Jan Rychter: blog (electronics, programming, technology)

Warsaw SeedCamp Event Impressions


During the Warsaw Mini-Seedcamp event a round of 20 startups from across the region had a chance to display their work, get critiqued, get advice and apply for funding. It was a good event and some of the startups were very promising. I participated as one of the mentors and panelists.

The panel discussion mostly revolved around startups addressing the global market, instead of thinking locally. I disagreed with most of the panelists — in my opinion, most companies should think locally and get started in the market they know well. Once their ideas have been shaken down and they know where they’re going, they can expand. Also, not everyone has to have a single global website: if you run a karaoke site, your Polish users won’t have much in common with your Spanish community. It makes more sense to run two separate sites using a common engine and business model.

There are several things I noticed:

  • Few people know how to present well. Startup teams really should put much more work into their presentations and their message in general. It wasn’t just about the presentation, but about the message in general — in many cases it took the audience several minutes just to understand what the startup is building.
  • Not enough numbers. For almost everyone “having a business model” meant “having an idea of how we can get revenue”. I didn’t see a single startup that did any serious planning. Not even a comparison of costs vs revenue. Now, I know those are early-stage companies, but still — if you want to run a company, you need to think about the business side. Even if you’re wrong, you will have at least thought about it, which will have made your idea sounder.
  • Not enough activity. This was a unique chance to have a number of experienced mentors critique startup ideas. If I were participating, I would have googled the mentors, found out about their experience, and prepared a list of questions for each one. During recess, I would also actively seek out people to talk to and network with. Few people actually did that — most founders were rather passive.

I think all of those shortcomings have a cultural background behind. There is a difference between an upbringing in the United States and Europe. Kids in the US learn to be more active and are better prepared for public events. They also get business thinking ingrained into their minds early on. This is not the case in Europe — and even though Poland is likely more entrepreneurial than the West of Europe, people’s backgrounds just aren’t the same.

I was slightly disappointed by the low number of startups: I’m sure the region can do better. I think part of the problem was that many companies saw no value in participating, thinking that since Seedcamp is about funding, and there is only funding to be had in September in London, then there is no point in coming. I’ve seen many great startups that presented their work at Aula Polska meetings, but skipped the mini-SeedCamp event.

I’m looking forward to future events of this kind, not only organized by Seedcamp, but also by others.