Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Applying for the Accelerator Academy

Application for the Accelerator Academy 

During my crowd-funding experience I was told that a lot of start-ups join Start Up Accelerator programmes to "Accelerate" the growth of their company, after crowd-funding. I didn't know too much about accelerators but thought that I should try and apply for something where I will be working in an incubator surrounded by other young start-ups.

I came across a competition that was being hosted by Dell, it was called the "Dell Start Up Residence Competition 2014" the prize for the competition was to be able to work from the Dell offices during the growth of your start-up. I applied straight away and a week later I got an email saying that I had made it through to the final rounds and that I was invited to the final round of judging. It said in the email that their offices are based in Bracknell. I realised that I had no idea where Bracknell was and so I looked on the map and saw that it was outside of London, near Reading.

I had got engaged in December and we were in the process of buying a house near Stratford in East London so I suddenly panicked thinking that it would be very difficult to commute to Bracknell every day. I emailed the lady at Dell back and explained the situation and that I would have to pull out of the final judging round as I didn't want to waste anyone's time.

Situations change

The lady emailed me back saying that she understood the situation and that one of the judges on the panel was really impressed with my entry and would like to offer me some support. She told me his name was Ian Merricks and he runs the Accelerator Academy. He asked if she could introduce me to him. I replied saying yes of course.

Everything happens for a reason!

I then never heard anything, a couple of weeks passed and I emailed her again to ask if she could introduce me to Ian. I got an email saying that she had left Dell, the man who emailed me said that he would introduce me to Ian. Luckily it was just in time as the application submission date for the Accelerator Academy was coming to an end. I was told by Ian that they receive over 100 applications per semester and only select the best 10, but that I should still apply.

A week later I had to have a Skype interview with Ian which was pretty scary. I was being asked a lot of questions about MyCarGossip, the business and financial projections. I then sent him my business plan that I had written for Seedrs crowd-funding. I was told that he had to liaise with the other mentors at the Academy and he would let me know in 24 hours if I had been accepted.

24 hours later I received a "Congratulations" email from Ian to say that I had been accepted and I was one of the 10 companies to have a place on the Accelerator Academy.

The Accelerator officially started at the end of April and lasted for 3 months.

Monday, 3 November 2014

The art of networking

Is there an art to networking?

I used to get terrified at the thought of networking, having to go to an event on your own and talk to people. How do you start a conversation? How do you pick who you want to speak to? How do you break into a group of people and join in a conversation that has already begun.

I always thought you had to be the most confident person to be able to attend an event on your own and "network."

Practice makes perfect:

There is truth in "practice makes perfect" although for me personally, even now, after attending many events on my own and meeting people, I still get nervous going to events by myself. Especially if they are pure networking events where the sole purpose of the event is to meet people.
I prefer to go to events where I know there will be speeches and talks so that I can network for a bit before, listen to an interesting talk and then network a bit more after.

I find that every networking event I attend, I always meet someone interesting or someone who can help me with my business. A great example of the power of networking was when I attended an event hosted by Pinterest in the UK.

Take a friend

I actually took a friend with me to this event as I knew it would be interesting for her as she is a graphic designer and uses Pinterest regularly for inspiration. We were chatting to each other and then I said that I thought we should go and mingle and try to meet some people. Having a friend with me definitely gave me an extra boost of confidence.

I saw an older man standing on his own, a bit out of his comfort zone as the majority of the people who were attending this event were young female bloggers. I went over to him, introduced myself and I asked what he did, he said that he runs a motoring blog! "How strange" I said, "so do I! But mine is specifically for female drivers."

It then turned out that he used to be a graphic designer but then had a career change, so the topic of conversation was perfect for my friend and I.

Whilst we were deep in conversation, a lady walked over to us and said to the man "I've been told to introduce myself to you because I run a garage." I was so shocked that another lady in the motoring industry was at the event. I was even more shocked when she said that she owns/runs a garage.

