Guest Post: Catherine Prosser, StageBitz
Last year, as one of 150 other ambitious start-ups, our company StageBitz applied to be part of Tech23 2011.
It turned out to be pretty significant for our business. We wanted to give our start-up some exposure, make some connections, and generally accelerate the momentum we had going. So when we were selected to present on the day, we were very excited, particularly because we were only just getting used to the idea of being a “tech” company.
Mat Lawrence, my co-founder, and I come from the world of theatre. “Tech” was still a world we were learning about (albeit very quickly!).
StageBitz developed from a very real problem that exists in our industry and, indeed, any industry that needs to acquire set, props, costumes or any other item to get a project done. We devised a bespoke web app that, for the first time, allowed the whole project team to collaborate in one spot to design and create the items they needed. The app automatically collates those items into a central inventory for the company and allows them to share it online with other companies. To use a very “tech” phrase, it had huge potential to disrupt theatre, film and TV, events and similar realms.
So when, at the end of the Tech23 day, Rachel (Slattery) announced that we had won both the $25k Catalyst award (courtesy of NSW Trade and Investment) as well as ATP Innovation‘s Silicon Valley Explorer prize – 5 days of meetings and greetings in Silicon Valley- we were over the moon.
In a flurry of applause, good will and noise, I met Hamish Hawthorn, CEO of ATP Innovations, for the first time as he handed me the envelope. I had about three seconds to say ‘thank you!’ and ‘we’ll talk next week!’ before the next lot of photos and presentations got underway.
Several months later, I was sitting in a beautiful courtyard at Stanford University in Palo Alto reflecting on the two weeks before, and what the Silicon Valley Explorer prize has meant to StageBitz. Yes, two weeks; we were able to add an extra week at the front of the trip to do some very valuable customer development and validation. The combination of the cash prize, the trip and the perfect timing of the trip has really allowed us to make some big steps forward.
Here’s what that prize allowed us to do:
- Launch the latest version of StageBitz, which allows customers to collaborate on their props, set and costumes online for the very first time
- Meet with potential New York customers, such as the Met Opera, Juilliard School and Manhattan Theatre Club
- Meet hundreds of potential customers in the form of leading US universities, theatre companies, theatre professionals and students at our booth at the US Institute of Theatre Technology’s 2012 Conference and Exhibition
- Meet legal, business and investment experts who advised us on the logistics and realities of life in Silicon Valley
- Spend time in various incubators and other spaces designed to foster entrepreneurs, including the new Startup HQ, GreenStart, the Citrix Accelerator and 500 startups
- Follow the progress of the 8 StartMate companies
- Have experienced entrepreneurs from all walks provide advice and ask key questions to help us focus on the next steps for StageBitz
What did I want to get out of those two weeks? I wanted to prove that US customers needed and wanted StageBitz as much as our early Australian customers did.
I wanted to establish personal relationships with key companies and universities to establish our customer base in the US. I wanted to understand what the opportunities, realities and logistics of being based in Silicon Valley were, both professional and personal.
I wanted to meet people with a range of experiences who would take the time to share what they’ve learned with me and add their perspective to the challenges and opportunities that are presenting themselves to us at the moment. I wanted to come away feeling confident and excited about the next steps for our company.
I am pleased to say that with the fabulous support, assistance and experience of Hamish, we have done all that and a little bit more.
An added bonus for us was that the Startmate companies happened to arrive the same week we went, so I have also had the experience of sitting in a room at 500 Startups amongst a whole heap of Silicon Valley VCs and Angel investors and been able to follow the pretty exciting path that some of them have trodden (starting with a pretty good session at the Tipsy Pig on Monday night, but let’s leave sleeping pigs lie). It is very clear that this is a city with amazing opportunities available for those willing to grab them.
Is Silicon Valley right for StageBitz? Or New York? Or LA? The next 3 or 4 months will tell. We have a pile of leads to follow up on and our challenge is to convert the leads to free trials and the free trials to happy, paying customers. Our next steps will include the need to see if we get more traction from any particular sector of this massive market. And we need to listen carefully to what these important early customers are telling us. Then we can make some serious decisions about where is the best place for StageBitz to grow and drive forward like we know it can.
Our sincere thanks to ATP Innovations and Tech23 for making those two great weeks happen.