Aaron Patzer launched his new startup Mint.com at TechCrunch40 last year. As the top company he received a cash award of $50,000 and a ton of press attention.
We asked Aaron to write about his experience at TechCrunch40 – the good, the bad, and everything else. We’re striving to preserve the magic for our upcoming event, TechCrunch50. And not repeat our rookie errors.
His post is below.
Presenting at TechCrunch 40 last September was probably the most important 7 minutes of my professional life. I’m not exaggerating here. It’s where Mint.com launched.
Rewind a bit. I started Mint in March of 2006 out of frustration. Existing tools like Quicken and MS Money took way too much work, and provided very little real insight on your finances. Like many a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, I quit my job, invested half my life savings in the company, and convinced a few friends to join me for very meager pay.
By September 2006, we had enough of a prototype for seed funding. We spent the next year solid building the product, working and re-working the UI, and trying to come up with an elegant way to connect to 6,500 financial institutions. Mint was ready – well, almost ready – to launch. TechCrunch 40 gave us a good line in the sand, an absolute hard date that everyone could rally around. In a startup, that means focus, and focus is everything.
That was nine months ago, and we were at zero. Now Mint.com is up to nearly 300,000 users, we’re leading our all competitors by a factor of at least 5x, and we’ve raised $17m in funding from Benchmark, Shasta, Sherpalo, First Round, and more. Presenting at (and winning) TechCrunch 40 helped us get to where we are today. Here’s how:
1. TechCrunch is a Massive Press Platform
The event is well attended by press. Even prior to winning, we did at least 10 interviews, including Forbes, Fortune, Business 2.0, VentureBeat, and CNET. I even got suckered into a fake-interview (which I didn’t realize was fake until they asked me to explain the difference between a geek and a nerd).
The event is loaded with bloggers. And for startups, the blogosphere probably matters more than traditional media for the first few months. According to Technorati, Mint.com had nearly 1,000 posts during or immediately after TechCrunch.
Expect a spike in traffic – even if you don’t win. If you do win, have some servers on standby. And for all you engineers out there, make sure you increase MySQL’s in memory DB cache to at least a few GB: we got slammed with over 80,000 visits and 15,000 sign-ups in a 12-hour window and our machines started to crawl.
2. $$$ Attracting Investors $$$
Investors of all sizes attended TechCrunch 40. That includes angels like former Google VP Aydin Senkut, seed stage firms like First Round Capital, and plenty of traditional early stage venture firms. Have your 30-second pitch down, and be prepared to recite it a hundred times.
Also, if you’re not selected as one of the on-stage presenters, don’t worry, the demo-pit has its own advantages: you have the time and space to walk investors through your product one on one.
3. Being Challenged by Experts
After Mint’s 7-minute on-stage presentation, we went back up on stage with Xobni, Orgoo, App2You, and KerPoof. Here, Esther Dyson, Roelof Botha, and Guy Kawasaki challenged each of us – in front of a crowd of 1,000 people. It’s nerve racking for sure, but it hones your skill, and all the sudden, VC meetings seem relatively tame by comparison.
Toughest question: Describe your revenue model…in five words or less.
4. Competitive Analysis
Over 700 companies applied to TechCrunch 40 last year. 40 presented, with another 100 in the demo pit. Chances are, you’re going to find out about a new competitor. We did (SpendView), and sizing up the competition is a very good thing.
5. Winning Helps
Winning TechCrunch gave us more than a stratospheric jump in traffic; it gave us outside validation. Mint’s win gave us an “in” to pitch the Mint story to any tech or business publication. TechCrunch, with a few million monthly readers, has that kind of influence now.
Oh, and as a pre-profit startup, the $50,000 check for grand prize is nice too!
Launching at TechCrunch is free, gives you tons of press exposure, lots of feedback from users, and can help pique the interest of the venture community. Not to be a shill, but if you’re a tech company and the timing is about right, why would you launch anywhere else?