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THE LAUNCH CONFERENCE: Fledgling MingleBird Leaves the Nest, and Other Tidbits for Bootstrappers

Jason Calacanis' inaugural tech conference LAUNCH, which took place in San Francisco on February 23-24, featured two invitation-only competitions and over a thousand attendees. MingleBird was thrilled to be invited to participate in the 1.0 competition for startups. We arrived at Launch with bright eyes, met lots of fantastically smart people, consumed tremendous amounts of free beverages, and were blown away by the high level of innovation.   

We want to give our insights into our Launch experience as well as provide tidbits for other bootstrappers who may be given the opportunity to make a splash in the Olympic-sized startup pool.

Pre-Launch

Launch was our first tech conference and MingleBird our first product, incubated with a grant from USC's Annenberg Program on Online Communities (APOC). With the mobile apps and website created in less than six months and for less than $15K, we were flying high when Jason gave us the green light after three pitches. What an incredible stage for us to introduce MingleBird! Shout out to APOC's Program Director Karen North for introducing us to Jason so we could fly north this winter.

Countdown

We had five minutes to demo two products. Yikes!  Fueled with caffeine (and sometimes alcohol), we worked tirelessly to prepare a kickass presentation, with Lloyd strapped into the cordless mic and Christopher's righteous index finger on the controls. Thankfully, Jason gave us high marks at dress rehearsals, so we knew our pitch was on target. 

Lift-off

Twenty companies in the 1.0 competition. The judges had no qualms about ripping new ones to presenters on day 1 (talking to YOU, Dave McClure!). Unlike the entertainment industry, where two-faced execs will call you "brilliant" to your face while talking smack behind your back, apparently startup investors and thought leaders don't play that game. They tell you exactly what they think. Our panel of judges included Mo Koyfman, Aaron Patzer, Kevin Rose, Kara Swisher and Greg Tseng: perhaps a bit friendlier, but no less straightforward. Check out our presentation.

We presented immediately after LifeProof, which ended up winning for Best Presentation and Best Product. How can you follow a mustard-squirting guy in a tux dunking iPhones in a fishtank? (The cases are AMAZING, btw). We felt a little like Brill & McCall, the comedy duo who followed the Beatles after their Ed Sullivan debut.  Greg Tseng identified MingleBird as one of his two favorite presentations from the panel and VentureBeat gave us a great write-up that was then syndicated to the New York Times, Forbes and others. Congratulatory tweets flew fast and furious and it was amazing to see people talking about playing MingleBird at upcoming events all over the world.

Flight Log
Some feedback for the next Launch:

  1. Divide each session into either 1.0 or 2.0 companies. This seems like a more accurate way to judge the companies and products.
  2. Allow companies to discuss their products publicly on the first day of the event to give equal opportunity to those who present on day 2. 
  3. Perhaps have a competition within 1.0 for companies who have worked on a budget of $25K or less. It would be an interesting departure to see how the genuinely bootstrapped companies fare among the big players. 
  4. The grand jury was AMAZING - but there wasn't a single woman.  Besides TripBod and Convore, we believe we were the only other company out of 130 that included two women as co-founders. We would love to see greater female presence representing the tech space!

For Bootstrappers Who May Follow

  1. As widely reported, Calacanis is obsessed with startups. Launch is a fantastic opportunity for bootstrapping companies. But be ready to swim with the big fish. According to ReadWriteWeb, the few companies that had disclosed their funding on CrunchBase raised an average of $2 million, although Jason commented that "most of the companies at LAUNCH have raised nothing beyond what the founders have put in". Still, good ideas are good ideas: you're being considered on the same playing field as the heavy hitters, so own it.
  2. Network, network, network. Not exactly a revelation, but for bootstrappers who want to build their contact base, Launch is an inviting and encouraging environment. The energy and enthusiasm were infectious. 
  3. Know your one-sentence pitch, messaging, competition and business model COLD.  
  4. Be open to advice and constructive criticism. Attendees, presenters, judges and the Launch team have been around the startup block and are there to help. Take advantage of it. Diligently follow up with anyone who blogged or tweeted about you. 
  5. Strut your stuff — work those social networks to get the word out about your product and that you're at Launch.
  6. That said, immediately download MingleBird for FREE from iTunes and setup a game for your next social or professional event. And follow us @minglebird. Droid app coming soon!
  7. Toast your success at  Wayfare Tavern. We did. It's awesome. 

Thanks so much to Jason C, Tyler, Krute, Carolyn and the entire Launch team for including us at an amazing conference!

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