Our CEO Richard and the brain behind SprayPrinter, our inventor Mihkel, spent two and a half weeks in Silicon Valley with a full agenda of meetings and events.
Below you can read about how they hacked Silicon Valley and made their way on the main stage at Launch Festival, the biggest startup festival in San Francisco.
In this interview, Richard and Mihkel reflect back on the whole trip and share a little bit about the deals they brought back with them.
What were your minimum expectations going into this trip?
Richard: We went to Silicon Valley looking for opportunities. We didn’t even set ourselves any clear goals. We knew that we were ready to improvise and find ways to expand our company.
Mihkel: I just wanted to survive this trip.
And how did the trip meet your expectations? Did it surpass them?
Mihkel: Yes. I survived.
Richard: Well, on the third day we were told that we hacked Silicon Valley. I think that says a lot. And the gang over at the Startup Embassy told us we should be treated as national heroes when we go back home. We are extremely grateful to Jason Calacanis for inviting us on the stage and offering us a place in his incubator and promising to invest in our company. He was the investor who brought Uber out of the garage and whose check lifted his good pal Elon Musk’s Tesla out of the mud. By the way, Calacanis owns a Tesla with the serial number 00001. He also brought us together with other potential investors.
Mihkel: When we told Jason that we just got really lucky he responded: “No, it’s got nothing to do with luck, you hassled your way up there.”
What does it mean for SprayPrinter exactly?
Richard: You can grow your company quite big here in Estonia, but for us it will become too small eventually. Our core team will remain in Estonia and that’s a big plus. Estonia’s low cost of doing business is a great advantage. Growing our business in Estonia with the budgets of San Francisco has many bonuses.
When we told that we needed 500K to finish developing SprayPrinter 2 and to produce it we got a reply that it couldn’t be done under 5 million in San Francisco. The differences in cost are huge, but we have reached a sort of ceiling with the investors in Estonia. So far Estonia has been a great ecosystem for us, but from now on we need to coordinate our activities with Silicon Valley. The A-round of investments will probably be quite international, but before that we need to have a seed-round and Estonia doesn’t have that kind of potential anymore.
We got a confirmation in Silicon Valley that we have been going in the right direction, which means putting an emphasis on expanding our community.
You mentioned the incubator before…
Richard: During our two and a half week stay in Silicon Valley we were accepted into four accelerator programmes. I think out of those, we can work closely with three. After our three minute presentation Jason Calacanis promised us a spot in his incubator provided that “there isn’t anything funky going on”. I told him that “It’s all about funky!”.
What does his incubation programme entail exactly?
Richard: First, he will enter with a small investment and offer us his facilities. He doesn’t conduct a production or engineering accelerator, because that’s not his wheelhouse. But he does know how to bring startups together with the right investors. His incubation entails meeting with over 60 investors over the course of three months. These meetings will be filmed and later we will analyze them in-depth.
Mihkel: Silicon Valley doesn’t really love hardware. Everyone tries to distance themselves from it a little. The simple truth is that hardware is hard. Although, Jason said that despite SprayPrinter being a hardware, it is a rather simple hardware.
How to attract investors in Silicon Valley?
Richard: Social proof is very important in Silicon Valley. When you’ve attracted one investor the others will follow. During our trip we had about 1-2 meetings a day. We met with people who are operating on such a high level that they have several thousand startups waiting at their door. They haven’t got the time to get to know them all. So when one investor has already decided to invest in something the others will follow suit. Jason Calacanis brought us into the limelight. It was a consequential gesture.
The other similarly influential person we met was Mark Hatch – the founding father of Maker Movement. Merely his face on our website would be a mark of accomplishment. And he was completely enthralled by SprayPrinter. First off, he really liked our shirts. Secondly, he fist pumped us when we told him that the first batch of SprayPrinters came from our own in-house production line in Maker Lab. Now he is our advisor, potential investor and, we hope, a long-term partner. This partnership is extremely important to us, because Hatch is the founder of the TechShop network.
Mihkel: If I had known five years ago that TechShop existed, then I wouldn’t have bought myself a milling machine, but airplane tickets. They have an amazing selection of different tools and machines. You pay a membership fee and can hang out there as much as you want. You could build up a whole business like this. And they want that, to find new success stories.
Richard: Hatch also introduced us to some very important people. One of them was John Ricci for example. He is the founder of the U.S. Angel Investors. Ricci immediately invited us to pitch to the local angel investors. That was a pretty tough crowd.
Mihkel: Yes, they were like vultures, waiting to tear you apart.
Richard: But I really liked the experience. And then there were all sorts of other interersting meetings, with product development companies and other investors. We have many irons in the fire over there for the foreseeable future.
What does all of this mean for the startup scene in Estonia?
Richard: The Estonian startup scene engine runs on success stories. Skype gave the first major thrust. From there on there have been TransferWise, Lingvist etc. People like us, who come and fulfill their ambitions. We hacked ourselves into Silicon Valley and the high-lever network there. Most startups work years to get the kinds of contacts we got over two and a half weeks. We have a direct link to some major players.
What was your emotional highlight of the whole trip?
Richard: Mihkel and I went to the mountains during one weekend. We drove up the hill, into complete wilderness. Mihkel went to sleep on one of the trees. We had parked in a spot where you could see three cities at once. We had recently joined Jason on the stage, met with lawyers… It’s hard to describe. I sat in the car the whole night, enjoyed the view and tried to put together the big picture for SprayPrinter – how things should work in the future. I came to the conclusion that we have everything in place to make it big.
Mihkel: When I finally arrived back home.