These days Mavenhut is participating in the ‘Startup of the year in Romania’ category, within the TNW Startup Awards Europe 2013 event. Therefore, this is a good time to take a look back at 2012, the year that brought us from zero to a 550.000 euro investment in less than 9 months.
Well, since you’re here, you might as well go and vote for the Startup of the Year: Mavenhut (first category), Best Cofounder: Bobby Voicu (second category) and Best Web App: Solitaire Arena (third category)!
And, of course, feel free to tell your friends.
Now, back to the story: 2012 seemed, from many points of view, like 3 years all trapped in one.
Dublin: lean startup-ing at Startupbootcamp
The first 4 months of 2012 were spent at Startupbootcamp Dublin, one of the 10 teams accepted there.
We were 3 cofounders (Bobby, Elvis and Cristi) working day and night for one single project, without having any major distractions. That despite the fact that one girlfriend out of 3 fell “through the cracks”, since she couldn’t cope with being alone for so long, back home.
I don’t think we ever got to the same level of effort and efficiency afterwards. We were eating, drinking and breathing Mavenhut and Solitaire Arena.
Along the way we learned that pivot is an overused word, but that Lean Startup is an extraordinary concept. We tested our idea way before having the first line of code written, by placing a form on a website and sending 200 people on it through Facebook Ads. This is how we learned that Solitaire Multiplayer isn’t such a bad idea. On the contrary!
Creating a “lean startup” was attractive. After all, the first workshop we went to in Dublin was one with Ash Maurya, helping us better understand the principles and practicality of it. After Eric Ries’ Lean Startup, Running Lean is the book you should be reading when you’re creating products or thinking about starting a new business.
Just to get an idea, Elvis (our cofounder and main developer) made 400 deploys in the first month of Solitaire Arena. True, he did around 15 a day, that’s how fast the learning and implementing cycle was. And yes, most times there was a bug solved per deploy, but that allowed us to immediately learn something new from our players. And we repeated this again and again and again.
Startupbootcamp in Dublin was the place we probably had the maximum amount of efficiency and productivity. If there’s one reason I insist that the founders teams should sign up for accelerators, this is it: for 3 months of your life, you won’t be doing anything else. You’ll dream about your project at night, you’ll breathe your project. And 3 months of living together will show you for sure if you’re able to get along with your partners for a long period of time. Trust me on this!
I, for one, learned that speaking at conferences for the last 6 years doesn’t help at all when you have to compress as much as possible in just 5-6 minutes, the time you have for a Demo Day event. Especially when you fell that investment in your company depends on that. It took me nearly 3 weeks of continuos improving and repeating to reach a so-so version of the pitch. Which was messed up by the fact that the mic went out. Twice.
During the presentation I also found that entering the stage like a boxer in the ring, wearing a hoodie and some sort of gloves, with the team behind you, is a sure way for potential investors to remember you. Add the disfunctional mic, a fantastic “recovery” that made everyone laugh, great numbers on the slides and there it was: each person in the room remembered us.[see the video of the presentation here]
I still remember the first day after Demo Day. Really tired and quite upset because we didn’t receive any investment proposals that night, though we talked to lots of people. But that changed in the day after that. In the next week we got 8 offers in the mid to high 5 figures for a seed round and everything looked a lot better, all of a sudden
Bucharest: Hot Summer!
And that’s how our fiery summer started. Both literally and metaphorically. The second year of 2012, as we experienced it, began in May, along with our return to Bucharest, to regroup. 35 degrees Celsius outside, in an office with no AC whatsoever. With continuous discussions with the investors with whom we had already started talking to and with other discussions with new investors. The offers were still in the seed money realm, which wouldn’t help us too much in the long run. We wanted more.
The summer became even hotter when reality his us: we’ve been living mostly out of our savings for the past 6 months. And savings have a particular characteristic: they don’t grow if you don’t generate any kind of income. On the contrary. An older website we sold at the right time bought us a little more time, but one of the lessons learned was that you don’t want to negotiate an investment (or anything, for that matter) while on an empty stomach.
Fortunately, we won the Competitive Startup Found, an Enterprise Ireland competition that offers 50.000E to 15 Irish startups, each trimester. We didn’t take the money, in the end, but it offered us an additional safety net which allowed us to keep discussing with our potential investors, only this time feeling more at ease.
Meanwhile Solitaire Arena was growing, users played more and more, we showed more traction every day. This meant that we would discuss numbers when we met with the people interested in investing. And I don’t think there was anything more important to these discussions than the fact that we could say: “80% of our users are women over 25, who play, on average, 10 games a day”. We later found that startups in our situation (early stage) had no clue about this kind of data most of the time. But we had Cristi’s previous experience: he spent 5 years analyzing these kind of stats daily and understanding how important is to follow and measure everything, from the very start.
By the time summer ended I had started getting more and more into it, considering that I was in charge of the business development, the legal stuff and so on. The talks with investors were more specific and tangible, the lawyers started to play their part, the costs and incomes estimates started having more and more sense, numbers began to be substantial.
Christmas came early, guys!
So we entered the 3rd year and final year of 2012: fall. And, along with it, the first, small round, of the SOS Ventures investment. It was a small amount at 50.000E, but so important in the big scheme of things. The question was: were we able to scale the business, once we had some money to spend? Well, you’d be surprised, I know, but the answer is yes )
That’s when we learned that too many users in a too short period isn’t a good thing if you’re not really prepared for it. Of course, our server crashed 5 times in 3 days. But we pulled together and, in just 2 months, we delivered the KPIs we had established with SOS Ventures. And a few days later, at 1 am, I sent the magical sms to my cofounders: Christmas came early!
Our lawyer had just announced that all the signatures were on the contract and that the money would be delivered the next day. Two days later we announced the investment on stage at How To Web. Good times!
The main lesson of these last months? The investor can be a very good partner, if this is what you want and you’re willing to put in the effort. I learned that we need to communicate constantly, to avoid having to explain 3 months of efforts and in 30 minutes. I learned you can say “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do here”, without it meaning that you’re no longer getting the investment or that you’re a bad entrepreneur. And Bill Liao, the partner we work with at SOS Ventures, really put in the effort to help us.
Finally, 2012 ended well. Without any vacation days on holidays, it’s true, because, in spite of our initial beliefs (that people don’t hang around their computers on Christmas), we had lots of traffic. And people ready, willing and able to play as many games of Solitaire as possible
Yes, 2012 was the year we started from zero, with an invitation to join Startupbootcamp Dublin, and got to a 550.000 euro investment. And, because success attracts good things, the guys at The Next Web pushed us to the Romanian Startup Awards 2012 finals.
And that’s where you should go and vote Mavenhut for Startup of the Year (obviously, if you also vote Bobby Voicu and Solitaire Arena in the other sections we’re competing for, we wouldn’t mind). Because we believe we deserve it :p
Thanks for reading. And hopefully you will have a great 2013!