Startup Rally is a travelling road show covering nine European cities in 19 days, showcasing new as well as more established startups. The event is the creation of Leto, a UK-based consultancy that not only develops their own products, but also provides advice and resources to startups. The goal is to connect startup communities from different cities, and for startups to perfect pitches to local investors.
The rally kicked off in London on 12 August and had visited Amsterdam, Hamburg and Berlin before making their pitch stop in Prague last Monday night, 19 August. About 40 people were at host Node5, with seven startups pitching to four local judges. The startups were a mix of locals and others along for the rally in certain cities.
Who’s pulling more than one stop?
Founder and CEO Brian Taylor of PixelPin pitched his authentication software that uses pictures instead of passwords to prevent hacking and fraud. Taylor and his team have been working for two years in the UK, the tech is free for individual end users with the business model aiming to sell the tech to finance companies, gambling sites and for use with mobile wallets. Evangelising is the biggest problem at the moment, hence PixelPin has decided to do the entire rally. Taylor speaks well, and knows every detail of his product.
Another startup completing the entire rally circuit from the UK is Portfoleo, a specialist piece of software for architects to speed up the application and recruitment process within the industry. Architects have extensive and digitally large portfolios that can be difficult to deliver to multiple sources, so founder and CEO Ahmad Mustafa hopes to build a cloud to connect applicants with employers directly, also eliminating the need for external recruitment consultants.
Currently operating on 200+ social networks just six months after launch, Paris-based feeligo is a way for sites to monetise without having to use unsightly banner advertising. Users send virtual gifts to each other using the feeligo ‘gift bar’ at the bottom of pages, with both feeligo and the site owner sharing the profit. Co-founder Davide Bonapersona pitched and with 350.000 euros of seed money so far they are going great guns. Yet, I am still bewildered by this startup and can’t believe that people are willing to pay for virtual gifts.
Spanish startup VideoLean is to the video world what Prezi was to the PowerPoint world. Whereas the free model allows a low resolution of your video available for three days, the high-res versions cost dollars. You can’t remake Star Wars Episode 1 (unfortunately) but you can easily create simple videos for training and corporate purposes. They are still in beta but they have sold over 100 videos in the last two months, and are looking at B2B affiliate programmes to increase their revenue base. David Terol’s pitch was simple – he said what he was supposed to and kept plenty of time for questions, which the judges appreciated. I get the feeling that VideoLean and PixelPin are at a similar stage – looking for believers… with a little spare cash.
The CEE contenders
One of the simplest and weirdly named startups of the night were local boys Ernest Istvany and Jakub Belescak of UFFEE.com. This Prague startup is in its very early stages, aggregating all the content from websites you choose into one feed – your own magazine all about you. Ultimately, user affiliate clicks will generate income and users can sign up for a free account now. The judges clearly disliked this pitch, with one even commanding the room and asking who even understood what the startup was about. Uffee weren’t great talkers and the pitch wasn’t great, but to humiliate a young startup in a room of peers was harsh.
With only a 2% conversion rate when customers visit e-tailers, Marketizator seeks to increase this to 20% by localising and personalising a user’s experience of the site. After leaving a site people are directed to a short questionnaire, which then impacts their next visit. The results are analysed and remembered for their next visit, then repeated. Currently, there are three subscription models available and it has been adopted by seven e-commerce sites, and tested on one million visitors. Romanian CEO Valentin Radu, pitched like a man who knew he is on a good thing. He ticked the boxes for a good pitch and waited for the accolade. The only criticism from the judges was that he isn’t charging enough for the service.
The other Prague-based team was Zonio, pitched by co-founder Pavel Tuma. The team have created a smarter calendar for scheduling meetings within an organisation, which integrates a visual representation of user availability across different platforms. They are looking to make money on hosting and license fees from enterprises that have 10 to 250 employees. Now they need more customers. It’s a solid idea, simplifying the chore of a hundred emails back and forth to schedule one meeting. Tuma seemed fairly disinterested in his own pitch, there was no energy and he failed to generate any excitement in the room.
On a technical note
Portfoleo was the second pitch of the night and they were first to be unable to get a PowerPoint presentation to play on cue – but they weren’t the last. All pitching startups had plenty of time to get their presentations set, yet over half couldn’t get their stuff ready to go. These glitches are endemic to startup pitching events and it isn’t good enough. I struggle to keep interested in pitches that can’t even get the small things right.
Winners and not winners
Marketizator was judged the winner of the night, followed by Portfoleo second, Zonio third and feeligo fourth. The evening was similar to the Pioneers Unplugged travelling around Europe, however the rally is focused on pitches and investor feedback. With more events like this hitting our calendars, there has to be some innovation to make it worthwhile for all attendees. The rally idea is a good gimmick to start, but it needs more if it is going to stand out and be a serious player for the time and money of the startup scene.