Ever watch startup presentations and wonder about the presenting teams, “How did they get there?” We had a chance to catch up with John Fan and Ching-Mei Chen, two of the co-founders of the Taipei/Mountain View startup Cardinal Blue, as they returned from presenting at the Singapore startup conference Echelon 2011 and asked them that very question.
How did Cardinal Blue end up getting selected for Echelon? Ching-Mei Chen was actually planning a trip home to Singapore (where she grew up) and had set the dates to overlap with Echelon. “It seemed to be a pretty cool event last year,” she said. “Reading about the event, it turned out attendance was free for presenting teams, so I looked at the application. It turns out we had already prepped responses to very similar questions for something else we were working on, so we gave it a shot.”
Cardinal Blue was selected as one of 40 companies for the first round of the Singaporean startup event. They were asked to come out to an Echelon satellite event in Hong Kong first. “We were in the Bay Area at the time and too busy to travel abroad, but they were flexible and let us send in a recorded presentation for the satellite event and do our Q&A through Skype,” explained John Fan. Cardinal Blue was likely selected because of its potential to score highly in the overall grading criteria for the competition. These criteria included: Problem and Solution (size of the problem, product design, technical finesse, creativity of solution), Revenue Model (entrenched competitors, creativity of revenue model), Founders (ability to execute, potential, past success, x-factor), and Pitch and Demo (clarity of presentation, creativity of presentation, ability to answer questions effectively).
Chen and Fan were selected as one of the top 11 teams and invited to present at the Launchpad in Singapore. Regarding the Echelon conference in general, John noted, “They lined up a really good set of speakers. We met a number of interesting people there, and it was eye-opening to see a lot of the Southeast Asian teams and to learn about the startup scene in their respective countries. I found that some of the startups from Singapore were sophisticated in terms of marketing. Seeing the Singapore government support the industry is really cool, but there’s still a question of whether or not genuine creativity can be spurred through the government.” Ching-Mei added, “Also, being Singapore, the event was super organized. Everything was really structured and scheduled.”
During the competition, presenters were given an abrupt one-minute warning. The entire Launchpad event was run like clockwork, adhering to a strict timed schedule. “They gave us exactly five minutes. We practiced many times to get our presentation to fit in the time limits, and were able to finish just as our time expired,” said John. Ching-Mei added, “They weren’t only strict with the presenters, but also gave time limits to the judges too!”
On a stage in front of almost one thousand people, one might think nerves would be an issue. When asked, though, the team said that it turned out surprisingly not to be an issue. Preparation turned out to be the more difficult part, according to John: “It’s hard to figure out what makes the cut for a five-minute presentation and what doesn’t.” Ching-Mei added, “Preparing was pretty nerve-racking, but once you’ve gotten to the stage you’ve practiced so much that you just kind of get up there and do it.” The judges also asked them 10 minutes of questions, and John noted: “It was challenging to answer questions on the spot, but once we started the conversation with the judges, we forgot we were in front of a big audience so we weren’t nervous.”
All in all, it was a good experience for the Cardinal Blue team. The conference gave the team a chance to market the app, receive some attention, and make new friends and contacts. Based on their success this year, the Echelon organizers are interested in expanding the event next year and it is rumored that they plan to hold a Satellite event in Taipei next year, which should be a great opportunity for Taiwan entrepreneurs.