The topic of conversation got even more interesting at that point!

Tips for networking: 

  1. Be confident (most people are probably just as shy as you might be, try to be the person to make the first conversational move) 
  2. If you know the name of the person who has organised the event, go up to them and introduce yourself, they can then introduce you to other people. 
  3. Try and find out the name of the person who is organising the event, you will then be able to go and find that person and they can be the first person you speak to at the event. 
  4. Ask great questions, if you show an interest in the people you are talking to, you will build better relationships.
  5. Always ask for their business card, but only at the end of the conversation or when it's appropriate. No-one likes a business card shoved in their face at the beginning of the conversation as it just looks like you want their business rather than to build a relationship. 

Top tip:

Be Yourself! Be genuine and you will build people's trust. 

Getting featured in the Daily Mail

During my crowd-funding campaign I was trying to get as much exposure as possible so that people would hear about the campaign and invest in MyCarGossip.

I hired a start up PR company and got a little bit of exposure using them but they kept being told that the journalists would only write about the crowd-funding once I had raised all the money. This obviously wouldn't help me during the campaign because I wanted the PR to help get the funding!  At the same time as using the PR company I hired, I was trying to figure out how to get a piece into a big newspaper myself.

I tried everything, I even did a YouGov survey to get some interesting statistics that I could create an a press release about so that I could send it to journalists. The question we asked YouGov to post to their community was:

"If I was involved in a car accident, I am confident that I’d know what information that I need to note/take down for my insurance company” 

The aim of this question was to find out how many people would actually know what information to take down in the event of a car crash. There were a choice of answers that they could pick from. 

We ended up getting some really interesting results from the survey, out of 1,485 drivers 60% were unsure of all the information that they would need to take down in the case of a car accident. 

I spent ages sending the press release out to a very long list of journalists that I was given but it still didn't get featured in any newspapers.

I knew that I needed to try something different.

The Daily Mail

One day I was reading the Daily Mail and I came across an article that was written by a journalist about a woman who was running her own business from home. I really enjoyed the article and so I decided to search for the journalist on Twitter. Her name was at the bottom of the article so I searched for her on Twitter and found her profile. I tweeted her saying that I really enjoyed her article and could I tell her about my story which is similar to the one she had written about. She tweeted me back with her email address and so I sent her a press release about MyCarGossip which I had written.

I was so surprised when she emailed me back asking to interview me for a piece in the Daily Mail!

The next day she interviewed me and a few weeks later I was on the front page of the Daily Mail app under the money section and on their website there was a large photo of me along with the story.
In just a couple of days it was shared 179 times on social media.

A Local Paper

I then did the same thing with a local newspaper from my area and they also asked to interview me!

They even sent a professional photographer to my house to take some photos of me with my car. The funny thing was that he said he expected me to be wearing overalls, he thought I was an actual mechanic. I had to explain that I am not a mechanic, I am the founder of a motoring website for female drivers.

I learnt so much about PR whilst I was trying to raise my investment and once I had completed my crowd-funding I was then featured in more interviews because I had successfully raised the money.

Friday, 31 October 2014

What is crowd funding?

At the beginning of this year I raised £30,000 investment for MyCarGossip via the crowd-funding website Seedrs. 

When I first decided to do crowd-funding, I was constantly asked, what is crowd-funding? To be honest, at the time I didn't fully understand the concept, I sort of learnt as I was going along how it worked and what you needed to do to make it a success.

The dictionary definition of crowd-funding is "The practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the internet."

Seedrs Crowd-funding

I got in contact with Seedrs to see if they would accept my business on their platform, I had to answer many different questions for the application which created a mini business plan for the website. After that I had to create a short video to introduce myself and the business.

We also had to put down the current valuation of the company, we looked at a few other campaigns and saw that all the companies who were raising around £30,000 had a valuation of £400,000. So we put down our valuation as £400,000 post money.

