Yesterday, I spent a full day immersed in the #sthlmtech start-up scene.
In the morning, Mini Seedcamp Stockholm involved a panel Q&A with investors, themselves experienced entrepreneurs, talking about the talent, culture, and low-risk welfare state contributing to making Stockholm one of the big start-up centres of Europe, after Berlin and London. We also heard pitches from eight up-and-coming start-ups in the region, with ideas ranging from teaching programming to children to creating an online fitting room to help the customer choose the right fit and style and the retailer to have less returns. In the afternoon, Sting Day 2014 brought even more entrepreneurs together with even more investors.
It’s incredibly inspiring to be exposed to so many creative business ideas coming from young (yes, I feel quite old, but wise too) and energetic entrepreneurs. These “co-founders and CEOs” – because that’s what you can call yourself when you’re launching a start-up, how cool is that? – all believe that their idea is the longed-for solution to a big problem in the marketplace.
In fact, as voiced by one of the experts in the morning Seedcamp session, when I asked about the biggest challenge start-ups are facing today, this confidence can be a problem. If you’re too in love with your idea, with your product, then you won’t be open to feedback and advice. You have to be willing to learn and adapt in order to be successful with investors and, ultimately, with consumers.
That said, self-belief could also be the force that drives you to succeed.
In the first keynote at #StingDay14, the founding CEO of mobile payment solution iZettle, Jacob de Geer, boldly stated that being told that your idea is impossible can actually be a signal to proceed, an opportunity that you have to grab with both hands:
“Nothing is impossible. The impossible just takes a bit longer.”
The harder it is, the higher the barriers of entry will be for your would-be competitors:
“The sum of all the problems you solve is the value of your company.”
Comforting words for those of you struggling in the early days of your business!
This sentiment was echoed in the second keynote by CEO and founder of two-factor authentication solution Yubico, Stina Ehrensvärd, who modestly proclaimed that she had succeeded despite lacking the usual business credentials, as a trained designer and a mother of three:
“I had one thing: I was fearless enough to try.”
Another motivating remark came from Harry Briggs, a venture capital investor at Balderton. Rather than focusing on the product, on the financials, and all the details of the project, you should convince the investor that you are someone they would want to work with. What’s your vision? Where is the world heading? What are the big trends that you’re tapping into? Who is the team that will make it happen?
“Sell us the dream!”
Throughout the day, we were also able to browse the company showcase. Particularly interesting for me were Tailify with its transparent and effective approach to leveraging influencers to reach customers with relevant brand messages, and Relation Desk that provides an alternative to Hootsuite that really allows you to manage your conversations and follow-ups with customers (and, indeed, the CEO Fritjof Andersson won the vote for the best pitch in the afternoon session).
The last session of the day was the most entertaining: a “reverse pitch” where four different types of investors had the tables turned on them as they were asked to convince a panel of entrepreneurs why they should choose this particular investor. The experienced entrepreneurs were ruthless in repeating comments and challenges that they themselves have heard over years of pitching investors. The winner, and the one I voted for, was passionate angel investor Erik Byrenius, though I have to say that they were all pretty convincing in representing why private investment, venture capital or corporate venture capital is the way to go, respectively.
A final chat with the start-ups during a cocktail and buffet dinner, and the day was ended, leaving me freshly inspired in my mentor role to support these start-ups as they grow and develop, and not a little inspired to start my own company! The only thing I’m missing is a business idea…