Alright, so we the humble “learners” of the day is now home, recollecting thoughts and lessons. Tired as I am, I knew I need to write this down before I forget all about it tomorrow morning. The competition came in a flash and ended with a flash too, but still we went through it, and hopefully some of the stuff I share here can be useful to the winners (congrats to the winning dudes! *phewit*) and also whoever is interested.
Oh so some background first since I’ve been avoiding answering questions before today. BizRoolz (sorry the public website is not ready), if not an actual company name, is definitely a rallying point that brought together 4 people who have come to believe in the disruptive capabilities in the realm of text-analytics. We had a plan, we had one or two leads, we have the experience in all facets of a business, but unfortunately, we had one problem: we are all “working adults”. I grinned very hard when I heard that the age group for the competition was 14 to 29 thus putting us squarely as possibly the oldest team (we’re all 28 and 29).
So, here comes S@S, which to us (and possibly many startups out there), was just noise at the beginning, one in the many possible competition we could hijack for the publicity or meager startup money. But when you run a company in stealth mode, publicity is actually the last thing you want, unless you’re really ready for it. Of the 4 of us, 2 are scholars (we saw some judges frown when we shared this while mingling), and we are still in the prototype / rebuilding (due to some IP constrains) stage of the startup for our first customers. In fact, the one judge’s comment that I’ll probably carry with me all the way in my following endeavors is: You’ve gotta be real to win this competition. So it is not a “business plan” competition after all. You’ve gotta be real!
Nevertheless, seeing it as a way to make us work slightly harder and crystallize our idea, find our focus, etc. we took part anyway. I heard about the competition 1 week before the executive summary is due (yes I really did…), sold it to the team, and we had a “plan” 2 days before it’s due. At least for me it was the first time writing down a business plan properly, learning a bit on pitching and taking in tangible advice from VCs.
What we did was sufficient to carry us from 285 pre-qualified teams (from close to 1000 submissions), down to 12 finalist (6 youth (aged 14-24), 6 open (the rest)). That itself was enough confidence for us to carry this through; that itself was enough signals from all parties that this is something worth pursuing. We just have to get smarter than we are right now. We learned on the way that it is to our advantage to position ourselves as a pure technology company even though we keep telling people that the services / consultancy bit is the sorely lacking thing here. We also learned that we need a more solid marketing plan (yes we will) and we need more tactful ways to open doors.
And I must say, I hear you, judges, friends, competitors, etc. I see how people like the idea, need the product, and even desperate VCs who just went “how much you need”. Yes, that’s the point to pursuing a believe – creating something people really need, make people’s lives better by empowering them, and so on. But this competition made it so hard because, it has to be real! Registering a company is hardly real. It’s $55 to ACRA, $5 to get your cert… A prototype is also hardly real – plenty of geeks have working prototypes based on open source algorithms, mashed up pieces of stuff… A financial schedule, or even, an already secured seed funding is also not real… We need to hit a magical point where you get a room of really smart people to give you a thumbs up, before you even take part in such a competition.
So anyway, thanks to everyone (since I didn’t get to say it on stage) who have given us constructive (and/or destructive) comments, suggestions, help, especially the organizers and the judges – some of you really made my day Apologize to the organizers for not attending most of the year long activities you guys put in place – I’m sure it was awesome, but we had to prioritize time. And to our most vocal judge today (if you happen to stumble here) we will meet again when we’re ready, when we’re “real” ok? (and Sentiment Analysis is a really crowded market. Really.)
Our team had a good XO fish head bee hoon dinner, reassured each other on our journey, and will continue make sure we move along timely. We even had a good game of Monopoly while waiting for the awards ceremony. Hopefully other good things can come out of this friendship.
Oh yeah, so Minister of Finance says he wants to see people not in suits, but in short sleeves shirts, or blouses or whatever people wear on Saturdays. Keep that in mind too the next time you see Mr. Tharman!Share
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