Don’t get me wrong – winning is great! But these four companies learned that it’s not all about taking home the gold.
They went through all the hard work of competing in a startup competition, but they didn’t catch the big prize. However, they did walk away with unique experiences and ideas they couldn’t find anywhere else which helped grow their business.
Their stories go to show that competitions have a lot more to offer than just the prize packages.
Adam Baumgartner, founder of JackBacks.com
Please tell us about your business in 2-3 sentences. We make real wood Apple accessories focusing on sustainability, protection, and style. We are most known for our real wood back replacements for iPhone 4/4S and have recently expanded into making full bamboo iPhone cases, iPad skins and MacBook skins.
Which startup or business plan competitions have you entered and lost? 2011, Shopify Build A Business contest
If you were to apply now to a startup competition, what would you do differently? When I entered the Shopify Build A Business contest, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing from a business standpoint. I learned quickly how important it is to make personal connections with people, and to let them know what you’re all about. I think the only thing I would do differently would be to push myself a bit harder, get my HUSTLE on, and really take every opportunity to make personal and meaningful connections.
Even though you did not take home the big prize, what did you gain from entering? I gained so much from this competition. When I first entered this contest I was working in a dead end job and had little hope of breaking free. Shopify’s Build A Business contest really pushed me, and motivated me to sell, sell, sell. Before I knew it, I was earning more money with JackBacks than I was making in my daytime job. In October 2011, I became fed up with my job and finally took the big jump! I quit my job and started running my life (and new business venture) on my own terms. It’s the greatest feeling in the world.
Do you plan to enter startup competitions in the future? Yes, I intend to enter more competitions in the future. I’ve got nothing to lose. Competitions are very motivating and put me in touch with like-minded individuals. I learned so much about myself, my business and life in general.
Why do you feel you’d have a better chance of winning this time around? Practice makes perfect! I’ve grown so much since I first started JackBacks. JackBacks has a much bigger Facebook following now too. Being able to send out a Facebook message and get an immediate response is priceless. We also have expanded into a larger a selection of wooden accessories for Apple products, whereas, when I entered Shopify’s Build A Business contest, JackBacks only offered 1-2 products.
What stage was your company in when you entered your first competition and what stage is your company in now? JackBacks was just a baby when I entered Shopify’s Build A Business contest. I literally created my online store only a few months before the contest. At that point, the site was only generating a couple hundred dollars a month. Now JackBacks has a great following with thousands of fans, and the business brings in enough money to support myself plus two other employees. We have grown and expanded our products to fit a broader audience and are very excited for the future.
Rob Kischuk, founder of Bad.gy
Tell us about your business. Badgy provides a social loyalty platform that delivers 'SEO for Social.'. We help marketers of consumer brands reward their fans to get better distribution on Twitter and Facebook and sell more product.
Which startup or business plan competitions have you entered and lost? 2011, CapVenture 2012, Startup Riot 2012, SXSW Startup America 1 Minute Pitch Competition 2012, TAG Business Launch
If you were to apply now to a startup competition, what would you do differently? I would pay even more attention to the judges and the perspectives they bring to the table. Some competitions will skewer you without financial projections, even as a pre-revenue company, others will (perhaps rightfully) laugh at you for including such projections. Different competitions dictate different details.
The other, bigger lesson I've learned is to view a startup pitch as a story. You can put all the pieces of a pitch together in a slide deck, but unless they tell a coherent story, you're not going to win, and that transfers nicely to investor conversations as well.
Even though you did not take home the big prize, what did you gain from entering? These competitions provide a great opportunity to practice presenting why your startup is valuable to an audience of normal people. Quite often, your potential investors and customers are also normal people, so practicing how to communicate the value in what you're doing can actually help you in fundraising and business development.
If you get the chance to present at the final events, it's a great opportunity to make new connections and continue old connections. For us, some of these events led to the conversations in which our investors committed and customers approached us. Even if you're just watching the final event, you can pick up some great presentation ideas from the finalists, plus network among the crowd.
Do you plan to enter startup competitions in the future? We'll probably consider entering the SXSW Accelerator competition, LAUNCH, or TechCrunch Disrupt. As our company has progressed, some of the basic startup competitions are less suited to our stage of growth, but there are still plenty competitions that provide a big stage of opportunity and fantastic pitch feedback.
Why do you feel you’d have a better chance of winning this time around? We are much further along. We have investors, including our lead investor Mark Cuban, who has advised us well and has brought great strategic partners and customers to the table. The funding process guided us into a much bigger business model, focused on getting paid when we help a brand sell products or other ROI-driven activities, rather than charging the huge monthly fees of our competitors.
What stage was your company in when you entered your first competition and what stage is your company in now? At Badgy's first funding competition, I had a strong intuition about where I wanted to take the company, but I didn't have the right way to convey my vision to others. The coaching I've received from each competition and from my time at Georgia Tech's Flashpoint Startup Accelerator prepared me quite well to make investor pitches and hire a great team. We're now growing both in terms of team members and in customers. It's a great time in the life of the Badgy.
Ed Loessi, founder of OfferedLocal.com
Tell us about your business. OfferedLocal is focused on giving small businesses control over the distribution of their own offers and specials through social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare, and via email.
