The last month of the program was dominated by preparation for the Demo night, where we’d be pitching the results of the last 6 months to a crowded room of friends, family, mentors and hopefully investors.
Having previously completed an accelerator program, Leo and I were well aware of the importance of putting our best foot forward on this night, which meant for plenty of pitch practice. We also knew that after the dust settled at the end of those demo nights we would still be carrying on business as usual. So despite the great opportunity that an audience of hundreds of people represents, we knew not to get too caught up in the hype!
(weeks of preparation culminated in an 8-minute pitch in front of a crowd of 300 at Amazon in Sydney)
What we learned
Demo night is whatever you need it to be
Leading up to the demo night there was plenty of discussion with the other teams about how we should be presenting ourselves? Basically, what should we be pitching and why? The question really came down to what each team was looking to get out of the night.
For us, we thought the greatest value of the night was to pitch our service to any potential investors in the crowd. For this reason, we structured our pitch to focus on the market validation that we’d received and the potential opportunity for our business moving forward.
For some of the other teams that weren’t looking for investment, the night was an opportunity to showcase the results of 6 months hard work. Their pitches were more focused on the product that they’d built and the communities that they’d be able to grow in such a short amount of time.
Practice, Practice, Practice
When it comes to pitching, I’d like to think I’ve come a long way over the last 12 months. In fact, I still have vivid memories of our first high-pressure pitch for the Vocus Upstart Accelerator back in May 2016 when I froze half way through as a result of a complete mental blank…..
Thankfully, we still got in. And since then, thanks to plenty of practice I’ve become a much more comfortable speaker. Nevertheless, each pitch is unique and requires its own careful preparation. Once you’ve got the content of a presentation memorised, you can then start to work on the more important aspects such as body language and tonality.
With a solid month of preparation, we had plenty of time for practice. We decided to book time with our program manager, Ben twice a week to practice and refine our pitch. The result of all this preparation was that by demo night I could literally recite the pitch verbatim.
(after our pitch we had the chance to set up a booth to demo our product to anyone in the crowd)
What’s changed for us
Users are more important than customers… for now.
At the end of last month, we had just completed a big push to register students. The results were that we had more than 1000 students active on our platform. The next step was to test our membership model with these students, which was a $50 per month fee for full access to our platform.
Leo took charge of this goal and set about contacting students to explain what we were offering and gauge their interest. Despite a couple of weeks of very hard work from Leo we realised that it was going to be difficult to reach our goal of 60 members by the end of the month.
We then faced an interesting decision, a crossroad really about what to do next. Do we continue with our current model, despite the fact that we can’t be sure that it’s sustainable? Or should we try something different?
A few months ago, we might have opted for a change. But after taking a step back we realised that the most important goal for us is to prove our service has value for students. Therefore, we need users. So we came to the decision to remove the payment options for now until we can figure out a sustainable system of revenue.
Our product works!!
After removing the payment barriers we were able to fill our live project teams almost immediately. The value for students is pretty clear – meaningful work experience that fits around your existing schedule.
For the businesses that we’re working with, the results have also been very promising. With just a two hour time commitment they benefit from a team of motivated students putting their businesses marketing efforts under the microscope to suggest possible improvements. The online, flexible work also means that we’ve opened up new opportunities for students to work with businesses they would have never previously had access to.
After nearly 12 months of hard work, it’s a big relief to see our product live and creating its intended value – open, scalable work experience. The challenge now is to build a system that will remove all the friction from the process so that we can serve the student market as we intended.
(a screenshot from our project launch video with Digiground and their team of students)
We keep on keeping on
One thing that we’ve learned now, after completing two accelerators is that they are not intended to make or break your business. An accelerator is a fantastic launch pad for any business. A solid foundation on which to build a sustainable company that improves many peoples lives.
With EduGrowth now officially over it’s back to Leo and I to keep the Upstart Academy ticking forward. Sitting here writing this blog in an empty office space it does feel like a change. We won’t have the same support network or structure moving ahead. On the flip side, we now have 100% of our time to devote to doing everything we need to do to get where we need to go.
(a team photo of the EduGrowth cohort after our demo night in Melbourne)
What’s the motivation?
As a closing thought, it’s worth talking about motivation – why are we doing this? If I look back at the last 12 months it’s been a hell of a lot of work and stress, but also the most fun that I’ve ever had. Being able to feel that you’re working towards something that is truly going to help improve the lives of a lot of people is extremely satisfying and the fact that I have a close personal connection to the problem we’re trying to solve is honestly the reason I get out of bed each day.
Now that might sound a bit ‘fluffy’ to some, but to me and Leo it’s the most important thing right now. Maybe it’s because we’re young and naive but making money is not the reason that we’re doing this. Of course, we will need to figure that out eventually if we want to become a sustainable business, but for now we’re just focused on reaching as many people as we can.
We both feel that we’ve got everything we need at our disposal to realise the vision behind the Upstart Academy and it’s really just a matter of time before we get there. Maybe that’s an optimistic thought, but I suppose that’s one of the advantages of still being relatively young – we have time to make mistakes and we don’t have enough experience to be pessimistic!
(the Upstart Academy team)