Into the dragon’s den…
Standing at the side of the stage, sweating. We were feeling the early summer heat of Vegas, despite being in the luxuriously airconditioned Caesar’s Forum.
We’d just watched two highly polished presentations from our competitors in Snowflake’s Startup Challenge 2022. As our pre-recorded company video played on the two massive screens in the cavernous auditorium, we knew it was only minutes until we were called to the stage.
And then it was time. The production crew ushered us up the stairs, onto the stage, to face the four exalted judges and hundreds of conference delegates watching on in anticipation.
The long and winding road.
It felt surreal. Finding out we’d been chosen as one of the 3 finalists in Snowflake’s Startup Challenge, from over 1,000 entries across the globe, still hadn’t sunk in. But here we were, boarding a flight from Manchester to Las Vegas.
HyperFinity had been chosen on the strength of our no-code decision intelligence platform, powered by Snowflake. We were praised for our innovative use of Snowflake, our client traction and our stand-out marketing and positioning – making data science and AI accessible to non-technical users. As the only representative from EMEA, we were justifiably proud of our achievement.
After what seemed like an eternity we arrived in Vegas, stepping off the plane into the desert warmth. It was late and there was no chance of being tempted into the legendary nightlife of Sin City. Instead, it was straight to bed, only to lie awake most of the night with jet lag. Despite that, at breakfast the following morning the excitement was palpable.
The highest summit.
Having attended various industry conferences over the years, our expectations for Snowflake Summit were moderate. We’d become accustomed to low footfall, little engagement, and murmurings of discontent from exhibitors and delegates alike.
This was not that. Snowflake Summit blew us away. There were literally thousands of engaged delegates, a huge programme of high-quality speakers and workshops, top drawer catering, and the most luxurious carpets we’ve ever stepped foot on in the expo area.
After a brief discussion about how we could extract said carpets to furnish our own homes, we reflected on the quality of the venue. Caesar’s Forum is a next level conference centre. Incredible facilities all round, easy to reach from the Las Vegas strip and a welcome respite from the stifling desert heat.
Day 1: Snow in Vegas.
Within minutes of clearing security, we bumped into a fellow British start-up, who were due to present that same morning. A quick comparison of our progress gave us reassurance that we’re not alone in the high-octane journey to scale.
With so many sessions to choose from, we would have welcomed a Snowflake-powered algorithm to help us choose where to be and when. Instead, we chose sessions close to our hearts and minds, focused on retail and CPG.
Decision intelligence for retail and CPG.
We made a beeline to hear Rosemary Hua, Global Head of Retail & CPG, set out Snowflake’s vision for the Retail Data Cloud, one of their major priorities. Our jet lagged state of euphoria was heightened by the clear alignment between Snowflake and HyperFinity’s plans for the retail and CPG sector.
Both companies are crystal clear in their belief that data and analytics should be used to make great commercial decisions, which deliver first class customer experiences. These in turn will drive revenue and profit for retailers and CPG. We call this decision intelligence.
Rosemary called out three major ways Snowflake’s Retail Data Cloud delivers value:
- Increase personalisation.
- Improve supply chain operations.
- Enable data-driven merchandising.
We were bursting to tell anyone who’d listen how HyperFinity empowers retailers and CPGs to create the foundational insight into customer behaviour and needs to, you guessed it:
- Improve personalisation of marketing and media.
- Forecast demand more effectively for a slicker supply chain.
- Make customer led merchandising decisions to ensure the right product range is offered and that it’s priced optimally.
As Rosemary’s talk ended, our next stop was a meeting with a major tech investor who had reached out on the back of our success in the competition. A positive discussion ended with an agreement to talk again after the Summit.
Next stop was a Retail & CPG meet-up at Snowflake’s industry booth. A well-attended get together with a real buzz, we met several members of Snowflake’s team and agreed an outline for how we’ll work together to provide value to retailers and CPGs over the coming months.
A look of fear.
Our final call on Day 1 was to practise our Start-up Challenge Final pitch. What struck us first was the scale of the production. Several people from Snowflake and their event partner were constructing the stage and briefing Ryan Green, their in-house presenter, and the four judges. We watched on with growing trepidation.
Eventually we were called up on stage to practise our pitch in front of Snowflake’s team, occupying the seats that would be taken by the judges the following morning, and assorted events crew members. It didn’t go well.
The look of fear on the faces of Snowflake’s team will stick with me for some time. They seemed lost for words. At last, a member of the events team spoke up. He prefixed his feedback by explaining he was Dutch and that in his homeland they’re known for being direct. He wasn’t wrong.
