The first ever Geek Girl Meetup University Showcase at Oxford University was held on the 17th of February, one of the first sunny days, in the Said Business School and it actually felt like spring. I could not be happier that despite the weather, the turn up was still great and the speakers that came were of the highest standard. Indeed all of the feedback we have received so far was exceeding expectations and one of the MBA attendances even emailed the Business School Dean because she enjoyed it so much (although we have not heard anything from him yet....). The event was sponsored by king.com with loads of lovely freebies that were distributed early on and everyone seemed to love the little candy usb sticks and stress balls, and the Oxford Entrepreneurs Society .
I (Vanessa Butz), am a fourth year Engineering, Economics and Management student at New College, Oxford and started the meetup off with a short introduction about Geek Girl and how I met Heidi Harman, the co-founder of Geek Girl Meetup, in Berlin. After which I delightfully passed the torch to Dawn Draisey, founder of Viewed Media, who started the product lifecycle off by talking about what it is like to "take the plunge" and start your own company. She is still in the very early stages of Viewed Media, a video lifestyle entertainment site for a digital audience, which is yet to launch. Having worked at Google and YouTube previously, she emphasised the amazing experience it was to embark on her own startup journey and the difficulties that arose with not being associated to a big company. A startup just does not have the same leverage when trying to arrange meetings or contacting other businesses. She quoted Churchill's "success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm" and illuminated the natural highs and lows that come with taking the plunge, advocating that one should not believe the hype and success is a windy path but overall just "keep calm and take the plunge".
The next step of our product lifecycle was developing the "idea to creation" by Janna Bastow, a product management specialist and co-founder of ProdPad, a product management software. Janna gave us some background on what constitutes good or bad products and delved deeper into where good ideas come from, introducing the execution multiplier. A brilliant idea with no execution is worth $20 and a so-so idea with brilliant execution is worth $50m, whereas a brilliant idea and brilliant execution can be priceless. Essentially illustrating that ideas are worth nothing unless executed correctly, indeed trying to get people (VCs, potential co-founders etc) to sign an NDA on just an idea is pointless, they will not even look at your idea. Janna compared simple doughnuts to a minimum viable product and offered various prototyping possibilities for non-technical founders such as paper prototyping, wireframes (balsamiq, mockingbird, moqups), or digital prototypes (axure, invision). Most importantly, gathering feedback from all angles is essential in the development from idea to creation.
Janna's talk was a great introduction for the next part of the product lifecycle: product design and user interface by Cecile Baird, a designer who brought Product Design Guild from Silicon Valley to London. She used a very interesting visual metaphor for products comparing them to a house, imagine having a party, then being the host is user experience, the way you decorated your house is the user interface design (both parts of front-end design) then everything that you cannot see i.e. the brick, pipes, electricity that holds the house together is the back-end design. Cecile went on to illustrate various rich examples of how design affects products such as comparing AirBnB to Craigslist. She illuminated three design rules, "form follows function, gestalt law of proximity, and the color wheel" and concluded with the importance of the proximity of design and business.
Janna and Cecile touched briefly on the topic of the next talk, "How to build your MVP", by Robyn Exton, founder of Dattch, a lesbian dating app. She quoted the definition of an MVP (minimum viable product) from The Lean Startup, which if you are thinking of starting a company you must read immediately and emphasised that the MVP will be the most embarrassing build but at the same time your most proud moment after having taken the plunge. She discussed the details of who can build an MVP, what has to be in it and how your company has to learn from it, distinguishing between the minimum viable test and the minimum viable product. Robyn also argued that if you want to start a tech company, you should learn how to code as it is not as bad as it sounds and having a minimal knowledge about programming can make a huge difference to your product development.
Magdalena Krön, founder of ShiftSwapMe, a b2b solution for swapping shifts, continued the product lifecycle with more "thoughts on customer development". Magda is also from Sweden like Heidi and has been involved with many Geek Girl Meetups previously so it was great to have her speak at ggmOx. She emphasised the lack of structure most startups have when testing their business model hypothesis and highlighted the value of the business model canvas. Focusing on the right problem and learning from observing if done right should lead to an "AHA moment" from which the realisation of your customers needs arise so that a problem-solution fit is found. Numbers and user cases are an invaluable benefit and thoroughly persevering with customer development will ultimately make the company "the hero" for its customers (jackpot).
Amber Raney-Kincade, marketing specialist and founder at Raney-Kincade, ramped up the discussion with a huge influx of mid afternoon energy for her talk on marketing, social media and SEO. She really engaged the audience on questions such as what is marketing, how the loyalty loop affects us as consumers, how brand advocates affect consumer preferences, how consumers bond to brands, target audiences and how to implement SEO and social media. All of the above are the contents of your marketing mix, which varies depending on your company, industry and target audience and finding the correct mixture is key to an effective marketing strategy.
This lead the product lifecycle nicely into its next topic: fundraising and pitching once you have built an mvp and gained traction through customer development. Started off by Susanna Cerasuolo, CEO and founder of CollegeMapper, a website for US high school students applying to colleges, who is also a part-time masters student at Oxford University. Susanna introduced the basics of fundraising (family and friends, business angels and VCs) and the significance of social proof so it is best to be introduced to them through networks if at all possible. Susanna emphasised the "on-line pitch formula" by Adeo Rossi from the Founders Institute: "My company (name) is building (product) for (target market) to (problem solved) by (special sauce = secret ingredient)". Any founder must be able to pitch their company at any moment, and if the potential investor is stil interested, extensions must also be fire ready such as competitive advantage, team, traction, advisors, current raise or use of funds. Susanna also emphasised some other random advice such as business partners being like marriages (beware!), always under-promise and over-deliver, reply to emails immediately or asap, move quickly and be patient, stay lean, focus and execute and serendipity does happen. She finished off with an excellent quote for women in tech or business generally "Don't be so nice" by Gloria Steinham.
Finally our last speaker of the day, Itxaso del Palacio, an investment analyst at EC1 Capital, co-founder of Founders Fit and teaching fellow in entrepreneurship at UCL, offered an investors perspective to the product lifecycle by talking about "negotiating the equity and value of your startup". She introduced the investment terms pre-money valuation and post-money valuation through a simple example: if your pre-money valuation is $750k and your looking for $250k investment then your post-money valuation is $1m and the founders own 75% and the investors own 25%. Regardless of the amount of money raised, most investors will want at least 20-25% of equity. Another helpful example was assuming a series A round of "1 on 1" i.e. a $1m pre-money at a $1m investment, the founders own 50% and the investor (A) owns 50%. Then if another round is raised, series B of "2 on 3" i.e. a $3m pre-money with a $2m investment, then the founders and investor (A) owns 60% (30% founders and 30% investor (A)) and the investor (B) owns 40%. Itxaso emphasises the following tips for negotiating the value and equity of your startup:
- Get to know the rules of the game before playing
- Valuation is done by comparison and is hence subjective
- No MVP & no traction = no negotiation or investment
- Bootstrap as long as you can = increases your valuation
- Everyone (including founders) should be vested
- 15% of option pool for employees
- Build a superb adivsory board paid in equity
- Remember: valuation is not the only term to negotiate in a deal
Hopefully this summary of the speakers gave you a small insight into the very informative and holistic product lifecycle process the Geek Girls worked through in Oxford. We are really looking forward to more events like these in the future.