comes to presentations and thanks to that, my slide decks do generally feel pretty minimalist.

That’s great, but the really fun thing is that it becomes about the delivery of the words – it’s about telling the story much more than it is about using a set of slides as a crutch.

The guys at Ignite 1. kind of forced that, which isn’t a bad thing at all, and 2. understood that people may not always be comfortable with that – so, they brought my buddy Tim in again.

And guess what, I wasn’t a dick this time!

In fact, I was up first.

So, at 9:30am on Tuesday, I trundled down to the basement at TechHub and delivered the first couple of minutes of my pitch for Friday – and Tim was impressed!!

He was probably just glad I wasn’t being a tool this time.

There were a couple of small things he asked me to work on, namely just making sure that I paced through and paused for impact in specific places – after all I was supposed to be telling a story, not really pitching, as such.

You know, the funny thing about these little sessions with Tim is that I’m pretty sure that he’s just made me into a much better public speaker as a result.

It’s amazing what 50 minutes and a little humility can do for you. For anyone who thinks they’ve “got it sorted” and don’t need any help or guidance in any area they work in, I’d really urge that you seek some kind of outside feedback, at the very least.

We become really comfortable with the that things we do often, and typically we stop improving because of that – I don’t know anyone in business who could honestly say that they haven’t done that at one time or another.

Invest a little in yourself and, as my friend David Shriner-Cahn over in the Big Apple says, smash that plateau.

Anyhow… I digress.

The rest of the week was pretty much stacked full of perpetual pitch tweaks, re-practice and group sessions pitching to each other.

The latter sessions were particularly fun. And it’s weird, I’m more nervous pitching in front of 10 people who I count as lifelong friends, than I am 200 strangers on a stage.

I really can’t understand that. I used to be the same when I was in bands – I remember doing a gig in front of about 15,000 people and not being nervous at all, but pop me in front of a 10 strong audience and I struggle.

If you have ANY idea what that’s all about, I’m curious – please let me know!

Maybe it’s the whites of the eyes.

The showcase: judgement day

Or not…

Really, there’s SO much pressure piled on the this showcase day that it’s so very easy to assume that it desperately matters to the future of your startup.

When it came to our showcase day, over at the amazing Screen on the Green in Islington, it became apparent that although the room was full of about 120 people, standing room only, there were only a few investors there and they were largely people we already knew.

The reality is that the day is much more of a celebration of the Ignite family, the process and the fact that each and every one of the startups who joined the accelerator on January 11th had embarked on a transformational journey, and come out of the other side so much better for it.

We’d practiced the flow of the day so many times by this point that, once we were all sat in the front row together waiting for our time to come around, we all seemed pretty relaxed and ready to tell our tales.

Sure enough, as each of our times approached, everyone stepped up to the stage and really, really raised their game – every single pitch was ten times better than the practice run, every single founder brought their “A” game and each presentation was met with rapturous applause from the crowd – it was a pleasure to not only be a part of it, but to see it, as new friends consolidated themselves as genuine, world-class startup founders.

It was a proud moment.

As for my pitch, it’s not for me to say how I believe it was perceived. What I will say however is that I enjoyed it.

Coming from the kid who was too afraid of the spotlight to be a part of the primary school Nativity play at ages 5–11, it’s really odd to say that I’m really comfortable on stage – but that’s how I am, and because of that I just took the chance to have a conversation with people about Pip™ – that’s how I approached the showcase.

I’d urge any startup reading this who may find themselves in a similar situation, to do the same.

Of course, I REALLY knew my session – I know the story beats and the salient points; exactly where to deliver the jokes and the impact points.

It’s all about the practice.

Overall, the showcase was such a fabulous way to underscore the entire programme.

As a special point of note here, the Ignite team did a superb job of the showcase. Martyn, Tristan, Flossie, George and Paul all took to the stage at various points throughout the proceedings and it was very encouraging to see that Ignite is only continuing to grow through 2016 and beyond.

That said, the programme will be growing without Mr. Paul Smith.

The showcase marked Paul’s final day as Ignite CEO, with Paul moving on to something new and challenging in a different way, I’m sure.

Paul, thanks man, you’ve been fantastic throughout this whole process – no one could’ve done it without you.

And a huge thanks to the rest of the Ignite team: Martyn, Flossie, Tristan & George – you guys really have something, and we can’t wait to work with you again.

Real-life: how the co-founders are doing

Tomorrow we move back to Barnsley.

We pack up the apartment that has been called home for 3.5 months, we leave behind the structure and routine that we’ve crafted over that time, and go back to “normal”.

Maybe.

We’re both a little sensitive to not simply falling back into a routine that we had before we came to London for Ignite.

From my perspective, it’s going to be really challenging to put together a daily schedule that gives me the time I need to work on Pip™ without falling back into the old agency routine I had, all whilst still adding significant value to the agency as well.

I have no doubt that I can do it, and in fact it’ll just mean implementing various productivity ideals that I talk about so much on podcast interviews or in blog posts – it’s just about being strict, planned and focussed.

On a more personal level, we had an amazing “wrap” party on Friday – first of all in the Myddleton Arms in London, which consisted of a massive free tab from cohort #8’s programme director, Martyn (cheers buddy, that Zephyr though!) – and then with an “after after party” over at Robin & Simon’s (of Luno.io) apartment.

I’ll be honest, I’d had a few shandies. And I dance really well when I’ve had a couple. Seriously.

The evening was bittersweet.

It was amazing to spend so much close time with friends who will remain friends, likely for life, but by the same token it was the last time that we’ll all be together for a while.

Adam and I moving back to Barnsley; the AlertFilm team moving back to Paris and so many other teams pushing forward on their own.

Sure, we’ll stay in touch and sure, we’ll see everyone again I have no doubt, but I also doubt that we’ll ever be so tightly woven together into one unit like that again.

And so, as the night wore down and it became time to say goodbye, I’ll admit that I had a tear in my eye going around the room saying goodbye to the people who made the last 3 months of my life so vibrant, so impactful and so abundant.

Thanks guys, love you all.

What next?

The story isn’t over. The story just closes it’s first chapter.

I’ll be writing a longer, overarching reflection piece over the next few weeks and of course, Pip™ will continue to blaze its path to global AI domination.

Keep your eyes peeled and don’t forget, the more you expect from yourself, the more you WILL excel.

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About the author, Mark

Mark Asquith is a serial entrepreneur who has built globally successful design, marketing, software and digital businesses since he quit his real job in 2005.

A passionate podcaster, global keynote speaker and helpful bloke, Mark is the co-founder of Podcast Websites and the creator of Excellence Expected. He has a terribly embarrassing beard.

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