This is the 7th part of a series of posts where Elliott shares his inside track on his experience of going through an incubator program.
My name is Elliott.
I’m the co-founder and CEO of abroaden.
We’re a Barcelona-based startup that’s creating the first wealth-building platform for people living abroad.
This Spring, we went through the F10 FinTech Incubator & Accelerator’s first incubation batch in Barcelona.
My friend Clemens at Barcinno kindly invited me to guest-post my experience throughout the program.
If you haven’t read the previous installments, you can find the links at the top of this article.
This post takes us up to the ultimate goal of any incubation, acceleration, or startup program: demo day.
By the time July 19th rolled around, everyone was feeling a mix of exhaustion, anxiousness, and excitement.
On that Monday morning, we regrouped for the last time in the incubator space for the program’s final session.
The demo day was on Thursday.
That gave us two days to perfect our pitch, get our heads in the right space, and spend some time together as a group.
After a morning session focused on website analytics, the afternoon session centered on us.
More specifically, the session was about centering ourselves.
Led by mindfulness expert Clara Rosell Dronda, founder of the A Meditar mindfulness studio, we spent the latter part of the day working on our emotional and mental state.
It’s no secret that mindfulness entered the mainstream recently, probably with good cause.
For us as entrepreneurs entering into one of the busiest weeks of the year, our heads were, understandably, all over the place.
Our bodies, too, are in a weird spot.
The stress of trying to build a FinTech takes its toll.
Sleep doesn’t come easy, which deprives us of crucial rest.
Together, we neglect to stop, breathe, and check in with ourselves.
Clara’s workshop helped to teach us just that.
She guided us through three different exercises, showing us how to check in with ourselves and step back from our racing thoughts.
She then taught us a couple of short activities to do that week to remain centered despite the overwhelming pressure.
From all the surprises that F10 gave us throughout this program, I never saw this one coming.
However, it was one of the most memorable and even valuable classes we had.
There’s definitely a benefit and a future for mindfulness workshops both in incubators and in the workplace.
Tuesday marked our final group session to work on the most crucial three-minute speech of our F10 lives.
For some of us, we went through a minor tune-up. For others, there was a complete rebuild of the pitch.
Luis, our pitch coach, was available nearly the entire day for feedback. Having gotten to know us during the past four months, he detailed insights into our progress and presentations.
By the late afternoon, we did one final run-through as a group. With that, any future adjustments needed had to be done on the fly as the clock was ticking fast.
One last lunch
For the day before demo day, the mood — and planning — was surprisingly relaxed.
Other than one final debrief with our coach, we more or less had the morning off, with instructions to be in the incubator space from 1 pm.
From then, the fun started.
The team at F10 organized a good-bye buffet lunch in the room where we spent so many hours learning, laughing, and building amazing friendships.
Once we had some food in our bellies (and a few drinks to wash it all down), the coaching staff presented “meaningless” awards to us as a goofy way to close our time there. (I won “Mr. Hollywood” for my “acting” abilities).
Heading to Palauet with a stick up the nose
By 5 pm, our time in the incubator space at Pier 01 came to a close.
Loading up in taxis, we headed to the prestigious Palauet – site of tomorrow’s demo day.
As we arrived, we went through one last run of what became a defining ritual of our batch:
Throughout the entire program, F10 took great care to ensure we could safely meet physically.
Each one of us took one last rapid test to ensure that Thursday’s event would be remembered for the startup pitches and not as a super spreader. (We all “passed” the test).
With demo day happening in less than 18 hours, an evident tension was cut across the room.
For us startup founders, the reality of what was about to happen hit hard. Most of us either retreated to a corner to practice our pitches or, barring that, engaged in nervous banter, waiting for our 15 minutes to practice on stage.
Meanwhile, the F10 staff was frantically finalizing every detail with the venue and the tech crew.
One by one, we went up to run our pitch, watch the crew work, then file out the building, hoping to get a good night’s sleep.
By 10 pm, the stage was set. Demo day was on.
It’s difficult to explain my emotions going into the big day.
Before starting the program, I told myself that I would give absolutely everything I had to this opportunity.