Which startup or business plan competitions have you entered and lost? 2011, Lean Startup Challenge
If you were to apply again to a startup competition, what would you do differently? For us the application process was pretty straightforward, so I wouldn't have changed much with regard to that activity. As far as the rest of the competition and the final presentation I would have done a few things differently. I would have spent a bit more time looking at other similar competitions to see who the winners were and how they had formulated their final presentations. Although we placed 3rd I think we could have done a bit better. In regards to the final presentation event I would have practiced more. Our final presentation was good but it felt rushed, so more practice would have really helped.
Even though you did not take home the big prize, what did you gain from entering? Lean Startup Challenge forced us to work through a very intensive implementation of the process. We had to create marketing and product tests, test them on potential customers, adjust our marketing and product features based on the results, and do that once per week for 6 weeks, something most companies only do 1-2 times per year. On top of that we had to prepare reports and share them with the judging committee each week to document the process. The finalists, of which we were one, were the companies that showed the most effort and success in that implementation process. The program really forced us to implement Lean Strategies quickly and that has stayed with us as we continue to grow the business.
Do you plan to enter startup competitions in the future? Given the stage of our business we probably wouldn't enter any further startup specific contests because we have moved out of the pure startup mode and are now focused on growing the business.
What stage was your company in when you entered your first competition and what stage is your company in now? We were a pure startup when we entered the Lean Startup Challenge. We haven't made any huge changes to the business itself. The basic premise is still the same but now know more about our industry and our customers. Now we are adjusting our sales processes and marketing.
Aaron Aycock, founder of CubeVibe.com
Tell us about your business. CubeVibe replaces traditional employee performance reviews, helping managers connect with their teams and improve engagement. Specifically, CubeVibe delivers on-demand tools to help managers hold effective meetings, set individual and team goals, track progress with simple metrics, and share real-time, social feedback.
As our clients use these tools to improve performance, they get a crystal clear view of engagement across the entire organization from data captured automatically by CubeVibe. We can measure engagement in real-time by how employees are feeling, performing, and contributing.
Which startup or business plan competitions have you entered and lost? 2012, StartupRiot: Selected as one of the top 5 finalists, but did not take home the prize.
2012, The Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) Launch Competition: Selected as a semi-finalist but we did not move to final round.
But we've also had a few wins along the way: Our first 'big break' was being selected as 'Awesome New Technology' at the 2011 HR Technology Conference, our industry's most important event in held in Las Vegas, NV.
CubeVibe won People's Choice at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in 2011, in Santa Clara, CA.
TAG named CubeVibe one of the Top 40 Innovative Technology Companies in Georgia (2012).
CubeVibe was selected as 'Amazing Entrepreneur' (2012) which was hosted by Gwinnett Chamber of Economic Development.
If you were to apply now to a startup competition, what would you do differently? Communicating our value proposition in a short amount of time was our biggest challenge. At StartupRiot, for example, we only had 3 minutes and a few PowerPoint slides to pitch our company. Deciding what to include in the pitch felt a bit like Sophie's Choice. We packed too much information into our presentation. If we were to do it again, we'd drop the slides which included supporting info and focus solely on what we do and why we're unique. We'd keep it simple enough so that anyone in the audience could explain what we do at the cocktail reception afterwards.
Even though you did not take home the big prize, what did you gain from entering? We thought carefully about each competition we entered. After all, time invested in competition is time that could be spent writing code, talking to customers, and building the business. But for each competition, we refined our pitch, improved our message, and narrowed our focus. And in the early stages, testing the message and measuring the response was extremely helpful. You'll spend a lot of time crafting each response for the application process, but you'll use these answers thousands of times in casual conversations, customer presentations, press interviews, etc. Your mileage may vary, but every competition has been a great experience for us and accelerated our development, regardless of the outcome.
Do you plan to enter startup competitions in the future? Pure startup competitions are probably behind us. We've already received some great exposure from competitions and we've shifted to converting that exposure into customers and revenue. At this stage in our lifecycle, we'll gravitate towards showcase competitions to highlight our product, especially at industry-specific events. I'm looking forward to StartupRiot 2013 as an audience member. I'm going to enjoy the show and networking without all the stress of presenting.
Why do you feel you’d have a better chance of winning this time around? We'd probably have a better chance of winning because now we have answers to all of the questions judges asked us. Learning is a huge part of the startup experience. And we still have a lot to learn. That's why I'd say any startup that participates in a competition has a better chance of succeeding in general, not just in future competitions. Why? The amount of concentrated feedback you get about your product, pitch, and pricing is invaluable.
What stage was your company in when you entered your first competition and what stage is your company in now? When we entered the StartupRiot competition, we had a number of beta clients using an early version of our product. We now have production users (and revenue), so our focus has shifted to include operations and growing revenue. It's a better stage to be in, but it introduces new challenges. For example, at HR Tech, I was literally changing code as the audience entered the auditorium for the demo. I could do that when we were in beta. I couldn't do that today, but that's just fine. I'll take paying customers over beta flexibility any day.
Ready to experience the competition action for yourself and your business? We’ve profiled dozens of startup competitions nationwide so you can find the one that's best for you!
Have you decided what competition is right for your business? What’s holding you back from entering a startup competition?