This was the message that we used in a start-up competition in Rotterdam, and what a success it was! Our mission that weekend: finding seed investors.
Phase 1: You have a date!
There you are, super-excited that a leading business school has selected you to represent them at a European start-up competition among other top MBA schools.
The Event: The “European Business Plan of the Year” Competition.
Our Business: A career-dating network that connects employees with students for a mutual fit assessment, kind of like a match.com for student recruiting. It basically offers effective recruiting for companies and better career guidance for students.
- Would you marry someone without dating them first?
- And yet, how much time do you spend with your partner and how much time do you spend at the office?
- With this in mind, wouldn’t you want to “date” your job first before accepting it?
Phase 2: You have nothing to wear!
You’ve been shopping for a while and can’t find anything nice enough for the occasion…The dress code for this event: the best business plan, as well as progress in your market testing.
Well, the structure of a business plan, iterations based on the business model canvas…that all sounds familiar, right? However, you’ll soon find out that the devil is in the details. After weeks of interviews, research and deliberations, we had completed three different business plans (why do these areas have to be so tightly connected?) and sent our best draft to an experienced friend, only to receive this feedback: “Puh, this plan still seems superficial to me.”
Phase 3: You’re running late for the date!
Although you planned well, the last few minutes are total crunch-time: last-minute PowerPoint edits on the plane, dry runs of the pitch in the hotel room, and a computer that crashes the night before the presentation. Who hasn’t been there? Our only comfort comes from the Greek team, a 7-member group that stayed up until 3 a.m. to enthusiastically practice their presentation (yes, you’re getting the right picture).
Phase 4: You start to panic! How do I even say “Hi!””?
Finally, the morning of the competition arrives. Before your first morning coffee, you read the message of encouragement that your mentor has left: “Good luck! This competition is not so much about winning, but about learning, girls!” At the coffee machine, you meet the London team, which had not only already started their business before the MBA, but most importantly, for the past year already had paying customers. (According to your plan, you’ll be there in six months, right?)
Phase 5: Not so bad after all! You actually manage to speak normally.
Then the presentation (of course, you are the first ones to present.) Surprisingly, despite the wobbly legs, when it comes to your business you’re back on track and happy that the judges seem to have understood your pain point and why your solution is better than anything else out there. 😉 You’re impressed by how spot-on their questions are, pointing you to the main areas that need refinement.
Phase 6: You screwed up! You still haven’t received a message!
You’ll spend the afternoon with great “elevator pitch” training. The founder of the Get In the Ring pitch events encouraged all of us to more vividly highlight the specific pain point that our business addresses. You’ll get a second chance to improve your pitch in one-on-one knock-out rounds in a boxing ring, which is a lot of fun and great practice.
We, however, felt knocked out when we asked for specific feedback on our pitch: “I actually don’t remember what your business was about. Something about dating?” Thank God you chose a caring mentor, who tells you that the others got it all wrong. After listening and learning from great presentations made by other teams, by the evening we had accepted defeat and decided to enjoy some fine wine.
Phase 7: The text message! There’s gonna be a second date!
After dinner, the finalists are announced. Our faces reflect utter shock when we receive third place for the elevator pitch and make it to the finalist round. Inspired by the good food and wine, you’ll need to incorporate the feedback of the day in your presentation for the following day.
Phase 8: The second date!
The finals feel much more competitive with all the teams and their guests in the lecture room. Interestingly, the jury challenged us most on the changes we introduced based on the feedback from the day before. It was a good lesson of how, as an entrepreneur, you shouldn’t lose your focus and listen to too many subjective opinions, but rather go out and prove these opinions wrong. Despite this feedback, our second date was a success, resulting in the runner-up prize and interested investors. It remains to be seen if we’ll make it beyond the honeymoon phase. 😉
Lesson 1: Go out and date!
Although the process may be daunting, you’ll certainly learn a lot!
Lesson 2: Stick to what you stand for!
Don’t be intimidated by the opinions of others since they are highly individual. Either prove them wrong or look for someone else.
Lesson 3: Take the time to find a good match!
We realized that there are as many different types of investors out there as Zugvögl* in the sky. If they aren’t enthusiastic about your idea in the first few minutes, forget them. As for the others: take your time dating them…you might be surprised how the situation evolves.
We sincerely would like to thank Nino, Markus, Evgeny, Andrea, Miguel, Javier, Hakan, Elena, Rosie, Klaudia, Oriol as well as the Munich IESE team around Rudi for this opportunity and your amazing support!
* Zugvögl is the German word for migratory birds that head for a new territory with a clear direction. Our message to entrepreneurs and our users during future career searches: Go out and date more!
Isabel Worch and Eva Cremer
Check out zugvogl.com (coming soon)