Category Archives: Events Re-Caps

My Startup Weekend Experience

swna2-20.jpg par Atlantic 2.0 - nantes SWNA Startup Weekend La CantineThis past weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in the second edition of Startup Weekend Nantes, hosted at La Cantine par Atlantic 2.0. If you don’t know what Startup Weekend is, read any of my other posts on the event to get a better idea – summary version: 54 Hours to create a startup. I will do an article soon on my First Impressions of the event itself, but this post is much more about what I got out of it.

“…But you know what, they were right – about the startup, and about the experience…”

Before going, I had already met some Startup Weekend veterans and staff, and everyone talked about it with such exaltation – I had to admit, I was skeptic. I mean a startup… in 54 hours… with people I’ve never met? But you know what, they were right – about the startup, and about the experience.

On Friday evening I pitched my own idea In French – while I got some pretty strong affirmations that the idea was good, ultimately I ended up abandoning and joining one of the two other pitches I liked. The group I joined was working on facilitating networking at events, and I figured I could add some input, having gone to half a dozen events in the past month. At the end of the first evening, I was hopeless. Everyone had such haughty visions with no conception of how they would play out, and I felt like every opinion I gave was a fight against the project pitcher and the rest of the team; nevertheless, we all hashed out our thoughts and decided to pick it up again Saturday morning.

We hit the bar down the street, joked around, and did some serious bonding.

Saturday morning, after a few coffees, we sat down and everything began to click. Ideas became organized, visions became molded, and we found ourselves with building blocks on which to focus our ideas. Tech people got to work on building some sort of demo-able product, design cranked away on a website, business people split off into marketing and business model, and we reconvened a few hours later.

Around noon Saturday, we realized that each person had understood differently the vision of the product. We sat down, hashed it out, and came to an agreeable conclusion. Out of the conclusion, we got some new greater vision on the idea. This cycle repeated itself four times through the day, and at the end of the day, we all had smiles on our face, and we realized we had touched something right. One group had been polling teams throughout the day for their startup, and around 2:30AM, on their 6th pass by our group, said “you know, everyone else has sort of stopped working by now, but you guys always seem hard at work.” We were, and we liked it.

Four hours of sleep on a couch. I woke up, hit my head on a metal stairwell over my head, and thought “I need to get this pitch and presentation ready.”

swna2-106.jpg par Atlantic 2.0 - nantes SWNA Startup Weekend La CantineOn Sunday everything fell apart like a sand castle at high tide. The tech team had misunderstood my requests demo-wise, the presentation wasn’t started, and we still didn’t have a website secured (which makes a demo quite hard). I struggled to keep everyone on task, with the help of my amazing designer and Julie, but it looked like everything was going to come together right on time (I mean… it had to).

Cut to 4:45PM, and Julia and I are sitting alone running through the pitch

Cut to 4:45PM, and Julia and I are sitting alone running through the pitch, having Cedric Giorgi of Seesmic help us with explaining our business model. We got called over to the group to sit for the beginning of pitches – Julia turned to me and said “I hope we go first, I can’t bear to wait,” and a minute later, Eventize gave its pitch.

While we didn’t win, we had already decided before we pitched that we were happy with the result. The feedback we got was amazing and some among our group will be discussing this week to see if Eventize has a future.


Enjoyed the article? Leave a comment below or check out some of my other articles…

FailCon Goes International
Finally… European Pirate Summit Re-Cap
Start-Up September – Yeah, It’s a Thing… 
Startup Weekend Battle Europe Highlights (

First Impressions of Mash Up… oh and How to Go to Le Web for free!