Regardless of what happened, I affirmed to myself, I would leave it all on the table.
I certainly lived up to my standards.
On the morning of demo day, I was teetering on exhaustion. I hadn’t taken a day off (including weekends) since early June.
The energy from the first three days of the week drained me to my reserves, with my throat hoarse from speaking.
Yet, there I was, rested from a surprisingly good night of sleep and with my nerves calm.
My guess is that adrenaline took over before I realized it, propelling me out the door into a waiting taxi and onwards to El Palauet.
It was clear when I got there that the tension from the night before never receded.
The F10 staff were laser-focused on running the event.
For us founders, we gathered in the back of the meeting hall, anxiously waiting for the pitching to start.
That wait turned out to be much longer than planned.
Since we were in the middle of the Delta wave, F10 limited onsite participation to a handful of guests: VIPs (the head of BME was in attendance, for example), ecosystem leaders, and local investors.
Each person needed to pass a COVID test before entry which took longer than anticipated (although I have no complaints about that. The event went as planned, with no infections).
The heat is on
Finally, 45 minutes after the scheduled start time, demo day began in earnest.
If you watched it online, you might not have picked up on it, but it was hot in the presentation hall.
After all, it was the middle of July in Spain, which is hardly a time or place known for cool weather. What’s worse was that the viewer seating area was the only place air-conditioned.
Combined with our collective stress and the delayed kick-off, the waiting experience was very much like sitting in a sauna with a suit on.
For us pitching towards the end of the event (I went last to close it up), the heat was nearly unbearable, giving me a great reason to grab a coffee.
Looking for coffee.
So it turned out there wasn’t any coffee available for us, at least not at first.
Entrepreneurs are some of the most resourceful people you’ll find.
It’s no surprise, then, that a few of us founders gathered some Nespresso capsules, sourced some cups, and uh ‘jimmied” into a room with a coffee machine.
The staff at Palauet weren’t too happy, but as the saying goes, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than request permission.
The whole exercise was one last unofficial team-building activity that helped loosen us up and find some lightness in an otherwise serious moment.
Let’s F’in Do This
After arriving three hours earlier, my time to pitch had come.
Before stepping on stage, I tuned out, put on my noise-canceling headphones, and listened to my walk-out music.
(If you’re ever going to be speaking in public, I highly recommend this technique).
Before I knew it, I was mic’d up and ready to go on stage.
I spent countless hours practicing leading up to this moment.
Even in my last practice run, I still wasn’t satisfied. Would I get it exactly as I wanted it in front of the world to see?
In this clip, you’re seeing the culmination of four and a half months’ worth of refinement, practice, and iteration.
Obviously, pitching wasn’t the only thing we worked on during this time (check out my previous posts to see all the work we did).
But pitching is one of the most crucial parts of creating a startup. It’s your moment to sell your vision, tell a story, and make people believe in what you’re doing.
I felt vindicated by what I achieved in those few minutes, and, in turn, I succeeded in my goal of leaving it all on the table.
Networking on the roof
Once the pitching event finished, everyone was invited to a networking session on the terrace.
Here, we could speak to investors, ecosystem members, and our staff.
There was an open bar and an extravagant buffet, which treated me to probably the best-tasting Estrella Damm I’ve had in a long time.
After the official networking came to a close, the founders and F10’s staff went for one last drink together. To be fair, “one” isn’t the right word, as we didn’t finish until midnight.
Spending the weekend sleeping it off.
In the run-up to demo day, I didn’t have a second to slow down.
My wife did an incredible job supporting me, unilaterally taking care of our little daughter for many weekends and evenings.
I’m not sure how I can repay her for that.
Initially, my plan was to go somewhere the weekend after, maybe up the coast or into the countryside. At the minimum, we could go to the beach.
My high-octane work strategy had other plans.
That Saturday morning, I couldn’t get out of bed. I laid under our ceiling fan, practically unable to open my eyes.
For everything I asked my mind and body for, they were demanding I pay them back.
I spent the next two days more or less in bed, trying to recuperate and process everything I went through.
Even after a long weekend of sleep, the exhaustion lingered.
It was only after returning from my summer holidays in mid-August that my batteries were finally recharged.