Last week, John and I headed out to Montreal for the International Startup Festival.  We hustled, pitched, pumped, laughed, and sweated our way to be a finalist in the $50k startup competition.  Here's a brief recap of our adventure.

Early Wednesday we joined an amazing group of entrepreneurs, investors, and advisors on the Startup Train bound for Montreal.  Brydon Gilliss (Startupify.Me; ThreeFortyNine) organized the "unconference" on rails by renting out an entire Via Rail car and facilitated business pitches and powerpoint karaoke.

We were the first up to give our pitch.  We've been working on our beta and thought that the train pitch would be the perfect time to launch it.  So with the Via Wifi working, John deployed the code to production... and it worked!  

For the pitch, we explained how we are trying to address the problem that first time expectant parents face in that they are overwhelmed with information about what to buy and they can't figure out what they really need for their family.  There are 2.2 million first time parents in the U.S. each year facing this problem and they spend on average of over $8,000 on baby gear! We had some great questions from the audience and ended up winning one of the Audience Choice awards!

The rest of the trip was spent chatting and getting feedback from people like Brian Kobus (Summerhill Ventures), Scott Allen (Sightmetrics), Nathan Monk & Leona Teixeira (MaRS DD), and Kevin Holbeche (Faskens).

Wednesday evening at the festival reception we started our hustle, trying to talk to as many people as possible about babySIMPLIFY.  It was a good chance to practice our elevator pitch, get feedback, and tweak it before the real elevator pitch the next day.

Thursday morning kicked off with thought provoking talks from Chris Shipley and Dave McClure.  Chris encouraged us to think big and create a company built to last.  "Building an app is not building a business" - I'm keeping this in mind as we iterate on our revenue model and figure out what resonates best with our target customer.  Dave gave us all the finger (yes, the middle one) and begged us to take risks with our business.  He suggested we tap into human emotions of fear, sex, power, family, and anger.  Our business certainly hits on the fear and family angles.  It will be interesting to test promotional materials with fear-based messages (e.g. don't get the wrong things for your baby; don't be caught unprepared) versus family-based messages (e.g. get just what you need for your family).

I was able to chat with Dave after his talk and he liked our business concept.  While talking with him, Ondi Timoner, an award winning documentary film maker, slapped a baseball cap on him that had an embedded camera and mic.  So most of our conversation was captured on tape.  I later chatted with Ondi about babySIMPLIFY while pumping in the ladies washroom (if you're not a mom, you probably don't know what I mean, but I will spare you the details).  It should be an interesting recording with the sounds of toilets flushing in the background.

I have to admit that I didn't see many of the other talks on Thursday.  We were too busy chatting with everyone and making pitches.  We took the plunge in the elevator pitch competition and shared our story with the grandmother judges.  But my favourite part was talking with other entrepreneurs who have gotten farther along the startup journey.  Folks like Sebastien Provencher (Needium), Caitlin MacGregor (cream.hr), Gary Crane (couplewise), Ken Seville (CiviSide.com), Benoit L'Archeveque (azzimov), and Ivan Tsarynny (QuadLook.com).  We also got to share our story with VentureTV and Startup Canada.

We capped off Thursday night at dinner with the team from the MaRS Discovery District.  As we headed off to bed we were alerted through twitter that we were finalists for the $50k prize and would be presenting to the judges for 10 minutes on Friday morning.  So out came the laptops and we worked hard through the night to practice and perfect our pitch and make some changes to the beta to prove out our revenue model.

On Friday morning we were anxiously awaiting our turn to pitch when we heard that the pitches were now 2 minutes and should focus on why we are a startup that matters.  In front of the 10 judges, they first informed me that Dave McClure had nominated us as a finalist (cool!).  Then I jumped right into how babySIMPLIFY is going to help consumers buy less and get the most utility out of the things they do buy.  It's sort of like anti-marketing where the consumer gets exactly what they need and thus reduces waste.  In my career, I've helped big companies use predictive analytics to sell customers more things, that they may not necessarily use, but this turns the model on the head by using predictive analytics to buy less things.  It seemed to resonate well with the judges.

In the end, we didn't win the $50k prize but I feel that we got $50k worth of mentoring, advice, and valuable connections.  But look for us next year at the festival when I hope to pitch on the main stage and share our successes from the upcoming year.
 
Had our first real customer inquiry today from the babySIMPLIFY website!  A customer heard about the site from colleagues and he filled in all of the survey info and submitted a e-form through the website.

I followed up tonight with a call to him and he was really interested in the website and is looking forward to the full launch.  I offered him and his wife a personal consultation, but I guess he had yet to tell his wife about it.  (mental note: must include refer to friend/spouse functionality in the full build).  In my experience, it's usually the soon to be mom who plans the baby purchases so I wasn't surprised that he wanted to get her involved.  So I'll be following up soon with the wife to get feedback on the site and provide them with their complimentary personal consultation.