As we round out the 7th annual intake to the Imagine H2O Accelerator we wanted to take some time to reflect on the major learnings from the latest process. We see a lot of the same issues over and over again so we thought we would highlight some of the key themes that have emerged over the years.
Start Small, Work Outwards
Water is a big market. In fact, it’s so big that really it’s a theme not an industry. You can throw a dart and hit a $3-5bn potential market. What will be really impressive is how well you define the niche you’re going to attack first. This will allow you to focus your scarce time and energy on a single market, building a product that does the job for a very specific customer unbelievably well, and build from there. “Single-family homes” or “The USA” is not an adequate market segmentation.
The Story Counts
Customers, Investors, Judges, Journalists - they’re all suckers for a good narrative. Make your pitch in particular flow from the problem you’re trying to solve, to the value proposition of your solution, all the way through to your latest progress. If you don’t give them a reason to care about what you’re doing from the get-go (usually either through how amazing your team is, or from the huge problem you’re solving), then they won’t.
Talking About Your Product Is Not The Same As Talking About Your Business
“Invention in Search of a Market” syndrome is especially prevalent in the water sector, and one of its most obvious symptoms is an endless description of the product. If you’re taking all of your time looking at the product, you’re losing time that you could use to prove to the judge that you know who your customer is, you know what they want, you know how much value you can provide to them, you have a credible plan for getting this product in front of them, and you have a reasonable idea of how you’ll make money. In water, how you sell is probably more important than what you sell.
Bullet Points Are Your Friend
Long sentences are an extremely inefficient way to transfer information
Help the Judge
Judges read a lot of entries - make your point quickly and clearly
It’ll help you structure the logic of your own strategic planning
Be Honest About Risks
Risks are fine. You’re already an entrepreneur, so you’re obviously ok with risk. So, when asked about risks to your plan, don’t ignore them or claim there aren’t any. Identify key risks, then show how you plan to mitigate them. If you don’t do this, then the judge will assume you don’t understand the key risks, and are therefore unprepared to deal with them. The judge will be able to identify at least 10 right off the bat, with any company, no problem. Not addressing at least some of them will be a major red flag.
Don’t Over-Egg Your Financials
Of course there is a chance that you will have a $400-600m valuation in 2019, but when you’re selling to utilities, it’s unlikely. Being optimistic about your prospects is fine, but claiming $150m in free cash flow within 4 years in a hardware business when you haven’t got your alpha product done yet will be read unfavorably. Obviously. On the other side, if you only think you’re going to be doing $500,000 in revenue in four years time, investors and judges will be wondering why they’re looking at your materials because the upside just isn’t there. There’s a balance to be struck, but don’t let yourself come across as naive.
Read What You Have Written
All judges of all competitions are busy, and they are usually volunteering their time. They have been saddled with a LOT of materials to get through, and they really want to be able to do the job properly. Plus, they’re usually doing the judging on a weekend. Spelling mistakes, unfinished sentences, not using the template - these all signal that you don’t care enough to do it properly, so you can be sure the judge won’t care enough to score you highly. And rightly so.
We have been so lucky this year: 93 awesome companies, truly fantastic entrepreneurs (from the seasoned to the just-getting-started), imaginative products, exciting business models, powerful problems being solved. We’re not going to deal with the world’s water issues without reliable data, and judging by this year’s applicants to the IH2O Data Challenge, we’re in good hands as we work to get that data in front of those who need it.
Thanks again to everyone who applied and we can’t wait to tell the world about the ten companies we’ll be working with in 2016. Stay tuned...