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.