A week ago we got an email from Louisa, COO of StartupBootcamp Berlin, telling us that we were one of the teams selected to pitch on the 27th of May in Berlin for the Smart transportation & Energy program happening next Fall.
StartupBootcamp is among the top accelerators in Europe (and rating really high worldwide), backed by amazing companies such as Bosch Global, Castrol, Cisco, EnBW, Here (Nokia), and Mercedes-Benz. We applied to SBC with our Nearbors project some weeks ago and we forgot about it. When we read the email we were enthusiastic, but also panicking! We had less than 4 days to book our stay in Berlin, get ready with the best pitch we could put together and do our best to be admitted in the program.
The fact is: if you really want to make it happen, do everything possible to reach your goal.
With only a few days left before leaving, we had to book our flight and ask for advice for out two night stay in Germany. In less than a couple of hours everything was planned and organised: arrival in Berlin Tegel Airport on Monday evening, get to the hotel in Lietzenburgerstrasse and find a drive on Tuesday Morning in order to reach the Rainmaking Loft in Charlottenstrasse, the StartupBootcamp HQ.
There was the opportunity to be selected among the 3 best startups of the day and receive and invite to attend the Speed meeting on Smart Transportation and energy later in the afternoon. So, if we booked the return flight too early, we could miss the event. We also wanted to take some time to have a quick tour around the city. Our aim was to do our pitch, get the feedback, make a tour around, stop by the hotel, return to Rainmaking for the Tweetup with Andy Palamisamy (TransportGooru) and finally spend the night in the hotel and have some hours of rest. We booked the return flight for Wednesday at Noon from Berlin Schonenfeld (yep EasyJet to the rescue).
Of course, It did not went exactly how we planned.
Flying to Berlin
We are quite well trained to pitch Nearbors, but we wanted to be sure that everything was perfect and the whole speech to be not longer than 5 minutes.
I begged Ryan to take some time to try the pitch before getting to Milan Malpensa. But it didn’t happen… Better said: it happened, but we only tried once 15 minutes before leaving for the airport. He had to pack his stuff, synch the files between the MacBooks and dress. We were late (as usual) but we managed to arrive in Malpensa on time. Luckily, there was nobody queuing. We didn’t check in online (no, not we. Ryan did not) and we only had less than 5 minutes to do it at the airline’s desk. However, we arrived at the gate and boarded shortly after.
Did I mention that Ryan hates flying? Well… He was in shock when we boarded. To distract him I decided to take out the printed pitch deck and exercise a bit during the take off. It worked, for a while… Thankfully the travel time was quite short (1h40) and with a drink he calmed down a bit. We got in Berlin 5 minutes earlier, so we had to wait for the signal before leaving the cabin.
Vodka and Redbull as anti-panic
The people at StartupBootcamp were advising to try Wundercar (with a promo code of 15Euros), a local Uber-style startup for cheap drives. We thought that an internet connection would not be a problem, since we were in one of the world’s capitals of innovation.
Facts proved us wrong. The old and traditional way to ask other people is still the ultimate solution when no wi-fi is available (for free, I mean)!
Never mind. We took a bus (awesome service provided by the local public transport, BVG) and arrived at the Hotel around 11:30pm.
We settled down and around midnight Louisa sent us another email with a list of all the next day participants. Of course, we had to research something more about our next day’s competitors so we went to bed around 2am.
I forgot that northern countries during the warm seasons have longer days than southern ones. I’m not used to see the light at 5am, so I woke up after 3 hours of sleep… Ryan woke up 2 hours later. He’s the type of guy that’s able to sleep in a club close to a sound box! I can’t and never will and I hate it!
We still had to try our keynote speech and there were only a couple of hours left. However, the final result was awesome.
Towards StartupBootcamp Berlin
We decided to give an other try to Wundercar (we had a credit, why not use it?), but nobody replied to our request. Again, at the hotel reception we adopted the traditional procedure: ask and wait for a response about how to get from there to the Rainmaking Loft, a 6 and something kilometres trip. It was raining, badly. I’m a lady and there’s no way I’m going to wet my hair before an important meeting, do you mind?
So we took a taxi (which is quite expensive, by the way) and we got there at 9:55am, five minutes before the Pitch day opening.
The amazing conference room
At the loft we have been welcomed very kindly. We were introduced to Alex Farcet (CEO and co-founder of StartupBootcamp) in an amazing conference room filled with pallets and Ikea-style carpets all over the place. Really cool! We had a quick chat with other startuppers already there and found out that people gathered from all over Europe (London, Paris, Ljubljana, Munich,…) to share their ideas and hopefully get into the program. There were also mentors, investors, angels, journalists, panelists that would attend the afternoons speed meeting. Great people, and as far as I could understand, those were the top-minds in the matter of Smart transportation and energy. Being there meant a lot to us: for the experience, for the occasion to talk to great people and to show them why our project will influence the way people will do the shopping in the future and why it will reduce the carbon footprint. There was a free super-fast wi-fi and free water and fruits for everyone.
Mentors and teams together
After a short introduction to the day’s agenda and to the SBC’s Fall program, the pitches begun.
We were scheduled 4th.
We had exactly 5 minutes time for pitching and 10 minutes for a quick Q&A. In our opinion we did well.