Divers (3).jpg by Olivier Ezratty

Walking into the foyer of Epitech, I felt a little too much like I was back in college. Overly dressed up students awkwardly searched for eye contact, groups that came together huddled together, and older gentlemen in suits tried to blend in – seriously, had I just walked into Orientation? I navigated through the crowds, who of course had huddle in front the sign-in table, not knowing where else to go, and I quickly saw a list of differently colored name tags. I was asked if I was searching for a project, had a project, or was just ‘curious.’ I said I write a blog, and was given a non-discriminate, white badge. I say ‘non-discriminate’ because it was at this time that I realized that the badges were not organized alphabetically, but by type and color. Red badges went to those who had a product, yellow to those who were curious, and green to those who were looking for a project/internship. This wonderfully reminded me all too much of the Stop Light parties at UCSD, where guy/girls would wear red, yellow, or green colored clothing depending on their availability (taken, curious, available) – of course, just as in these parties, yellow nametags were everywhere.

“…giant graffiti art covered the walls…”

Having scouted for familiar faces in the foyer for a few minutes, I followed some wanderers down a garage entrance, not too sure if they knew where they were going, and discovered the foyer with the check-in was just that. Down in the garage of Epitech, giant graffiti art covered the walls, with the corners drapped with oversized chairs, abandoned basketball hoops, and miscellaneous pieces of wood. In the middle of this giant garage stood 250 chairs all faced around a quite decorated stage. I took my seat in the ever-empty front row, occupied by a few photographers with whom I have become quite acquainted.

An event simulcast across France

The event kicked off with a few announcements, most of which were news to me.The event was being simulcast in various major cities in Paris (Bordeaux, Lyon, Toulouse, etc.) and from the looks of Twitter, the groups there were quite active. Because audiences were spread out across France, they made use of the Balloon app, which polls audience members for questions – I personally don’t find this to be too good of a method of taking questions, but I applaud the effort to include remote audiences. From what I understand, the primary interest in remote audiences comes from the fact that Mash Up is currently looking to expand outside of Paris, having completed three events with relative success.

The Suit and The Jeans…

Christophe Cremer et Alexandre Malsh (2).jpg by Olivier EzrattyFor the first hour, two entrepreneurs put on the gloves for a Q&A and story-sharing experience that ultimately excluded the moderators. MeilleurTaux founder Christophe Cremer, “The Suit”, sat opposite Melty founder Alexandre Malsch, “The Jeans”. The Suit took every occasion to re-read his work history to the crowd, his responses can be summarized and paraphrased to “I’m pretty awesome – I’ve raised a bunch of money and experienced everything.” Meanwhile, Jeans, young and fresh, made an attempt to connect with his ‘peers’ in the audience, debunking common myths and talking about how Tech people and Sales people think differently. The questions coming from the audience signaled that of an audience unsure of where in the ocean of the startup world they should dip their toes, and the responses came back equally as vague – after all, ‘vague’ is the ‘unsure’ of the confident. While it is enjoyable to listen to Entrepreneurs recount their experiences, Alex and Chris seemed to stereotype their differences, disagreeing and competing for the microphone at every question.

Most commonly used phrase – “…if I could just add a little story to that…”

After the panel finished up, Mash Up jumped into the pitches. A few Clones came through, a few familiar faces, and a lot of undeveloped ideas. I personally enjoyed hearing the pitch of Chef Jerome, as I had met the pitcher months back at a talk at LeCamping, and was happy to see how they had developed. Jerome offers a very simple interfact that allows you to take a recipe on a website and turn it into an online shopping list for any of the large French grocery stores. 3 Day Startup was also there announcing their first event. If you are unfamiliar with 3 Day Startup, they have a similar concept to Startup Weekend and BeMyApp, with their differentiation coming from the fact that you must sign up and be accepted into the day – through this, they hope to groom the participants into the most efficient division of labor, with only the most interested candidates. Sign up will be between October 15th and November 15th, and the event will take place January 20th-22 and ESCP Europe. 40 Participants will be accepted, and mentors and sponsors will be around intermittently throughout the weekend.

Going To Le Web….. For Free!

