Friday 25 September 2009

AffectLabs (FestBuzz) at TechCrunch London

Yesterday I pitched Affect Labs (aka FestBuzz - for more on that see below) at TechCrunch London.

Update: See also TechCrunch Europe's Event Wrap.

I'm rather pleased, and still more than a bit surprised, to say that we won "best pitch"!

Picture above is me on stage with Mike Butcher, Editor of TechCrunch Europe, receiving a bottle of bubbly.

There were a lot of interesting companies there with some very good pitches. I did think it would be nice to get in the top 5 but I didn't think I'd really done anything to deserve winning. Not that I'm complaining though!

Credit where credit is due though, the presentation was largely based on Jennie's learnings in the run up to the TechCrunch Geek 'n Rolla event earlier this year where she pitched Affect Labs. Some of the slides were ones that she had made for a pitch she did at an Astia London event, also earlier this year.

Of course, like all my interactions with TechCrunch events, I don't like things to be straightforward. I had visited the relevant Amiando page almost as soon as the event was announced. The first thing I did was click on the link to export the event in to my Google Calender. As I knew I was going to be pitching I didn't have reason to buy a ticket or visit the Amiando page again.

So yesterday, at 3pm, I turned up like an eager beaver for some pre-pitch practice.... at Gilgamesh Studios in Camden. Nobody had a clue what I was talking about as I wandered around what looked like a giant empty Indian restaurant asking where the TechCrunch event was.

Turns out the original plan was to hold it at the Gilgamesh Studios, but the venue had quite quickly been changed to the Cafe de Paris near Piccadilly Circus. The people that had already bought tickets were notified of the venue change by email, but as I wasn't buying a ticket I wasn't notified (random link found through Google shows venue as Gilgamesh).

So in future I'll remember not to blindly trust Google Calender exports. In the end I wasn't too late for the event and managed to get some very helpful tips before I went on stage.

Cafe de Paris is an interesting venue isn't it? The private rooms (where we prepared before the pitches) had what they describe as a VIP boudoir but which everyone else described as looking like some kind of porn set. I wonder what goes on in there hmmmm. It would have been a bit nicer without the dodgy stains and cigarette burns on the beds...

Tonight they're hosting the FHM High Street Honeys '09 party. I should have hidden in a toilet for the night or something. Quite contrasting clientele to have one night after the other! Om nom nom nom :D

I got some good questions from the floor. I particularly liked the audience's reaction when I was asked where the technology originated: "Jennie's PhD research in a NLP group at Cambridge University". I think I did hear a kind of "ooh" from the audience. Hud that!

A Hungarian chap, who knows the sentiment field, attempted to ask a technical question. Fortunately, nobody, including myself, could really understand what he was saying. I say fortunately because I did go and speak to him later and I wouldn't have been able to answer his question very well on stage.

One slight issue that did become apparent through the night was our own brand perception. We were publicised as FestBuzz, we were introduced as FestBuzz, and the first thing I did was go up there and say "I'm Steve from Affect Labs". I pitched as AffectLabs (which is the registered name of the company), told the audience about FestBuzz (our 4iP funded Edinburgh Festivals project), and referenced Benchmark7, which is the working name of our sentiment classification engine. Also my business cards are heavily Benchmark7 branded.

Well for the rest of the night I was "the guy from FestBuzz". I had to explain the three names more than a few times. I spoke to Mike Butcher about it and he was definitely keener to refer to us as FestBuzz - "that's what people know you as"! (TechCrunch had written a short piece about us when our 4iP funding was announced). So that's something we'll have to keep in mind as we move forward.

Anyway, I had a great time at the after show party, which was timed to coincide with the end of Seedcamp. It was pretty nice having lots of people compliment the pitch (even before we won) and then have people congratulate me later. :) I met a whole bunch of great people. Now the challenge is to connect the business cards to the faces to the conversations to the follow-ups that may or may not have been promised!

Some more pictures from the event can be found here on Flickr, courtesy of BitchBuzz.