The other 9 startups presented cool stuff as well. There were early stage projects and a couple of bootstrapped ones in our batch. We can’t tell you who’s going to be selected and make it to the next batch among the teams, but for sure we did an awesome presentation and the feedback we got was generally positive and encouraging.
After a short break Alex told us that if we wanted participate at the afternoon’s invite only Speed meeting we were welcome. He also told us that we could pitch during the meeting in front of hundreds of attendees. Of course, we accepted!
— Sbootcamp Berlin (@sbcBerlin) May 27, 2014
We had lunch (by the way, a tasteful vegi-quiche backed by the Loft’s staff, free drinks and coffee) and we spent the whole day at the Rainmaking loft. We talked to investors, to mentors and to people working in the co-working space next to the accelerator’s desks. We did a short tour of the loft. The place is vibrant and full of energy. Probably is close to the atmosphere you sense in the Silicon Valley and you can’t be immune to it: you’d sit down and start working in that exact moment for hours. 3 months are such a short period.
We really felt the spin of the startups trying to take the most out of the program. And then we realised: we want to be part of all this, we need it, badly!
SBC Berlin’s Wall "of fame"
At 3pm the pitches were over and we sat down in an other conference room that quickly filled up with the meeting attendees. The meeting was all about smart transportation and energy and the speeches were spot on.
And we pitched again.
There’s an emergency to find sustainable solutions for commuting and for energy consumption. We dove in and emerged around 6:30pm with a free apero and drinks at the loft’s pub.
We both ate and drank (3 beers each).
Around 8pm a friend of mine, Yuliana, who recently moved to Berlin, showed up and stayed with us during the free evening’s Tweetup. A couple of more words and we realised that it was already past 10pm. Outside was still raining.
Speed meeting elevator pitch
No way to get back via Bus or U-bahn. The options left were a Taxi or try (for the third time) Wundercar. Ryan tried once more and finally the app worked. Tobias, the driver, would show up in less than 5 minutes outside the loft, so we had to pack our stuff quickly and go out.
Remember that we had no cellular data access turned on? Well, as soon as we stepped out we lost the connection and there was no way to use the service unless entering the building or turning on the data roaming. We had a moment were we had this idea of Tobias thinking of us as bastards who sent a fake a request… In fact he did not stop, but drove for about 50-100 meters down the road, maybe thinking that it was a stupid joke. We quickly activated the data plan and the service turned on immediately, re-positioning us back on the Wundercar’s driver map. He finally stopped and so we had been able to reach him out. He had a black car carrying the Wundercar’s logo on the side doors. But the car was his.
Ryan on stage
We sat on the back seats.
He had an iPhone with the driver’s version of Wundercar’s app. He asked us for the destination, although Ryan entered it in the app before requesting the ride. He told us that Wundercar doesn’t send all the information to the driver, that he was volunteering for the service and that sometimes he had to drive for several kilometres.
He was a volunteer and he had to carry people around for hours for free?
We could not believe it and we asked him again if he was doing all this for free. He confirmed, but the service highly recommends to tip the drivers, with an established amount Wundercar suggests when you reach your destination. Aaaaaahhhh! Ok, that sounded more reasonable and explained the reason why we had a promo code with 15Euros credit.
Tobias asked us if we had been admitted to the program and how we liked the Loft (so the guy knew what all this StartupBootcamp thing was all about, right?), then we asked him about Wundercar and why he enrolled as a driver. He explained us that he liked the idea, and it did not matter for him to be available for a couple of hours each day and earn some extra cash. He likes driving and Berlin at night is plenty of nice places were to go and meet amazing people to talk with.
His commitment sounded really cool and so open minded that we had to pitch him Nearbors (for the 50th time that day) and ask him for his most honest opinion. Well, Tobias told us that he’s going to enrol as a courier in Berlin at the same moment we launch Nearbors! Wow! He said that ours is one of the coolest ideas he heard since weeks.
We already knew that talking to people, going out of the building and finding the market fit is priority number one for a startup, but such a positive feedback by a stranger was too overwhelming and unexpected. We arrived at the hotel, tipped Tobias and walked inside.
On the way back home
We did not sleep enough the day before and we decided to wake up a bit later, around 7am.
There were few hours left before leaving Berlin. We were tired and we had to take the train around 10am in order to be at the airport on time. That meant that we had no time to visit the Siegeseule, the Brandenburg Door or the TV tower, unless we woke up really early again. I slept 3 hours and I could not imagine myself waking up at 5 again. F**k, I’ll visit Berlin next time. Maybe in Fall, as an accelerated startup team member. We abandoned the idea of our short town sightseeing in favour of a more relaxed breakfast. Anyway, it was raining and I had the feeling that we’d come back to Berlin soon.
There’s really nothing more to say. We left Berlin and arrived in Milan at 3pm the same day.
We are still excited about the awesome experience.
The people in Berlin are kind and helpful. There’s a positive attitude towards everything and people seem all really open minded and willing to learn and share. We talked with many people and all were ready to support, give advices and find out more about us. Thanks to Alex, Louisa and all the stuff at Rainmaking Loft for the accommodation and for the great opportunity to spend some time there.
We had an awesome experience and we can’t wait to spend some more time in Berlin (but for longer!) sand see what’s coming next.