Divers (1).jpg by Olivier EzrattyThe best announcement came at the end of Mash Up, where they announced that Mash Up will be giving away two tickets to Le Web – more details are available on their website, but one if for recent graduates contributing to the Startup World (ME!!!!!!) and the other will be selected by a Mash Up Jury (me?). Starting October 15th, contestants can post on the wall of Mash Up’s facebook page, and whoever receives the most likes will receive the ticket – you can all be forewarned that I will be harassing you thoroughly for likes. I apologize here and now.

As I have spent the last month going event to event across Western Europe, I don’t think I was able to fully appreciate this event. Its target is students (events take place at universities), and provides a first look for students into the world of entrepreneurship. One particular part that I enjoyed were the Pitch summaries and Job Offers of companies attending that they handed out at the event. I hope that the speakers debunked a lot of misconceptions for the audience, and that some Reds found some Greens, and some Yellows jumped off the fence and into the startup world.

FailCon Goes International – A preview

I have recently become a contributor for Silicon Maniacs, the magazine run by Silicon Sentier. Here is a preview of my article on FailCon France, which happened last thursday in Paris….

The culture of failure has changed a lot in the startup world over the past few years, and a lot of credit must go to Cass Phillipps, who started FailCon in San Francisco in 2009. With this conference, Entrepreneurs began talking about their failures, and Entrepreneurs began learning from others’ mistakes. While it is undeniable that to fail should be avoided, there is something to be said about recognizing your mistakes and learning from them. And with that in mind, FailCon has begun expanding, with its first international stop being in Paris, France.

Having hosted an unofficial FailCon back in January, Roxanne Varza was the first to admit that French entrepreneurs are not the best at talking about their failures. I recall speaking with a prominent French entrepreneur about the possibility of getting into a new project, and his response was “I will only jump into the project if I know it will succeed.” Nonetheless, there was no lack of volunteers to speak about their failures and struggles openly and with pride.

For the rest of the article, head click here.

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Finally… European Pirate Summit Re-Cap

Start-Up September – Yeah, It’s a Thing… 

Startup Weekend Battle Europe Highlights (

Finally… European Pirate Summit Re-Cap

NOTE: I wanted to post this earlier, but I had submitted it to TechCrunch to be reviewed for a trial article. Clearly, it was not something they were interested in..(A blog post in Proofreading and thinking before you post to follow)

On Tuesday, September 20th, The European Pirate Summit was hosted in Cologne, Germany…

Walking past the sheet with “European Pirate Summit” spray-painted on it, I knew instantly that either this was going to be an amazing day, or it was going to be awful. Having lost my way, I asked for directions inside what I thought to be a night club. The owner of Germany’s Largest Brothel described where I wanted to go as “dirty and disgusting” – this is a key indicator that whatever you are about to do is going to be ‘high risk,’ as an entrepreneur described it later in the day.

Early in the morning, Roxanne Varza hosted Reverse Pitching for what I believe to be the 3rd time in the past 10 days – in fact, I’ve already written about it this past week. Nonetheless, the reverse pitching concept is great: VCs pitch their firm, or worse, themselves, to a crowd of entrepreneurs.

Varza helps first-time entrepreneurs focus on what to look for in a VC by pointing out common VC weaknesses: VCs pay more attention to companies located closer to them, VCs don’t usually respond to cold calls, and, of course, that VCs are often much worse at pitching than Entrepreneurs. My personal highlight was watching her grill Venture Stars founder Stefan Pfannmöller, a former professional athlete. She pointed out that his firm’s seemed to focus on sports, and after Stefan affirmed that they were open in their investment strategy, she asked him what else they were interested/invested in, to which Stefan mumbled a series of generic business model and product types.

Christian Thaler-Wolski from Wellington Partners, who seems to have become accustomed to such questions, was also there. In response to one of Varza’s characteristically hard-hitting questions “are you just looking for companies who are going to conquer the world?” Christian responded smoothly “Yes, and you need to have Internet in your dNa.”