The first thing that I learnt very early on is that you need to get your friends and family to start the crowd funding, the saying goes "If your friends and family won't invest in you, why would anyone else?"

So at the start of the campaign my dad and I got in contact with as many people as possible that we knew to see if they would put any money into my campaign. With the Seedrs crowd-funding, you could put in as little as £10 to become an investor in MyCarGossip.

How much to raise?

We decided to raise £30,000 because with Seedrs if you don't raise all the money, you don't get any of it. Since it was the first time I had tried to raise investment for MyCarGossip we thought we would start off by raising a small amount so that I could hire a sales person and have money to spend on marketing. We also wanted to show that we could have a crowd of people backing the idea.

It proved very difficult at the beginning because you need to be able to show constant momentum so that Seedrs' own investors get involved.

During the process I did quite a lot of research into crowd funding to learn how to do it successfully, I even learnt that there were a few tricks there were being used. For instance- you could find one investor who is going to put in a large amount of money but get them to invest that amount in stages. So they could invest a third of the amount at the beginning and when you have a dip in momentum you could ask them to put in the second and third amounts towards the end of the round by topping up so there is a significant increase towards the end of the campaign.

It also helps if you have an offline investor who is interested in your business who will put their money into your campaign. I noticed a few campaigns that were raising £100,000 but had one investor who put in £50,000 so they already had half their money. Having half the money obviously encourages other investors to get on board as they can see that someone else is already involved.

Offline events

A great thing about Seedrs was that they hosted an offline event for some of the campaigns and invited me along to pitch and meet with some of the investors who could be interested in investing. I went along and gave my 60 second elevator pitch and then stood at a stand and spoke to potential investors. I was also invited along to another event where I could stand at the Seedrs stand with Seedrs as an example campaign. Both these events were very useful.

The team at Seedrs were very involved in my campaign and I could really tell that they wanted me to successfully raise the money and they put in a lot of effort to teach us about crowd-funding so that I could raise the investment.

It took around 2 months to complete the crowd-funding, we ended up going into over funding and raised £30,830 for 7.69% equity. The equity was automatically calculated through the Seedrs platform.

Crowd-funding was a really interesting experience but it involved a lot of time and hard work!

Cosmopolitan super blogger event

Last year I went to a bloggers event that was run my Cosmopolitan to give you advice on the best way to go about creating a successful blog.

There was a really interesting panel for this event:

Emily Johnston from Fashion Fois Gras @fashionfoiegras
Louise Court who is the Editor of Bristis Cosmopolitan: @LouiseCosmoEd
Kat Williams from RocknRoll Bride: +Rock n Roll Bride
Dominic Smales @domsmales
Andreas Pouros Co-Founder and COO at Greenlight: +Andreas Pouros
Vicki Fogwill @chirpster10

We were told that it is important to be honest when blogging, to be different and to have a niche.

These are the main points that I picked up from the event:
  • Don't be afraid to repel as well as to attract people
  • Blog at the same time everyday so that your readers get into a routine.
  • Talk to readers and find out what they want
  • Check analytics's to see when people are reading
  • It's important to have good imagery on the blog

We were also told the Dos and Don'ts of blogging:

  • Don't give up
  • Do be tenacious
  • Do think about the brands you want to work with and how you can work together
  • Don't send emails demanding invites and freebies
  • Do be honest
  • Don't write things and just assume people are interested
  • Use Google to search for keyword topics
  • Do value your work- think with a business brain
  • Don't be controversial for the sake of it
  • Do use social media- tweet to big brands
  • Don't get frustrated
  • Do look at rival blogs
  • Don't misbehave on twitter
  • Do network
  • Don't just sit at the computer and write, you can find inspiration outside the house. 
Since the event I have been putting all these tips into practice for the blog on my website MyCarGossip. 

It was a brilliant event and we even got a bag full of beauty products to take home!