I don’t recall the full extent of his comments, but do remember him comparing us to two hostages, forced by their captors to deliver a message back home. To be fair we were somewhat rigid and very preoccupied by the crane directly in front of us hoisting the crew up to adjust the ceiling lights.
Fortunately, we’re nothing if not resilient. We insisted the team sit there patiently and watch us tackle the pitch four more times. By the end we had improved somewhat but would need to step up during the main event.
Day 2: It’ll be alright on the night.
We awoke early and jet lagged, but looking forward to our moment in the limelight. Breakfast in our hotel had us mingling with the usual mixture of gamblers celebrating or commiserating their night’s work in the casinos; gym bunnies working out before starting their day, and several people seemingly heading to Snowflake Summit, adorned with company logo t-shirts.
Mercifully, the final of Snowflake’s Start-up Challenge was scheduled for the morning, meaning no time for nerves to build up throughout the day. We headed straight for the auditorium and game time.
Within minutes of arriving, we experienced another first as we were sent for makeup in one of the other vast conference rooms, a section of which had been repurposed as a green room for those participating in the final as presenters, contestants, and judges.
In a week full of new experiences and revelations, this was right up there with the best. As the make-up artists made us feel comfortable, discussion turned to where we’d travelled from. “Liverpool”, I told them, “Where the Beatles are from”. After bursting out in laughter at my clumsy comment, it transpired that one of the people tasked with making us camera ready had in fact tended to the faces of none other than The Fab 4. As a Beatles fanboy, this left me completely starstruck.
Also impressive, although not in the same league, our other make-up artist explained she regularly prepares Gordon Ramsay for TV appearances, and that the sweary Scotsman is in fact lovely off camera.
Our first experience of a green room was in fact great. We enjoyed chatting with fellow finalists ModelBit about everything from business to San Francisco’s food scene, London’s pubs, and the state of Manchester United’s football team.
We also briefly met the judges, Denise Persson, Jayshree Ullal, Benoit Dageville and Carl Eschenbach, who immediately put us at ease with the situation and encouraged us to enjoy the experience.
In what seemed like no-time at all, we were called back into the arena for the start of the show. As hundreds of people filtered into the vast room and the judges took their place on stage, we felt nervous but ready.
First up to pitch were Houseware, presenting remotely from India. Their pitch was slick and the solution very much in-line with Snowflake’s own direction, enabling blazing fast development of data apps for non-technical teams.
Next to go were ModelBit, who perfectly executed the pitch for their product, which enables the deployment of models right from the notebook they were built and trained in.
Finally, it was our time. We watched on as our pre-pitch video footage played, delivering an introduction to our business, and showcasing Leeds, HyperFinity’s home city. As the footage drew to a close, we were called to the stage.
The level of focus you can achieve when in the eye of the storm never ceases to amaze me. We produced a pitch which was exponentially better than any of our practice runs. We were calm, projected well to the audience and, critically, remembered our lines. The pitch concluded and rapturous applause ensued.
After fielding questions from three of the judges, we made our way off stage in relief and wondering whether we’d done enough to secure first place in the competition. We didn’t have to wait long until we were recalled to the stage with our fellow contestants for the big reveal.
“And the winner of Snowflake’s Start-up Challenge 2022 is… Houseware!”
So close! The disappointment of falling short was real, but we were proud of our efforts and really couldn’t have done much more to improve the outcome. It’s been an awesome experience, provided us with amazing exposure and solidified our partnership with Snowflake.
Day 3-5: What happens in Vegas…
The rest of our time in Vegas was spent discussing how to build on the momentum provided by our appearance in the final. And of course, having fun.
Vegas is an incredible city which everyone should try to experience, at least once. Highlights for us included playing Kiss (the band) themed crazy golf in the Rio Hotel & Casino, casino bar hopping on The Strip and venturing outside the city to play golf of a mediocre standard at a fantastic course. In 100-degree heat. Ouch.
Same time next year?
It was crystal clear from the moment we entered Snowflake Summit that they have huge momentum. There was a tangible sense of excitement and anticipation among delegates, vendors, and Snowflake’s own staff.
Snowflake’s approach to encouraging data collaboration across its ecosystem has clearly captured the imagination of clients and vendors alike as they look to benefit from the resulting network effects.
The venue, quality, quantity and variety of sessions, catering and after-hours activities made this a stand-out event, head and shoulders above other conferences we’ve attended.
Our personal experience was one of growth, pride, and opportunity. We can’t wait for Snowflake Summit 2023 and our return to Las Vegas.