In the afternoon, the Young-Leaders Panel featured some of Europe’s most successful entrepreneur’s under 30. Dublin Web Summit creator Paddy Cosgrave had several insights (and some non-sequitors) to share, such as how Irish entrepreneurs must always think global, because “there’s nobody in Ireland.”

After DWS’s first event was a flop, Paddy was told that it usually takes three years for conferences to build a reputation, so he decided to do three events a year. 18 months later, DWS is one of Europe’s most respected web summits, the 7th of which is being held October 27-28. He noted that one of the things that makes DWS so great are its quirks, like beginning to serve drinks at noon, and creating tag lines like “Boy Bands” for European clones, and “Rock Bands” for startups breaking into new markets.

In the evening was my favorite start up event: selected startups got to pitch to a panel of judges and attendees got to see the entire scale of success/fail rating for pitches. One startup, whose name I’ve aptly forgotten, received what I consider to be one of the worst reactions from a VC panel: silence. WeGetThere, who wants to be the Kickstarter for… paying for people you don’t know to go on vacation… walked a fine line between being laughed with and laughed at. His slide presentations contained pen-and-paper graph images and stick images, which he claimed to have done the night before. After his pitch, VCs seemed confused as to why users would offer to pay for someone else to go on vacation, and so they asked how he had travelled to Pirate Summit. With an air of confidence, he boasted that he had used a crowd-funding technique in order to give his crowd-funding startup a chance to pitch the Pirate Summit – whether the audience laughed ‘with’ or ‘at’ this time was unclear.

Benoit Curdy, an ex-Googler, received a good reception to his startup, Vocalytics, which provides voice analytics in order to help sales teams, startup pitchers, and other public speakers quickly analyze and improve their speeches. In response to the VC panel’s question of whether the product has any scientific backing, Curdy quickly answered that he himself had worked with the Swiss voice-analysis study while working at Google – the satisfied panel had no further questions. Curdy even feigned a proof of product noting that GetGauss, the startup with the best pitch, had used their alpha product, PaceRecorder, to practice.

DidThis, another one of the Pitches I enjoyed, gets the crowd excited about sharing actions

I made an active effort to avoid GetGauss for most of the morning, as all four members wore matching company shirts – I regretted this once they finished their pitch. GetGauss’ Vidar Andersen had the correct ratio of offbeat pirate puns and passionate explanation of the market they were tackling, it was only when the panel asked “what is your product?” that the audience realized that GetGauss hadn’t even shown what their product was. Tackling the ongoing problem of meeting people in your area, GetGauss left the audience wanting more, and left me waiting for a private beta announcement.

A successful Pirate crew take the stage, beer(s) in hand

Following an intriguing Q&A session with Jan Henric Buettner, which had included everything from “tell us your AOL stories” to “tell us about the Strawberry Cheesecake castle,” the closing panel resembled something out of Gillmor Gang. Walking on stage in his pirate bandana, Mike Butcher demanded a round of beer for everyone on stage. One VC called it the best panel he’d ever been on before it had even started. Joined by Google employee Jens Redmer who had done a Q&A on Google earlier in the day, Mike Butcher took every opportunity to make fun of Google+; however, Jens wasn’t doing himself a service, defending Google+ being in its development phase by saying “it’s not even in Google labs.”

The evening ended the way most startup conferences do: a nun shouted a ritual chant from the rooftop, and ‘Ze Copycat Guy’ was cremated in the middle of the Keynote space, followed swiftly by an after party DJed by startup Loudsquare.

I think it is safe to say that, in a conference where the sounds of trains passing across the street were drowned by a hardy “Arrrr,” where Mike Butcher can be convinced to sing Oasis and pirate shanties, where suits are forbidden and two full pigs are served for dinner, there will always be innovative people, amazing ideas, and embarrassing photos.

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Start-Up September – Yeah, It’s a Thing… 

Startup Weekend Battle Europe Highlights (