Creating your 60 second elevator pitch

The second time I pitched MyCarGossip was just as scary as the first time. This time I went along to an event at the Google Campus Tech Hub to learn how to create your 60 second elevator pitch.

Google Campus Tech Hub Workshop

I went to the workshop which was extremely useful, we had to think about the most "sexy" parts of our business to tell people about in just 60 seconds so that they want to hear more.

We were told about what investors are listening out for, all they hear is revenue and money so we need to be telling them about how they are going to get their money back. We need to tell them why we are worth investing in.

Here are the main things that we were told we need to include in our 60 second elevator pitch:

  • What problem are you solving?
  • What is your USP?
  • Who is your competition and why are you better?
  • What is your revenue model (Sum it up in a second)
  • What is your addressable market? How do you know? Do you have a track record?
  • Who is your team?

At the end of the session they mentioned an event happening the following week where around 30 start ups will be doing their 60 second elevator pitch at the Tech Hub. I knew that I should take part so I signed myself up to put what I had just learnt into practice.

How to do a creative elevator pitch:

We were told that we had to do the 60 second pitch "Creatively" to stand out.

I was terrified all week and practised non stop so that I knew my elevator pitch off by heart.

I bought a large card board cut out of a car and stuck the letters "MyCarGossip" across it. I then asked my sister to come along to support me and to sit inside the car.

I was so nervous when I actually pitched, I was shaking so much but once I had finished, I felt like I had done a really great job and I was really pleased that I signed up to do it.

I even got tweeted about!

And a girl asked to have her picture taking with me and the car!

It was a great experience and I would recommend everyone to sign up to do short fun pitches to get extra brand awareness and to practice doing your elevator pitch.

Friday, 27 June 2014

The first time I ever pitched MyCarGossip!


In October 2012, when my idea for MyCarGossip was pretty much just an idea with a very basic website that was just about ready to launch, I met a lady called Maila Reeves who at the time was the UK editor of The Next Women Magazine. 

I went for lunch with Maila and showed her MyCarGossip to get her opinions of it at it's early stage. Maila really liked the concept and gave me some great feedback. At the end of our lunch she told me that I should come along to The Next Women pitching event that was being held a few weeks later. A group of entrepreneurs would all be pitching to a panel of judges and an audience of about 60 people. I thought to myself that it would be a really good idea to go along and watch. I went home and bought my self a ticket and informed Maila that I would be coming along to watch.

Maila emailed me back saying that I had purchased the wrong ticket and that she wanted me to buy a ticket to be one of the entrepreneurs who would be pitching on the day! I was shocked that she thought I would be capable of pitching the first version of my website to a whole room of people. I couldn't miss out on this opportunity so I went ahead and bought the other ticket so that I would be pitching on the day. The day would include a workshop which would give me pitching practice and help me work out which information was the best to have on my slides.

The day in November came and I was so nervous! I had never done anything like this before. The pitching workshop was very useful and it was in a very friendly environment. As the day went on I was getting more and more nervous. I remember sitting in the audience waiting for my turn to go up and pitch to this (what felt like, a very large audience!) A few minutes before my pitch I had to run out because I thought I was going to be sick!

Finally, it was my turn to pitch, I walked up to the front of the room sweating and shaking and delivered my pitch. Possibly the most nerve wracking experience ever! But it was a great experience and I am so glad I did it.

The feedback from the panel of judges was great, they were surprised by my age (23 at the time) and were really impressed with my idea. They even gave me a special mention at the end when they were picking a winner as some of the panel wanted me to come in third place.

I was even mentioned in an article that was written after the event by a lady called Natalia Martinez who is a career coach. She wrote in the article that she was particularly attracted by two of the pitches, one of which included mine! :-) You can see the article here

The lesson I learnt from this experience is not to miss out on opportunities because you never know what will come of them. Because of The Next Women event, I have met some very inspirational people who I still keep in contact with.