Oh What A Challenge - Oh What A Show
Before I begin I want to say that I do not want my account of my #PitchtoRich experience to be perceived as negative - it isn't meant that way - it is purely a few observations mingled with my personal P2R journey. Just some of the hundreds of thoughts that have run rampant in my head during the last few weeks.
I believe that I am in a fairly unique position - you see in 2012 I was in the Virgin Unite Challenge to 'Screw Business As Usual' and that also became a quagmire of unethical practices. My idea was actually voted in the Top 10 to be considered by the judges. We had genuine support - but had to utilise a 'Twitter' loophole to keep up with the 'pack'.
I had the 'seed' of an idea to help people who were in crisis to find help locally when they needed it - with just a few clicks of a button. I had passion, two amazing volunteers, a small platform, and lots of online friends. I believed that we really had what Virgin Unite was looking for - A way to empower individuals, connect communities, support businesses and at the same time raise funds to be given as grants to community projects. And all of it could be replicated globally!
I rallied supporters - real ones. They voted, they shared, they got involved. I approached people wherever I could. In the first week or so we got 1000 votes - we actually won a signed copy of the SBAU book - we were all on a high.
Then the 'funny stuff' started! The votes were shooting up like a rocket. People were buying votes - hundreds and sometimes thousands were going on in hours/days. Add to that the fact there was a glitch in the system - Twitter votes increased your overall vote if they were re-tweeted! I checked with Virgin Unite and was told it was all OK.
Does any of that sound familiar?
I struggled with it then as much as I have over the last few weeks. During that 1st challenge one of my mentors called me - they had seen a post on Facebook where I said I was struggling with the lack of ethics. She said to me something along the lines of - 'Do you believe that what you are proposing will change lives? Do you believe that it will have positive impact? Will you get into the final if you don't 'join' them? She then told me to get over myself and stop being selfish. That if I really thought that the creation of an Interactive Community Map would have all of the benefits I said it would - then do what was necessary! (She was actually a bit more blunt than that with me).
#PitchtoRich #VOOM 2015
Our Pitch was one of the first in the StartUp category. (Funny story about that at the end).
I had lots of genuine strategies based from the last challenge - I had a number of people that I knew supported us. Facebook was our greatest resource. I am dyslexic and get panic attacks - that may not sound relevant - but it is! You see I keep records - details of everyone I have contacted, did they reply, yes, no, etc - was it through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or our mailing list etc.
In the first few weeks I also had a list of every pitch - what category they were in and how many votes on a daily/hourly basis - I was able to see spikes and a few had my eyebrows raised!
Oh No It Had Started Again!
Now I didn't want to jump to conclusions - so I did my homework on entrants in the StartUp category. I looked at LinkedIn, Websites, Social Media Platforms, etc - I promise I wasn't becoming a stalker! Actually there might have been a legitimate strategy they were using that I could utilise too.
A couple really surprised me - within the first few days of their pitches going live their numbers were truly impressive. In fact they got more votes in two hours than the number of views that Richard Branson's YouTube #PitchtoRich video had in the first few days following the launch!
Based on my past experience with the SBAU challenge I was paranoid that anyone would think our entry was doing anything untoward. In fact for a few days I pulled back - not too sure if I would continue.
Then a nagging voice said that this was potentially our last chance - you see we only have £200 left in the bank. Our idea has come a long way, just not quite far enough. I have made mistakes, followed blind alleys and at times been told I was crazy - in fact one #PitchtoRich entrants told me I was a silly woman and a non-profit pitchtorich would never win!
We have also had some huge WINS - there was the SBAU in 2012 (Yes I count that as a win), we were awarded two seed funding grants (9k), I was given a place on a School for Social Entrepreneurs year long course, selected as a philanthropic startup to watch at Europes largest Tech event and have recently secured 2/3rds match funding for building the two bespoke online platforms we need.
This challenge for us was about the 'Tipping' point - an opportunity to #Pitch, the chance to gain funding and support - hey perhaps now that we had a more solid business plan Virgin may end up selecting our pitch - and that would bring everything full circle.
I have gained a huge amount during this process - we raised our profile, made connections, I stepped outside of my comfort zone - not quite far enough though. The feedback we have had has been incredible, again. It made me realise that this really does need to happen.
Now earlier I said I had a funny story about being in the StartUp category, I also said that I am dyslexic - well guess what I made a mistake. I read the website, I read the categories, the guidelines and the guides, I filled my head with details and it was a blur. I filled out the form and submitted the pitch. It went live and the process began. Then about 10 days before the end of voting something caught my eye - I was reading through the prizes for the different categories and it hit me right between the eyes - I felt like I had been sucker punched!!!!!!
I had entered us into the wrong category - I had meant to enter 'New Things' - because part of the prize money would cover the 1/3rd that we need to raise for our platforms. Oh I felt so sick! I felt so stupid! We had about 400 votes in the wrong category!
I immediately put in a second entry, started to contact everyone who had told us they had voted for us - the votes started coming in. Perhaps we could pull it off.
Then last Friday i had to make a choice which pitch to focus on - I chose the one with the most votes - the StartUp - wrong decision. The StartUp category was ruthless.
When the voting closed I looked at the unofficial leaderboard - if I had made a different decision and stayed in the New Things then with the number of votes we got in the last few days, from those 'vote for vote' practices that felt so wrong, we would have got through to the Top 50. I wouldn't have felt bad about it because we had the 400 votes in the other category from genuine supporters and we had more votes from supporters in the last few days too.
So I feel even more sick now - never in my life have I made such an error and this is one that may be the end of this project, maybe I am just a crazy 'Grandma-in-Tech'who dared to dream too big.
I feel frustrated at those who forgot about integrity during this challenge and that it was about Business being a Force For Good. The actions of those few changed the landscape of voting with very negative impact. Sadly Virgin Media Business appear to have been unprepared for the epidemic that followed. (See our blog on Integrity, Voting, The Virgin Challenge and 50 Shades of Grey)
One of the other entrants has written an open letter to Sir Richard Branson - it says most of the things that I felt about the process - only more eloquently than I could ever put. (Link at the bottom of the page).
A quote from that open letter from Joomo -
We need to encourage the next generation of highly innovative, dynamic and creative high growth businesses that have at their core a passion and a burning desire to make the world a better and happier place.
And A Final Note From Me
I believe that this is the Decade of Change and that businesses truly can be a Force For Good. I also truly believe that our Pitch was a good one, that our idea is genuinely one that will have huge impact, be replicable globally and as a last point I thought that just one of the elements would enable Sir Richard Branson to have the last laugh & give the metaphorical finger to the government over the National Lottery. But he would need to hear my pitch to see how.
Just in case there is anyone reading this that can open a door for me - I would like to respectfully ask - please can someone use their 'Golden Buzzer' and put this pitch directly through to the final. I don't mind if it is on the basis that we are not in the running for a prize - I just want the chance to Pitch - not for me, not for my ego but for the Pitch - I would like it to be heard and then if I don't impress you I will know that I gave it my all.
A Huge Thank You To Everyone Has Supported Us
Link to A Letter from joomo - a #PitchtoRitch contestant that withdrew from the challenge - CLICK HERE
About the Author
Jaki is the founder of If Everyone Cares CIC. After meeting hundreds of people who had been unable to find help & support when they were facing a crisis she decided it was a 'problem she wanted to be part of solving'. She is now part of a, small but dedicated, team who are creating Ododow - The Interactive Community Map to pin-point the UK's 200,000+ Charities & Community Projects - Ododow.org.