We have the chance this week to be part of a Brussels lead mission to California, thanks to a collaboration between Brussels Export and the Brussels Enterprise Agency. Our objective is to make contacts on across the pond, get an idea on how business is done there, and test the reception to Sybil.
We thought the experience could be useful to others, and decided to share some of our learnings and feedbacks. The first day was already quite packed, so I decided to just mention some highlights there.
I love planes
Let’s face it. Planes have one and only one redeeming feature: they allow you to cross great distances quickly. On all other aspects, they are one of the most frustrating and infuriating way to travel: lots of time lost before and after the flight, incredibly uncomfortable, no stops even for 12 hours flights. We had the chance in addition to start late. Food was actually edible, which was a surprise, but a rather good one.
The day before
Thanks to the high cost of flying this Sunday, we actually arrived one day before, which was probably a good thing, giving us two nights and a day to recover from a 9 hours jetlag and event pay a quick visit to San Francisco (that is a really nice city that I had the chance to visit during holidays some years ago).
One of the nice aspect of the mission in the pooling of resources: it allows us to have access to services we could probably not afford, and also to be with a group of like minded Belgian entrepreneurs (see the full list there) - as in the incubator, the group itself can provide a first line of feedback. Exchanging point of views and experience is also a big plus.
To get the the maximum of a meeting, especially a first contact, we learned that we need three things : prepare, prepare, prepare. See who the people are, search them on LinkedIn, take a look at their previous projects (if they are fellows entrepreneurs), the companies they invested in (if they are investors), the companies they helped (if they are mentors). Find some common ground between you and them, it will help start a meeting.
The mission started with some informations and coaching sessions.
Lyne Noella on Networking
Networking is one of the key aspect of the entrepreneur job: you won’t succeed alone, so you need a broad array of contacts ranging from potential customers to mentors to investors or providers. Lyne is the cofounder of WavePlay LLC, a San Francisco based promotional agency.
Lyne's talk was about efficient networking, and full of precise and down to earth advice. The highlight of her presentation was for me not an advice but a question: “How do you use social media for networking ?”. Of course, we use social media for talking about our company and promoting it, but it was interesting to think about how specifically we use them to reach and connect to people. LinkedIn was at the center of the discussion, of course, but it came down to a simple thing: as everything, usage of the social networks needs to be deliberate and follow a plan, with clear objectives.
Nathan Gold on how to get attention
By his own words, Nathan is helping people win awards or raise money. The two may seem unrelated, but they are not, at least not for what Nathan helps with which is basically to get attention from people. With advices backed by studies on human nature, most of his talk is equally valid for any kind of speech or audience.
What I remember from Nathan’s talk are two things. First of all, there is 4 emotional appeals that are common to every human being and one which you can play:
- money (making, spending, saving, losing)
- self preservation (security, safety)
- recognition (get, give)
- sex (or more commonly : romance, future promise, new experiences)
I was already quite convinced on the importance of the emotional part of any talk (even one with numbers and business plans and metrics), but I liked the structure behind Nathan’s advice.
The second is the result of an exercise on methaphors, where Christophe came up with a good one for Sybil : “We are the google analytics of your developers’ expertise”
One to One coaching with LouAnn Conner
After those sessions done for the whole group, we had a more private coaching session on our pitch with LouAnn Conner. This was a good place to rehearse and test some updates we had to do since the last
pitch session at the Dublin WebSummit.
I also learned a nice expression: “Smart money” means “getting money + involvement from someone in your field” - what most of us name “Business Angel”.
Innovate with Sebastien de Halleux
We already met Sebastien during the Founder Institute. Among other things, he foundered PlayFish, an social game company that was sold to Electronic Art (I remember playing some of those games, actually). Along a nice and pleasant talk about his experience where two nuggets I kept. As an entrepreneur, “You're on your own, you go to places no one can lead you”, and a recurring aspect in Sebastien activities: whether in gaming, education or employment, it is always about emotions.
Closing the day
It was time for one of our scheduled “B2B” meetings about Sybil, then get a quick dinner in San Francisco with the group, before going back to the hotel to make the followups on the meetings of the day, organize our notes and thoughts, and prepare for the next one.
The mission is a big investment for us (a full week of presence for both of us, and some expenses), but seeing how this day did go, we should be able to make it worthwhile.