Someone once described being an entrepreneur as jumping on a horse with an unwieldy sword and galloping at high speed into the sunset alone, driven by an unrealistic belief of success. This has certainly been my experience during the five startups I’ve founded or been involved with and each time one reaches its conclusion, successful or otherwise, I always say ‘never again’. But like any powerful addiction it’s not long before that gnawing feeling comes back, another problem that needs to be solved is found, and on the horse we jump again.
Taking Future Worlds to CES is a profoundly important milestone for the University of Southampton entrepreneurs that join us on the stand. The steep learning curve of pitching to a vast spectrum of potential customers combined with the pressure to make the most of the opportunity whilst standing side by side with kindred spirits from around the globe makes this a special place indeed.
During the show, the Future Worlds team both here and back in the UK act as a well-oiled machine supporting the startups we promote in any way we can. Each morning, writing the daily blog at 5am makes me the first moving part in this machine which then sees Jon proofread and edit the text, Sophie select photos to accompany the narrative whilstAlex and Natasha process the video footage back home in the incubator.
This year is Sophie’s first time experiencing CES and worries of incomplete video uploads during the night had seen her catch very little precious sleep. A strong coffee and she was back on her feet checking out the video Alex had sent through and helping Tyler iron another piece of the stand’s fabric. As they were doing this Jon’s head popped round the corner with our first good media news of the day, which was that techUK had published our guest blog on their website.
It is extremely difficult to get media coverage during CES – after all we are up against products like LG’s latest 65” TV that rolls up like wrapping paper, so Jon had done very well with this one. He also confirmed that popular UK southern counties radio stations Sam FM and The Breeze were set to do a radio interview with me at 10am, which was another great catch. So Jon and I headed off early to the show to get prepped and ready for the interview whilst Sophie and Tyler finished off their morning tasks.
Now, as many of you know, I’m a little out of practice at the moment so Jon fired potential interview questions at me as we paced around Eureka Park, narrowly avoiding the fork-lift drivers racing past with their freight deliveries. I already knew the best place to take a quiet call from last year, when I had many a phone conversation with Minister for Digital and Culture’s press team. This perfect location is an unglamorous corridor leading up to the first floor toilets. The phone rang and I dived into the space and got chatting to the interviewer about everything from Future Worlds to our founders and CES as a whole. Jon had remarkably guessed nearly all of the questions correctly and so being well prepared I felt that it had gone well. But why not judge for yourself – it will air on Wednesday and we’ll let you know more on that soon.
A little later, Sophie, Jon and I parked ourselves at one of the Venetian cafes to discuss media strategy at the show. We drank our coffee, ate biscotti and tried to ignore the deafening indoor theatre performance which began 10 minutes later. We reviewed our current list of media targets, brainstormed new ones, prioritised the list and divided it between the three of us before heading back to the stand with a renewed purpose. After sending the first few emails the familiar face of Dr Mike Short CBE appeared and we got chatting about the presence of UK startups at the show. Mike has been at Telefonica for 30 years, reaching Vice President level, and only left to become Chief Scientific Advisor at the Department of International Trade. I explained how the University was being so supportive of Future Worlds and we discussed the merits of having a UK pavilion at CES.
When it comes to national presence, France is undoubtedly the leader this year with a colossal section of Eureka Park dedicated to its startups. Holland also has an impressive area promoting its entrepreneurs and it was fun to catch up with those I had got to know during my last startup, Joulo. Arjen Noorbergen, who was CTO of the company that acquired Joulo, dropped by and told me how his latest venture Triggi was going. A couple of hours later my old friend Andriy Shmyhelskyy appeared. Andriy founded CareToSave, now called Hyko and we had met at the British Gas Startup competition when I was pitching Joulo in 2013. Andriy’s proposition is wonderfully endearing and well worth a look – an internet-connected polar bear that helps teach kids to turn off the lights.
We then buckled down to the job in hand – finding a creative way to tempt prospects and media to come to the stand and discover our startups. For Daniel we had realised that casinos were a perfect opportunity for Aura Vision Labs and so he spent a few hours searching for details of the surveillance directors of the largest casinos on the strip. Meanwhile Travis was amassing a list of the biggest bloggers on the internet who might be interested in covering his EdTech App, Handy Kanji.
The plan I suggested was bold, simple and hopefully irresistible to the prospects: film a short pitch video just for them, personalised by a hand written message on an A4 sheet of paper held up at the start. Imagine you receive an email with an embedded video whose thumbnail shows someone holding up a card with your name on it. Who wouldn’t be tempted to play that clip? This technique goes right back to the 1930s and Dale Carnegie, the famous author of ‘How to win friends and influence people’, who said that a person’s name is the sweetest thing they will ever hear. So we spent a couple of hours creating and sending these highly personalised and targeted clips.
During the later stage of the afternoon Tyler, who had been busily working on some code, announced that he had developed a Raspberry Pi-powered device that would automatically upload all the files from an SD card onto our media server back in the incubator. This meant that the team could just swap cards after filming and pop the one they had just used into its SD slot, allowing Alex back home to grab the footage coming through. This was quickly employed to upload a tour of the stand that was planned to be the blog video for today.
Thanks for the messages many of you have sent about the first blog, and special thanks to Jon’s relatives who kindly pointed out that in all the footage so far he appears to be standing around doing nothing! I’ll make sure he pulls his weight today.
One last request, if you do enjoy these blogs, is to help us by sharing them on your social feeds. As ever, Future Worlds is powered by its network, their connections and goodwill and helping promote what we are doing is a great way to play a part in the journey of some of our exciting startups.
If you want to find out more about Future World's, head over to their website at https://futureworlds.com/