The event was actually streamed live on Ustream. If my day before the event had not been so busy/chaotic I would have put the link in my Facebook account. Is it possible to watch things which have already been streamed?

Thanks to TwistedTree for organising the event.

Sunday 13 September 2009

The 51st Company

In my previous blog post I was lamenting our failiure to get in to the TechCrunch 50.

Well this week, in an unexpected twist to the story, I got an email from TechCrunch CEO Heather Harde asking for us to go over there and pitch.

Oh my heart did skip a beat!

Apparently some companies were at risk of not making their slot, so she wanted us to come over as the "first reserve" so to speak. If it turned out that we weren't needed then we would be given a DemoPit spot instead.

I received the email on Wednesday. She wanted us to fly over on the Friday to work through our pitch then get stuck in on Monday or Tuesday.

Only problem was, since getting the initial rejection, we had been working on other things - not making a specific demo for TC50 (we had something specific in mind that would have been exceptionally cool for all companies there - not just us).

Shortly after getting the email I was on the phone to my co-founder Jennie.

"So you know that demo we were going to do specifically for TechCrunch 50 that was probably going to take about 2 or 3 weeks to get ready? Do you think you could still do it in two days? How about if you just stay here and work on the demo, while I go over to San Francisco, have a great time at the conference and bask in the limelight of being a presenting company? Strictly speaking do you need to take time out to eat and sleep?"

OK, so pretty obviously it wasn't going to be possible. Nevertheless, we could have presented something, possibly shown FestBuzz. The only problem would be that it wouldn't be a product launch, so much as a technology pitch, and TechCrunch 50 is about launching products.

Even if we didn't end up on stage, we would have been in the DemoPit. Doing an exhibition without any preparation would be challenging to say the least. I figured we could probably wing it, however with rather prophetic timing, Jason Calcanis' email newsletter had just arrived with 22 tips on how to operate a trade show booth.

Let's just say that none of these tips include, "decide to go to a trade exhibition a couple of days before it starts and just wing it". Hmmm....

So anyway, Heather had said in her email that she would call me the next day or that I could call her at any hour to discuss, so I did that. No answer on her cell phone so voicemail was left and then I sent her an email outlining my concerns and suggesting that we probably couldn't do it. I tried calling a few more times, because I was really hoping that she would try to persuade me to do the pitch. However I never heard back from her. No phone call or reply to my email, so I guess it was taken as a decline (unless they're still expecting us to turn up. That would be awkward!).

When Jennie and I were talking about the possiblity of doing the pitch, there were quite a few things running through my head. This is TechCrunch 50 and we've been asked to do it! It's web-tech lifetime opportunity - we would be mad to turn it down. Even if the demo is not perfect we should just do *something*.

Luckily Jennie was the voice of reason, not least because she would have to make the damn demo! Sure we could turn up and do a demo of *something* but it wouldn't be good enough. We might end up doing more harm to the company than good. Just because it's TechCrunch 50 doesn't mean we should put our reputation at risk. Even if we're just mediocre, people don't remember mediocre. I think I was being driven more by the prestige of the TC50 badge rather than the practicalities of the situation.

The reality is that although I was extremely excited when I got Heather's email, I knew we probably wouldn't be able to do it. At first I was like "Yah!" but then I "Meh'd"...

So I guess we were the 51st choice company (unless some other reserves had already turned them down!), and Michael Arrington's 75-80% chance of us getting in was fair. I wish the best of luck to whatever company has presumably replaced us. I do hope they get a chance to go on the main stage and make the most of this (presumably) unexpected opportunity.

That's twice in the past couple of weeks I've meant to have had a conversation with Heather and we have not managed to connect. I really hope I'll get the chance to speak with her eventually! And hopefully they'll remember us and Affect Labs will still get a chance to pitch at a TechCrunch event in the future!

N.B. We've actually got a few pitches coming up in the next few weeks. We were selected as one of the Guardian Tech Media Invest top 100 companies and we'll be pitching at the related event at the Emirates Stadium, London on 1st October.