It is all about patience and persistence; Glasgow startup MindMate’s summer at a New York-based accelerator
Techstars is clearly one of the most challenging, and at the same time most rewarding experiences we have ever had. It completely changed the way we look at start-ups, business models and growth. Our entire business plan and product changed in just three months—it made our start-up better, a lot better.
The support we are getting from the whole Techstars network is not only changing our start-up, but our whole lives. Through Techstars, we have access to the most successful entrepreneurs worldwide, like Dennis Crowley, who Co-Founded Foursquare; David Karp, who is CEO of tumblr; or Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures.
One of our goals for Techstars was clearly raising funds after the programme. We raised successfully an angel round in the UK, and were honoured that the amazing Doug Scott of Potential.VC was our lead investor.
I can tell you that raising funds in the UK and in the US are two completely different worlds. In the US raising funds is an art. It is a game, which you need to play, but you have to understand the rules first.
Techstars is world-class in teaching founders the game and art of fundraising. One whole month is dedicated to it, in which we not only have mock-investor meetings, they also teach us how to be smarter fundraisers, what a good and a bad deal is(andhowto spot it in a few seconds), what a usual process looks like, and when to say no, even just to meet an investor. At the end of the programme, we also have the opportunity to meet investors (VCs and Business Angels) from the US east and west coasts. This creates huge momentum for the deal and great exposure for MindMate.
Meeting Investors is a lot like dating in high-school. You have to act cool, in no way should you make the impression that you really need that money. To make the best impression on the investors, you need to be prepared. Before your meet investors, go on their AngelList profile, their LinkedIn, and their website. Get to know the investors and the fund. You can easily see, if your start-up is aligned with their investment philosophy, and their prior investments, and if you should bother talking to them. For example, if somebody never invested into mobile, and you have an app, it is very unlikely that they will invest.
A lot of investor questions are repetitive in the first meetings: market size, business model, high-profile data analytics, team, story. But, some investors have a different mind-set, different questions, different standpoints. If you fumble, it is important that you stay honest! Don’t bull**** about numbers, projections or anything else. If you don’t know something, stay calm, admit that you don’t know, and get back to them with the answer to a later point. Keep in mind that Investors are also humans, and if they back-off because of this, they would not have been the right investors for your business anyway.
Overall, Techstars made the MindMate team to better fundraisers. Our key learning was a change in mindset: We, the entrepreneurs, give investors the opportunity to invest in our business early; we will raise, no matter what.
You will always hear more ‘no’ than ‘yes’. It is important that you move on quickly, because at the end of the day, investors also just want to get good deals, and bet on the right horse. Eventually, you will find the right investor for your business, it is all about patience and persistence.
Turning an idea into reality
As founders, we often get a surprised reaction when people find out what we are doing. “You are helping people with Alzheimer’s? Why? You are all so young?”
The reason why we are doing what we are doing is a personal one: Roger, our CTO, cared in total for seven years for his grandfather with Alzheimer’s. This time was very hard for the whole family – they needed something to engage him, to keep his mind active, despite the disease. Patrick and I both volunteered in care centres, and had experience with people in very late stages of Alzheimer’s.
With MindMate, our aims are clear:
We want to make people with Alzheimer’s more independent; we want to improve the caring process; and we want to give family members a greater peace of mind.
When we first had the idea of MindMate, we immediately started talking to people, to get feedback. We applied to entrepreneurship competitions, like the Scottish Institute for Enterprise’s Young Innovators Challenge, Converge Challenge, Santander Universities Challenge and so on.
With this early support and feedback, we were able to build MindMate’s foundation. And who knew that we are one year later at Techstars NYC – ranked the second best best start-up accelerator in the world.
The programme, from which we clearly benefitted the most is Enterprise Campus. This is a programme specifically for postgraduate students, which offers training, workshops, networking opportunities, and also money! It helps young entrepreneurs to create traction and not have to worry too much about bills, such as a small marketing spend, or the cost of a trademark.
Glasgow University also supported us a lot with free office space. For us, the office was a crucial point in our early days – this is where the magic happened. Without all these programmes, MindMate would not be where we are now, and we are very grateful to have had these opportunities. And, I truly believe that this is something special about Scotland.
I believe that the success of MindMate comes mainly from the fact that we worked from day one with people that live with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. We have a focus group of 15 people; and we still work very closely with them. These people helped us to test our Alpha, and Beta Version until we opened it up to another 100 people.
These early users from all over the UK helped us to detect bugs, get the design right and create an acceptable user experience. As soon as these people were happy, we opened MindMate to the public.
In the meantime, we have several ten thousands of users, the NHS Trust Greater Glasgow & Clyde picked up MindMate, and we are being used in several care facilities in the UK and USA.
Even though we now have good traction, we are not done growing and developing our product. Our growth, and product development is aggressive, and this is only possible through pure dedication, passion and hard work.
Susanne Mitschke is chief executive of MindMate.