How to win at TechCrunch Disrupt: 2014 winners share secret to their success
TechCrunch Disrupt is in full swing in San Francisco -- and companies from all over are pitching their products and ideas to big wigs and venture capitalists in hopes of taking home the $50,000 prize.
Few companies understand how much of a leg up that award can be more than Hello Alfred, a personal butler service that beat out five other finalists in 2014 to win the top prize. The service hires and trains butlers to visit users' homes and handle chores for between $15 and $42 a week.
AOL.com caught up with co-founder Marcela Sapone, to find out about her journey with co-founder Jess Beck to TechCrunch Disrupt (TCD), and how they won in 2014.
AOL.com: Why did you enter TechCrunch Disrupt?
Marcela Sapone and Jess Beck: TCD is the best platform to launch a business from. We didn't realize just how big that impact would be. The reach of the competition, and specifically TCD, is global and the history and caliber of the competition can't be found anywhere else. Companies from Dropbox, Mint, Cloudflare, Red Beacon, and so many others have thrown their hat in the Disrupt battlefield ring. We are honored to be in their company.
AOL.com: How did you prepare for the competition? How far in advance were you ready?
Marcela Sapone and Jess Beck: Every single day that we ran our business was practice -- in early stages we were building conviction that is both qualitative and quantitative. Do [we] have a product that works?
We were working incredibly hard before TCD. In many ways TechCrunch was a moment in time where we could pause, synthesize what we had done and tell the story.
We had the rough outline of our story before the competition. However, the most intense part of preparation was right before the event.
First, we wrote each key message on individual Post-it notes and placed them in speaking order on a hotel desk, going over them one by one. We then needed a quiet place to practice our presentation, and also a room with mirrors so we could adapt our presentation style, so we re-created the TCD stage in our hotel bathroom. We spent hours going through every word and transition to get the timing correct and the story right.
Of course, not everything goes as planned. We couldn't find stands for our posters in Startup Alley and ended up improvising day-off (a poster became a table cloth). To be honest our first practice pitch we awkward and a bit disjointed. That's why we practiced like athletes or musicians who watch themselves after a game or concert.
AOL.com: What state was your business actually in versus what you were presenting? What were your concerns about your product and business plan prior to the competition?
Marcela Sapone and Jess Beck: We had been operating successfully in Boston and built a prototype of our first consumer app for TCD.
We were worried that only operating in East Coast cities would be an issue during the competition. We couldn't magically be everywhere all at once, so we worried about how to take advantage of the national stage.
See photos of Hello Alfred at TechCrunch Disrupt:
AOL.com: Describe the days leading up to the competition and the night before. What did you do? What would you have done differently? What were the hardest moments? How did you stay focused?
Marcela Sapone and Jess Beck: They were amazing. There was such a buzz in the air during TCD which gave us extra energy to focus, but also made it hard to lock ourselves in the hotel room and go to sleep early! The days before, we put Post-it notes all over the walls to help remember and lay out our thoughts. Before actually getting on stage we also obviously played some pump-up music.
Hardest moment was probably having to do it all again for the final. We felt really great about the first pitch and really wanted to make sure the final one was just as good, if not better. We made sure we went to bed early and had no distractions that morning.
AOL.com: Describe the moments before you walked on stage and the feeling of presenting? What did the judges respond best to and what tricks didn't work?
Marcela Sapone and Jess Beck: It was crazy. We knew that the next 15-20 minutes could change our lives (and it did). We were standing backstage and were nervous but focused. We didn't speak to anyone for the 10 minutes before. Right before going on stage, Jess said, "don't forget, it is inevitable."
The judges liked Dan, the fictional character that represented our members. Humanizing our product like that made it easier to understand and comprehend. It helped a lot. The one thing that we messed up during the presentation was that we had accidentally put the prototype on airplane mode and a notification popped up right when we began.
We tried to remember being onstage was really two presentations -- the one we gave and the questions after. The questions were just as important.
AOL.com: What happens after the first round presentation? How did you prepare for the next rounds and then the final?
Marcela Sapone and Jess Beck: Well, after the first rounds we were notified that we made it to the finals, and then we went into the next round.
Once that happened, we knew we had to get ready for a bigger game. We changed the presentation based on what worked and didn't -- we improved the visuals, made it more cinematic, and prepped a different set of questions that judges might ask. We spent the entire TCD in our hotel room prepping this.
See photos of how team Hello Alfred prepared their presentation:
AOL.com: What went through your mind after the final round presentation? What did it feel like when you found out you'd won?
Marcela Sapone and Jess Beck: The first thing we did when we got off stage was think of all the little things we did wrong. Then we started thinking like the judges and imagined hearing about our business as if we encountered it for the very first time. Then it's a waiting game. We paced outside, backstage, not wanting to really talk to anyone.
We didn't think we were going to win. Someone backstage gave us the impression that we hadn't -- so we went and sat in the audience. When the time came for them to announce the winner the organizers couldn't find us. They had to ask the teams backstage to look for us.
When we won, it was some combination of shock, disbelief.
And then we got the check, which we one of our teammates dropped. We took a selfie -- again, not sure why. It feels like getting hit by waves. Everything was so loud. All eyes were on us. And then within one second, our phones exploded. There was champagne. And our lawyer was there, we think he came to protect us. And then we got interviewed.
And there was more champagne.
Wonder how Hello Alfred has grown since? Check out part two of our interview with the company.