Blackbox Connect: Big Brother meets the Playboy Mansion, for startups

Blackbox Connect. I’ve been back home a week and am still catching up. A 2-week injection of people, ideas and inspiration like an adrenalin shot to the heart.

What is it? An intense ‘educational’ program held in a mansion in Atherton (near Palo Alto). A dozen startups from all corners of the globe. A-list speakers and workshops. A hot tub. And some really smart dogs.

It’s not an incubator. More like an accelerator; focused purely on international startups. A pretty great concept, and one that exceeded all my expectations. I shared a few posts on specific sessions. Here’s just a quick run of highlights:

Truly impressive speakers.

  • VCs sharing what they look for, and how to get there – Dave McLure, Tim Draper, Forrest Basket, Sharon Weinbar, Steph Palmeri (SoftTechVC).
  • Valley veterans like Keith Teare (cofounder of Techcrunch); and Robert Scoble.
  • Founders who’d sold to Google; people now at Google; and others still working to make a dent.

Practical content sessions.

  • Janice Fraser (LUXr) – A series of workshops on lean UX Design. A highlight (posted here). Plenty of concepts I’d read about but never properly implemented. With an innovative teaching style that just might change the way startups globally think about product development.
  • Bill Joos (ex Garage) – Tactical sessions on how to craft a pitch; and think about a board of advisers.
  • Dan Martell – Social media for startups (or ‘growth hacking’), which I wrote about here.

Cool events.

A session with Steve Blank. A fundraiser for HackerDojo. A mini demo day to work on pitches. Late nights of work and wine.

Founders and friends.

Blackbox Founders

But the hands-down highlight: a dozen awesome founders from literally all corners. I was the only native English speaker. Others came from Russia, Poland, Latvia, France, Belgium, Argentina, Korea, Thailand, and a few other countries I’ve clearly missed.

This was probably the most humbling, and encouraging part of the program. A quick wakeup call that there’s a massive world of opportunity outside the fishbowl of the Bay Area. This was actually a consistent message from many of the investors and locals.

A few examples:

  • Empreware (Argentina) – web apps that help SMEs control their financials and ‘move away from their shitty spreadsheets’. 300,000 registered users.
  • MyKoob (Latvia) – a free, social CRM for schools. 60% market share in their home country.
  • Fungrep (Korea) – a mobile game company with 3M registered users, and 100,000 active users every day.
  • BuckyOzun (Belgium) – just a cure for skin cancer. A 20-year old founder who patented an idea to capture and package ozone in a ‘personal ozone layer’ while still at high school. Currently in early development in Japan. No more skin cancer, or faded paints and materials. Impressed?
  • i-dispo (France) – turns your smartphone into a digital personal assistant. Like Siri with some human processing. All Renault’s in Europe will soon be shipped with the app built-in.

I’ve missed a few others (sorry guys!), with equally impressive traction, or early concepts. The full group is listed on the Blackbox Site.

What did we learn?

Too much to list in a single post. And more than enough to change the way we think about the US market, how we approach it, along with other international opportunities.

This was only the second Blackbox Connect. Good news for founders: there will be more, and more frequently. For anyone with an international startup, and an eye on the Valley, I’d recommend trying to get involved.

For Australian startups specifically: I’m now the local ambassador for Blackbox in Australia. Get in touch if you’d like to learn more about the program, and how to get involved. (tip: I’ll discuss anything over a good coffee)…

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