Interview & Video: Stromkind Makes Waves in the USA
The Austrian startup’s week-long trip to San Francisco with Pioneers, their prize for coming out on top at Pioneers’17 back in June, included mentorship sessions with legendary investor Tim Draper, communications expert Nancy Duarte (above) and Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel. We also introduced them to a number of other potential mentors and partners.
A chance seashore encounter at Fisherman’s Wharf (below) at the end of the week might just have been the most graphic illustration of the market potential of the Stromkind water cleaning and management drone that turned so many heads Pioneers’17 - and has now done the same in Silicon Valley.
“At first thought the park rangers would definitely call the police, since we were just cruising this strange device around without permission,” chuckles Andreas Desch, Stromkind’s Managing Director, who was joined on the US trip by Stromkind partner Hans Waldherr. “But actually they wanted to buy one right away! They were really interested in the product’s potential to localize seaweed where the boats come into the harbour. And we ended up meeting with some of their superiors last week...”
You know you’ve got a great product when it can generate business leads on the beach as well as in the boardroom. Ditto when legendary investor Tim Draper takes a keen interest in it. Desch rates the meeting with Draper as the standout moment in the week-long trip, which they shared with the Pioneers Ventures team and portfolio companies.
“Talking with Tim was just about the first time I met someone who completely understood our plan and our vision,” Desch enthuses of the meeting, which is pictured below. “He was very aware on the hardware side. We talked a lot about business cases and he suggested that the true business case might be the big data services we could provide using the drone. Existing systems do more or less nothing apart from collecting data. Our drone could gather data while performing operations at the same time. This double possibility was very interesting to him.
“He was also very impressed by the propulsion system and our solution for cargo security - we had to reveal a few of our patent-pending secrets on that one! He also offered some connections and help in relation to our battery technology.”
While it might be premature to talk about a partnership, Desch says Draper is definitely the kind of associate Stromkind would like to work with.
“Tim thinks really big. He doesn’t just invest $100 000 and wait to see what happens. When you have him on board, it’s a very big and long-lasting relationship.”
The week’s schedule had earlier kicked off with ‘friendly pitching’ among the startups who joined the trip, which helped the founders get to know the other companies and their products, as well as build a positive energy in the group.
Then came the meeting with Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel (below). “Michael really grilled us! He stressed we should define our focus to one super business case. If we fail with that business case, then we can always focus on another. Also, we should do as much as we can on our own. It’s all about hard work, and nothing is for free - he really put our feet back on the ground!”
The subsequent meeting with growth hacker Andrew Chen gave a similar takeaway in terms of encouraging Stromkind, as a revenue-making company, to keep working under their own steam.
“Andrew said we should do as much as we can by ourselves. We shouldn’t team up, he said - why should a company do that, if they are getting money already? He said if we need more money we can get it from an investor.
“He reminded us of the Valley adage that ‘first you burn money, then you earn money’. We’re already at the stage where we are earning money, so growth for us is about how big we want to go and how good our contracts are. As such he was interested in the big potential of our market - he knows Asia well, where they have a lot of problems with water quality and cleaning.”
Next up came a day-long workshop and private mentoring session with Nancy Duarte and her team of storytelling experts at Duarte.
“It was extremely useful: I can recommend going there and seeing how they do things - these guys are really good! We learnt about how engaging the audience is about presenting your vision, not just the hard facts and the technical stuff.”
Stromkind also received valuable input on visual presentation - stay tuned for a new and improved look! Indeed, almost every meeting they had in California had a tangible and positive outcome. Pioneers took them to see Mikhail Holst, Portfolio Manager at Singularity University Ventures, which led to useful connections at NASA Research Park, while our introduction to Advantage Austria ultimately earned Stromkind meetings with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense.
“The whole trip was very well planned and executed,” reflects Desch. “It was inspiring for us to work with the young and motivated guys in the group. The trip has really changed things for us.
“It’s starting to get serious for us now. We’re in a good position because not so many people have the time in Silicon Valley to develop hardware like ours. Tim said we’re true pioneers in that we have created a new business field. And the guys at Duarte pointed out that by working with water we’re using 80% of the surface of the earth to create a business while the rest of the world focuses on the remaining 20%! So even if we get a small part of this market we can still be really big.”
And the next steps? Heading back to the States! An apartment and shared office in San Francisco is already on the cards. The inspiration they picked up on this trip has convinced Stromkind that they need to have a presence there as they execute their learnings and push to the next level. We wish our 2017 Pioneers Challenge winners all of the very best!
Startups who’d like to follow in Stromkind’s footsteps and apply for the chance to pitch at Pioneers’18 click here.
Here's the video of Stromkind's trip to California!