Letters Home - New York


We're off on a tour of America as mentioned before. While its incredibly hard to take three weeks off during a busy time of the year (and when isnt it a busy time?) I'm already convinced of the value of the trip. You just need to get out of the garage every now and then to see how others are doing it and to keep in touch with the ecosystem. And luckily we have a great team who keeps our customers happy and the company running while we're away.

We got to New York over the weekend and kicked off the official program on Monday morning. It started with Kris from Erply and Bostjan from Zemanta talking about their experiences about moving companies to NYC and building up their teams here. Old story that got re-told by them is simply that people in NYC are often much hungrier and more hard working that in old Europe. Work in startups in NYC goes on 7 days a week for 12 hours. Surely taking a break is healthy, but not too much of that in NYC…

I had a bunch of meetings with local folks on Sunday and Monday (which was Presidents day and kept regular people away from work) and I did not even notice that these were not working days… Everyone was behaving like its just a regular day. For entrepreneurs there are no holidays, but it does seem to be a starker in the US.

Then we had Michael Geer speak to us about his experience building Badoo and getting the first million users. Bottom line from his talk is simple - there are no shortcuts. And for sure we've learned that ourselves as well. Its about hard work and keeping users happy and most importantly finding ways to enable some form of viral growth in your product so that your users can help in spreading the word.

Next up was meeting with the craft marketplace Etsy. Interesting observations from them about building up their marketplaces business:
* their sellers are also buyers, that really helped in solving the problem of matching buyers and sellers early on
* now that they have expanded into selling supplies they are able to sell same product twice (first the supplies and then sell the product again), that's very smart I think
* they have been hugely success despite choosing a niche (handmade goods) which might seem very small at first

They are also very interesting from their engineering side - continuous deployment practices where they push code live dozen(s) of times a day and every new engineer pushes code live on the first day. And I wont get into talking about their office - great representation of company DNA. Google for yourself.

Tuesday was a typical mini Seedcamp - all the companies started by doing their three minute pitch and thereafter we had rotating mentoring sessions with about 80 of the best investors, product and tech people from New York. Two things stood out for me. First is that pitching in the US has to be much more aggressive. Being a humble guy from Europe does not cut it - need to hustle and talk yourself bigger than you are. Otherwise nobody will notice. Second thing I noted was that for us its much harder to explain Wise because much fewer people need to deal with foreign currency. And the backwardness of the consumer banking in the US really stands out when people ask "So can I use you with my checkbook?". And we need to adjust our vocabulary and learn to say wire transfer instead of bank transfer.

Last was visit to USV. We had Andy talk to use about their investment thesis and do a QA session. I know Andy from ages ago, but still its good to hear him talk about how they invest in large networks of engaged users and how that is similar to what he has been doing before at Betaworks. Afterwards it was great to see so many teams flocking to him to give mini-mini pitches.

Time to say goodbye to the city, off to Boston.


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