Interview with Tony Donovan from Voxtake at the Web Summit to present TapStak.
How did the Summit go for you?
The Web Summit went really well for us. Our mobile interactive platform called TapStak couldn’t have had a better first public showing and we were really happy to have had a working version built in time to show there.
Was TapStak developed in-house?
No – we’re not developers, we outsourced the development to DMS having had discussions with a number of other software developers we found that DMS were ready to go immediately and could develop both the back-end and the Apps as well as providing UX support. When we were accepted as an Alpha Startup, they also worked with us to rearrange an already agreed development and test plan in order to provide us with a less featured, but working version of TapStak to show.
Why did you need to bring a fully working platform?
It was essential that we had a working platform to show because the value and usefulness of TapStak is much easier to demonstrate than it is to describe. It is true to say that if you can’t pitch your business in twenty five words or less then you’ve got something wrong but it’s also true to say that pictures were saying a thousand words long before that idea was ever thought of.
Was being an Alpha Startup an advantage?
Having Voxtake accepted as an Alpha Startup lowered the cost of being there and it also gave us more of an insight into the event itself. If we hadn’t been accepted as an Alpha Startup the cost of being there would have been prohibitive and going as attendees was not on as it wouldn’t have fulfilled our main objective, which was to get pre-launch customer and end-user feedback.
Did it match your expectations?
As a startup attending the Web Summit for the first time, almost everything was a new experience to us so expectations and aspirations tended to be difficult to differentiate at times. No matter how much research and planning goes into preparing to exhibit at something like the Summit for the first time, expectations can only be clearly defined the second time around.
You could say that all of our reasoned expectations were well met but maybe some of our multi-million dollar serendipity-dependent aspirations failed to materialise. ?.
What was the high point for Voxtake?
For us having TapStak nominated as ‘the next big thing’ by a group of student entrepreneurs from the Hatch Incubator Program was the high point.
Out of over one hundred and thirty Irish startups that were considered, we were nominated as one of four to appear on stage to pitch for a €10,000 prize fund. It was a great bonus and totally unexpected as we didn’t even know we were being considered and hadn’t specifically pitched for it. I arrived back to our stand having registered for cloud services at the Google stand to find Denis O’Mahoney, our CMO, surrounded by a group of students and full camera crew, answering some though business questions. When they left we thought that was the end of it really unless they contacted us to sign a release form or something if it was to be used.
Later we noticed the same group assemble in the background and it was only then that we found out that they wanted to give us an invite to pitch on stage the next day.
Even though we didn’t win the prize, we saw an unsolicited vote of confidence in TapStak by a group of very well informed entrepreneurial young people as a massive indication that we are on the right track and indeed it’s possibly a more relevant indicator of potential success than a thumbs up from a business advisor. Now we just need to prove them right
If you were to do it differently what would you have done?
The run up to the Summit was a bit hectic with the software development stuff and other preparations so there wasn’t really much time to have planned to do anything differently. Next time we would definitely put more time aside to make pre-planned arrangements with potential investors and customers and try to make more out of night summit opportunities. The online Summit hangouts were a good source of learning before attending the event but the time to put into practice what they advised was a bit short.
What was your Exhibit spot like?
We made a decision to present Voxtake to the Web Summit organisers as an entertainment platform rather than software as a service provider and because of that we were located where the people we wanted to meet and initially sell our service to were mostly likely to be. Had we described ourselves as SaaS providers it would probably have placed us with the “techie software people” (as our potential customers might see it) and maybe a bit too far from where we needed to be. This, along with our assigned position just inside the main door worked out well for us I think.
What was the best advice you got going there?
As it turned out, the warnings from the Summit organisers to have offline versions of everything we were going to be showing, was the best advice. We had screen-shot based mock-ups of TapStak on our phones as well as the real thing. We used them to fall back on when the Wi-Fi came under pressure and so we were not really affected by the Wi-Fi problems as much as some others were.
What did people think of your product?
We found that demonstrating TapStak generally took people through three stages. It started with an initially very sceptical look, followed by a slow smile and then a knowing nod.
The sceptical look was a reaction to our claim on the stand artwork. A sort of “how can you possibly turn any event, show or marketing campaign into an interactive experience very quickly and cost effectively?” look.
Then came the “oh- I see now” smile, followed by the “you could probably do other things with it also” nod.
We were delighted with the response from future end-users who liked the combination of a simple but multi-functional TapStak interface. Some representatives of very large potential b2b customers offered us their business cards before we offered them ours – which was a great boost to our confidence.
Did you get any useful feedback from people there?
We got some very useful feedback from corporate organisational and marketing people about how TapStak could be used in their sectors. It seemed that many of them were searching for something new in the area of audience and customer interactivity but were failing to find simplicity combined with cost-effectiveness and an easily understood benefit to them.
Will you be changing or pivoting your project based on what happened at the Summit?
No, we won’t be pivoting and on the basis of feedback we got because the feedback was that we seem to be heading in the right direction. We’ve been advised to expect to have to adapt what we are doing to meet the needs of our first customers in the real world and on that basis we’ve designed TapStak to be flexible in the types of activities that it can support. So we don’t expect to have to pivot but we will have to keep flexible and easily adapt without losing sight of our core customer value propositions:
Interface simplicity, development cost effectiveness, speed of deployment and multiple uses for one application.
What was it like for you to be in Dublin, the food, the atmosphere, the vibe?
We stayed close-by the RDS for most of the week and there was a great buzz around the place with so many people from around the world there for the three days. The weather cooperated with the feeding time migration to the Food Summit where the standard of food was well above what you’d expect from a temporary food hall with such a constant demand for service. The organisation at the event overall was excellent we didn’t experience any inconvenience or problems. The only real downside was that as we were there on a mission, we didn’t have time to properly enquire about some of the amazing things that others were doing.
Which had more use for you the day summit or the night one? Why?
For us it was more about the day summit. We went there primarily to get end-user and B2B customer feedback on TapStak so the exhibition stand and stage was where it was at for us. We did attend and enjoyed some of the night events – particularly the last night at Whelan’s where we met other startup people from around the world and actually came away with some useful advice on App store release management and SEO.
But we didn’t go out to overtly pitch at the night events – it was more about making contacts and gaining insights. I’m not sure if pulling out your App for random people to look at in a late night bar or club would go down very well. But then maybe I’ve been too long out of that scene to know? ?
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