Interconnected

All posts made in Oct. 2016:

Visiting Berlin, and some thoughts on the new IoT program

I'm meeting a ton of interesting startups in the course of outreach for this new Internet of Things accelerator in London. What's working best is turning up at events and talking about it -- because what we're doing isn't typical, I guess, and it needs a bit of an intro. More about that further down this post...

Berlin

I'm off to Berlin this week. Spending a few days because the Internet of Things scene is well developed, and there are a ton of connected hardware startups.

So, here's where I'll be. Please sign up to any and all!

  • Thurs 13 October, 7pm. IoT Berlin meetup at IXDS. Hosted by Martin Spindler. I'll be speaking about the new program... plus sponsoring the drinks which is maybe more of a draw
  • Fri 14 October, 9am. Hardware-ish coffee morning is spreading to Berlin! Same format at London: Coffee, nice people who are doing hardware or curious, chat, super informal. Here's Martin's announcement. Location: Distrikt Coffee. Should be fun hanging out, bring prototypes if you have em.
  • Fri 14 October, 11am-4pm. Opportunity for one-on-one chats at. Betahaus are kindly lending me a space to hang out for the day. Details here. If you'd like feedback on your startup or have questions about the program, drop me a mail with when you'd like to come along. My work email is best: matt.webb@rga.com
  • Sat 15 October, afternoon/evening. I'll be at Betapitch, on the jury and meeting startups. If you're there, say hi!

Program

I travelled to the states a couple of weeks back to meet alumni from R/GA's previous programs. I wanted to get how it works from the horse's mouth, if you know what I mean.

My conclusion is this... it's an investment package (£75k in the case of the new London program) plus 12 weeks to take the 10 startups in the cohort through a traction step-change.

How that works is via carefully selected mentors, and a lightweight curriculum of workshops (say, on performance marketing, depending on what folks need), but MAINLY

  • Making use of R/GA's creatives and strategy folks. There's an assessment at the beginning to identify what one or two things would unlock growth for each company. Maybe it's a finessed business model which we can get to through market sizing; maybe it's a sales deck, or messaging strategy, or refreshed brand. Maybe it's how to best tell the story of some amazing tech but in a newly professional way. So we figure that out, then deliver that thing.
  • Making use of the client networks. Most startups could benefit from partnerships with corporates -- either pilots towards becoming customers, or because a partnership would prove out some of the business model. That's tough in one or two meetings. But R/GA knows its client network really well, and we're getting to know the Innovate UK of smart cities and innovation hubs too (the government, via Innovate UK, is a partner in the program). Over 12 weeks, we can work to make something happen. I like this because it's time-boxed: If it doesn't work out, the startup hasn't wasted their time trying to work with corporates who are typically pretty slow. If it does... well that's some great traction and something great to show off about.

At the end of 12 weeks, there's the usual demo event, and that's usually also firing a starting pistol for an investment round. There's a ton of help with creating the pitch and pitch deck too.

Imagine coming out of the program and having one or two new big names on the traction slide.

Because R/GA has a stake, interests are aligned on long-term success -- I met a startup in NYC who went through the connected devices program there 2 years ago. They're now 30 people, still in the R/GA NYC office, and keen to stay there because of the access to people and new connections.

So I think of this more like a growth-focused program. I'm moving away from using the word "accelerator." The investment terms are friendly to slightly later stage startups (i.e. the hardware is at least at prototype stage) and perhaps that's where the R/GA approach works best.

Stages

I say "stage," that's not what I mean. Some startups are great at hardware but - because attention and people budgets are limited - a bit too lean on the sales, marketing, and partnerships side. Some are brilliant at the business side but need help developing the hardware.

There's a lot of support in the London ecosystem for early hardware development (let me know if you need pointers), but in our ground floor space, we don't have a machine shop. We'll be making room for physical work, but that's not the focus.

The gap I'm wanting to fill is, ok, you've got the hardware, but the service around it: How to sell that. Or you're between Kickstarter and shipping, ok how to get all the ducks in a row so this becomes a serious business.

Growth.

Why hardware?

I talk a lot about connected hardware, even when I'm talking about the Internet of Things. And with IoT, surely I could be talking about platforms that are software-only? Big data analytics, device provisioning, security, etc. There's a lot. And yes, I love that.

But I'm especially interested in hardware. For me, hardware is a signal that all the power of software and the web is being applied to the real world. The hardware doesn't need to be complex or involve a massive breakthrough -- in fact maybe the simpler the better.

Once you apply hardware, you start being able to tackle problems like food waste, retail, soil, gestural interfaces, and power. In short, where we live.

Links

There's more info about the program on the website.

We're having an open house event in London the evening of 27 October. Sign up here.

Applications close 14 November. The program runs February to May 2017.

Happy to chat on Skype about whether there's a good fit. Book some time in my calendar here.