Follow-up: What Has Happened With IDCEE Startup Competition's Past Winners?
As it happens, most of startups usually need money — to grow, pivot, add features, hire people, pay for server capacities and so on. There are plenty of ways for teams to get some funding, including “normal” venture investments, accelerators, loans, support from friends and family (and fools too, yes), grants, and various startup challenges. The latter is not the worst way to get money, as in this case you won't have to cough up a share in your project in exchange; also, it brings — at least temporarily, — quite significant attention to the winning startups.
However, an average conference participant will probably forget about the winning startups in less than a month, unless it's something they're really intend to use daily. That's why I went to check on some of the past years' winners of the Startup Competition at IDCEE conference and asked them whether the participation in the contest helped them later.
QuoteRoller, runner-up at IDCEE 2011
This startup from Belarus presented in 2011 a cloud-based e-document flow system that secured for the team a place among the best startups of the conference. Just a few months ago the company landed $655,000 in funding to support its expansion to the US.
QuoteRoller's founder Mikita Mikado shared, briefly and frankly, how did the competition influence the startup and what's happening with it now:
“IDCEE helped our team a lot - we were early on, the product was shit, but recognition helped to justify the blood, sweat and tears keeping us doing what we were doing. […]
1. We broke it even in Jan, raised $655k, moved sales and marketing to San Fran.
2. We launched (almost) a new product, PandaDoc.
3. Hiring and growing!”
Kuznech, 1st place at IDCEE 2012
The winner of IDCEE 2012 Startup Competition was Kuznech, a Russia-based startup, which created a technology that allows to easily index billions of images and search them online lightning-fast. In particular, the plan was to use the know-how in e-commerce and other segments of the Internet business.
Last year, when writing a piece for The Next Web, I had a conversation with Kuznech CEO and co-founder Michael Pogrebnyak, so I took the liberty of quoting his words from then. Pogrebnyak said that “participation in such events and competitions is a good school in presentation and ability to sell your company to potential customer,” also mentioning that “about 20 VC funds had sent us the request for company profile and related documents” and “about 100-150 new users requested demo access in a few days after the event.”
A victory in a competition does not substitute for real business expertise though, reminds Kuznech CEO:
“As a success track this victory is important. This event is well known and the victory improves the company publicity over internet. From the business perspective – it doesn’t matter. Also the victory attracts VC’s and journalists.”
RealPad, 3rd place at IDCEE 2012
Third place and €5K from the last year's IDCEE went to RealPad, the team of which has created an iPad app for real estate agents with loads of cool features, including virtual presentations of apartments, streaming video from the construction site, photo galleries etc. RealPad CEO Marián Škvarek underlines the importance of participation in a competition for a foreign startup:
“Taking part at IDCEE changed a lot for us. Information and contacts gained at IDCEE became an impulse for us to expand to first foreign market — Ukraine.”
As for the business development, RealPad seems to thrive:
“We started our operations in April 2012 in the Czech Republic. After one and half year of bootstrapping we have tens of sold licenses, multiple corporate clients, and with an 8-member team are break even on both Czech and Ukrainian market. We've just introduced a new product and planning to expand to new markets in the beginning of 2014.”
Flocktory, 2nd place at IDCEE 2012
Runner-up at the last year's conference, Flocktory is a service for companies that allows them to engage with customers and motivate them to invite friends using social networks. The company's CEO Simon Proekt described what has happened since last October:
“Flocktory is growing rapidly and we have hit several major milestones since the IDCEE event. First, we were able to close a $1.5 million series A round with Digital Venture Partners which has allowed us to grow our team and invest in our product development. On the sales side, we have secured some of the largest e-commerce brands in Russia as our paying customers including such companies as Groupon, Lamoda, S7 Airlines, Utkonos, Svyaznoy, Home Credit Bank and over 500 others.
In addition to that, Proekt called the IDCEE 2012 “a defining moment in Flocktory's history of development.” And here's why:
“Our participation and success at the event allowed us to effectively close our Series A $1.5M round. Besides raising capital, IDCEE allowed us to perfect our pitch and gain valuable recognition of the value that our product brings.”
MixGar, winner at IDCEE 2011
MixGar, a service that generates music playlists in public places based on attendants' interests, walked away from IDCEE in 2011 with €6K in prize money and something of no less value. The startup's CEO Gerzson Huszar explains:
“Winning IDCEE 2011 not only gave us plenty of useful feedback but helped us to get investment and start a real business.”
In 2012, MixGar raised €65,000 from Phoenix Investment Group. The team has gone a long way, but still has extensive plans:
“After winning IDCEE we focused on what's most important - the product. Now we are offering a service that has the same features as the competition but is not only better in the social-interactive-voting part but in several nuances like cross-faded and volume level normalized and hand picked songs.
Mixgar is a well established brand locally in Hungary. Our customers are top names in every field whether you are talking about top restaurants, bars, cafes or even shops.
We are adding a hardware piece to our offering making possible to sign deals with big chains thus ensuring a faster growth of sales. We are confident that with an outstanding service that we are offering we are ready to move to major cities in Europe like London or Amsterdam and to the US.”
Zingaya, winner at IDCEE 2010
“Click-to-call” service for websites Zingaya snagged the first prize in 2010, at the first IDCEE conference held in the current format. The company's CEO and co-founder Alexey Alyarov admitted that this victory “helped us to believe in what we were doing even more than before,” adding that “the prize was also very useful those days.”
Year after that, the project raised $1.15 million in funding from Esther Dyson and group of private Russian investors. Nowadays, Zingaya is working hard, according to its CEO:
“The company is doing really well, we [have managed to acquire] more than 650 customers for our click-to-call service (and not going to stop). We also have just launched a new product – VoxImplant, it's a cloud platform for real-time communication app development. The company is growing and we are happy with our current progress, we are working hard to get more visibility on the US market and plan to establish permanent presence there.”
Wrapping up everything said by founders above, it's safe to say that participation in startup competitions definitely does help projects to get attention from both the general crowd and investors, even though consumes some time. And money, of course, are never useless, especially for startups that need them permanently.
What is also important to mention is that in addition to the startups that have won awards at IDCEE, there a quite a few “hidden” success stories of projects that got funded after participating in the conference, but never made it to the podium. Among them are 2010 participants yaM Labs (raised $500K from Foresight Ventures) and Omyconf ($350K from angel investors), as well as contestants from later years, such as Attendify ($200K from TMT Investments), Endorphine.me ($250K from Untitled VC), Penxy ($500K from Prostor Capital), and many, many others.
At this year's IDCEE, look closely at the startups participating: chances are that many of them will make the news very soon.