We don’t like spouting well-worn clichés here at Innovatrs. But sometimes, it’s just so difficult to avoid, especially if they’re fundamentally true to a point you’re trying to make. What we’re talking about here is winning. If you listened to your adult mentors as you were growing up, you probably heard that winning wasn’t the most important thing…it’s the taking part that really counts. If you’re a sports professional – or even just a sports fan – you will almost certainly dismiss this notion as absurd. And you are probably right to do so. But with startup competitions, it really is all about the participation. Winning can help you access funds, sound advice and secure some free PR, but does it guarantee world domination? Definitely not. The most important thing you’ll take away from any business-related competition is the lessons you learn along the way…and the contacts you make. By putting yourself out there you will achieve a lot in the long run…and if you win, well, that’s a bonus. So following on from the Innovatrs’ guide to startup contests on Monday, and then our look at how winning at LeWeb has helped one company succeed, today we thought we’d look at how not-winning isn’t so bad. In fact, it may be the best thing that happens to you. From zeroes to heroes: Akamai Technologies We wouldn’t blame you for having never heard of Akamai Technologies – it’s a company that provides a distributed computing platform for global internet content and application delivery. The company is one of the success stories from the original dotcom boom, and now has over two thousand employees and a turnover of around a billion dollars. In fact, if you ever use the internet – whether it’s downloading music or software, reading the news or booking a flight – you’ve probably used Akamai’s services without realising it. Why are we telling you all this? Well, because it fits in nicely with today’s topic. The company lost the MIT $100K entrepreneurship contest before it went on to greatness. Money matters…but not as much as you think One of the key reasons for entering a startup contest is to get funding – but money can only do so much. Building a business is more about applying steady, constant effort and meticulously planning every detail. If we look at the first dotcom bubble again, you may (or may not…) remember that a lot of money was pumped into a relatively small amount of businesses. Putting so many eggs in so few baskets was a bad idea, especially when so many of these baskets were threadbare. Some of the newer startup-funding models go completely against this philosophy. Ycombinator, for example, invest small amounts of money in a large number of startups. The real investment is in the time given to each startup to hone its model and refine its pitch which is then presented to a larger group of (wealthier) investors. The likes of Reddit, Scribd, Disqus, Dropbox, Justin.tv and Posterous all started through this route. Learn by doing… The point is this: it’s what you learn along the way that really counts. Going all-out to win a startup competition will count for nothing if you don’t learn anything. If you do win a startup competition and secure funds, there may be a temptation to hire a hot-shot Director with years of experience in your industry – which is great, but what do you learn from handing the controls to someone else? You need to play the game. Meet people, speak to people and keep their contact details, you never know when you’ll need some outside support. Pitch perfect Finally, in developing and honing your pitch for a startup competition, it allows you to better understand your business too. It helps you cut to the fundamentals of what your business actually ‘is’ – this can then inform future sales and marketing initiatives. So taking part in startup competitions is a good idea in itself for the networking and learning opportunities it presents you. And if you don’t win, don’t take it to heart, just look at Akamai Technologies…it’s doing not too badly.
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