We won the Plugg Conference Start-Up Rally! Here's how it went..

We’re still in a state of disbelief that we won the start-up pitching competition at Plugg.eu! We honestly thought we’d go to Brussels and not many people would care about this peculiar research software start-up, with so many other more mainstream-focused start-ups (movies, telecommunication, advertising…) in the running. But I’m getting ahead of myself – here’s the full story:

Even before the conference started, Jan and I had managed to get ourselves confused. In true (and unwise) start-up fashion, we had planned on finishing our presentation the night before the pitch, i.e. the Wednesday on which we would be leaving to Brussels. The weekend before, I had been visiting my girlfriend in Hamburg. On Monday morning, when I was still in Hamburg, Jan called me on my mobile:

Jan: Uh, you know, I just found out we have to hand in our Plugg presentations at noon today.

Victor: At noon… today?

Jan: Today.

Victor: That’s in about 3 hours! That’s not good!

Jan: Right.

Victor: And we have this other conference call now…

Jan: … so we’ll have to do the presentation after that.

Victor: Riiiiight…

So we had to figure out a way to finish both the two-minute pitch and the ten-minute presentation (which would only be needed if we were elected as one of the three finalists) within two hours. What we decided to do was: Take the presentation we usually give to universities and libraries, take some slides from the pitch we used to give to VCs when we were looking for funding, mix them up well, hope it’s coherent.

On Wednesday afternoon, we boarded the EuroStar to Brussels. Later that day, all the start-up rally participants were invited to a nice dinner (I forgot which hotel it was). We returned to our own hotel in the centre of Brussels shortly before midnight and thought it would be a good time for me to start practicing the two-minute pitch. Despite (or because of) the couple glasses of wine I had, it went quite well on the second or third try, so we called it a day.

After a little more than five hours sleep, in which Jan and I had to fight over the same blanket, we got up again and made our way to the Plugg conference. There were some pastries for breakfast, which I couldn’t eat due to my egg allergy, so coffee was all I got. Lack of preparation, lack of sleep, lack of breakfast and an overdose of caffeine then summed up to a pretty jittery feeling before I was finally called on stage for the pitch.

Actually, it was Jan who was called on stage due to a mix-up, so I opened our pitch with the odd choice of “I’m actually not Jan, but that’s not important.” I thought it didn’t get better from there: The jittery feeling had developed into a first-rate nervousness, the slide clicker didn’t work properly and skipped slides, and the timer which told me how many seconds I had left was only shown intermittently, blacking out the screen on which I could view my slides. Here’s me stumbling through it (at least that’s what it felt like to me):

Startups Rally – Part 1.3 – Elevator Pitches from Plugg Conference on Vimeo.

So after I returned to my seat, I said to Jan: “I completely borked that one, didn’t I?”, to which he responded “Weeell… maybe not completely.” We both thought that that had been it – at least we wouldn’t have to worry about the ten-minute pitch in the afternoon, which we hadn’t practiced at all.

Imagine our surprise when the audience reaction on Twitter wasn’t that bad, and some people even congratulated us on a good pitch during the lunch break! I concluded that they had probably seen someone else’s pitch. However, it got even weirder when the jury announced the three finalists: Jinni, Myngle, and us! After Jan and I had calmed down again, my first thought was: “Ok, I should better think about what to say.”

So I was still a little nervous when I was called Jan was called to the stage for the final presentation again. Here’s the result:

Startups Rally – Part 2.2 – Final Pitches from Plugg Conference on Vimeo.

I felt the talk, again, was ok, but far from great – but the Q&A at the end went reasonably well. Yet to me, Marina’s/Myngle’s talk seemed much smoother, and after they had won the Audience Award (congrats to Myngle!), I was sure that they’d win the jury vote as well.

As the overall winner was being announced, I can’t even express how STUNNED Jan and I were when the Mendeley logo was projected onto the screen! WOOO-HOOO! The next few minutes are a blur of hugging, jumping up and down, and celebrating. Not only had we won the vote of the jury, composed of acclaimed VCs and academics, but also €2,000 credit at Amazon Web Services and a brand-new X2250 server from Sun!

And here’s a funny aside: Just three hours earlier, sitting next to me in the audience, Jan had ordered a new server from Dell because we were badly in need of a new one. Guess who we had to call right after our win to cancel the order?

What followed was a pretty fabulous evening in Brussels! Jan and I were too exhausted to party – instead, we just went to a nice little restaurant in Ixelles (close to where I studied back in 2002) and had a quiet dinner in excellent spirits. Merci Bruxelles! Photos from our trip can be found on our Flickr account.

P.S. Thank you to everyone who made this such a memorable event for us: First of all, the entire Mendeley Team without which none of this would be possible; the jury and the audience, the Plugg conference organizers and sponsors, and all the great people we met and talked to – you know who you are…

P.P.S. Here are some photos of the Mendeley Team celebrating the win on our roofterrace in the sunshine:


Fig. 1: Nerds trying to jump at the same time, failing badly


Fig. 2: Standing still works better

7 thoughts on “We won the Plugg Conference Start-Up Rally! Here's how it went..

  1. I very much enjoyed reading this, thanks for sharing your experience. Congratulations once more and hope to hear more from you guys soon!

    (oh and sorry for the technical hick-ups, fortunately didn’t get in the way of you winning the award!)

    • Thank you, Robin! It was our pleasure to attend!

      No worries about the technical hick-ups – there’s only one thing I would change next year: Constantly showing the timer on screen during the presentation would make it much easier for the speakers!

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