An Unexpected Journey: Microsoft Cup and Door Knocking, Clove took the United States by storm – An early stage story.

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This week, at the Kiwi Landing Pad we have a guest post from a recent guest – Hayley Yu, CEO and Co-Founder of Clove a food tech app. When I first meet Hayley was on a phone call in London back in July. She was young and eager to learn more and try understand the complexities of the US market. The team also had a goal of trying to speak with investors during her time in the US pre-product launch. This is something that we commonly see at the Kiwi Landing Pad with early stage companies visiting, so instead I suggested a ‘lay of the land’ trip whereby she could learn and decide if the US market was the right place for them to launch and seek investment, hoping they’d get an idea, some guidance and inspiration of what the next stage of their company would look like. Here’s what she had to say.

The right idea, wrong timing.

Boy were we wrong. Before my co-founder, Will, and I even stepped foot on U.S soil, we had this idea that we were going to get there and magically find an investor that will invest a million dollars into our business. We would have to call our parents to tell them we weren’t coming home.  We never said out loud some but we always  “What if?” It was just like the stories you hear right? Well not quite…  

We started our trip in Seattle for the Microsoft Imagine Cup, a week before we were set to go to San Francisco. That’s when it hit: there was no way that investment was on the table. In the heat of the competition, we saw our incomplete business model for what it was- not ready for investment. 

Combining hustle with Kiwi ingenuity – A door knocking approach

So what did we do? Like all start-ups, we pivoted. We set out to find mentors and make as many connections as possible. We had less than a week in SF; we had to hustle. Instead of emailing, we would show up to offices of people that we wanted to talk to. It was daunting at first, but more often than not, it worked! It’s pretty hard to say no to two young people standing outside your office who’ve come all the way from New Zealand (yup, that Kiwi card goes a long way). We ended up having many great conversations, one of which included a 2-hour conversation with someone just by turning up on their doorstep. Now we even follow each other on Instagram! On another occasion, we called one of our Imagine Cup judges who were also in SF at the same time and ended up taking the Caltrain to Palo Alto that very evening and having dinner with him and his wife. The tight time frame forced us to operate out of our comfort zone and really go for what we wanted. Sometimes it didn’t always end great. You get a couple of doors slammed in your face. But at the end of the day, people are just people- human interaction goes a long way in SF and more often than not we saw success.

The investment landscape and electric San Francisco vibe

Another thing that didn’t hit until we had arrived in SF was the scale of investments there. It may seem so obvious now as I type this blog, but we’d be talking to people in terms of hundreds of thousands when the amount being seeded was in the millions. It challenged us to think on a much grander scale and explore how fast and where we could take our business with that type of investment.  We found a desire to move to SF as we talked to more and more people in the investment and incubation community. It truly was the case that people were either working in or on start-ups and in some cases both. You feel what this city is about. The energy, the competition and desire to do something more, to cause the next big disruption was something we hadn’t seen to that magnitude back in New Zealand. At the same time, there was this undertone of cynicism around investment in San Francisco drying up, founders integrity and the lifecycle of start-ups geared towards short-term gain. I don’t have any commentary on this, but it was some thing worth noting from our trip. 

Will and I have only been working on Clove for 8 months and as clichéd as it sounds, this has been the biggest learning experience for both of us. It’s been the toughest and most exciting thing we’ve done thus far. It’s amazing to be able to get up every morning and work on something you hope could make some real impact on our world. But, it’s also tough when things don’t work out. Deals fall through and it feels like nothing is going right. San Francisco inspired us to dream bigger, do more and most importantly, stay true to what Clove is about. 

Advice from Seattle

One key piece of advice from a person at Microsoft Ventures was to know exactly what is important to you and why you started this journey. Because in a city cluttered with more start-ups for nearly everything and copying gets you nowhere. At the end of the day, you don’t do late nights, face constant set backs and live off instant noodles for something you’re not truly passionate about. Persistence and passion pays off. At least that’s what we’ve told ourselves!

Use the resources available to you

Kiwi Landing Pad  provided us a fantastic base office to work from during our trip. The people gave us great tips and support before we even left New Zealand. Being in a new environment like San Francisco, it was comforting to know to have a piece of home with you. Everyone we met at the Kiwi Landing Pad was so friendly and helpful, making our stay that much more efficient and enjoyable.It’s great to see such an initiative out in SF helping Kiwi start ups succeed and we hope to be back very soon.

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We loved having Hayley and her team as part of the Kiwi Landing Pad community, they are a great young team who showed dedication and hard work. We hope to see them back here soon. Goodluck for the next 6 months of your journey, we hope it’s a good one implementing everything you learned from the USA.

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If you’d like to reach out to Hayley, please connect with her here.

 

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