The Investor Game — Foundation Episode 5

Foundation is an eight-part documentary series about entrepreneurs at Station F–the world’s largest startup campus–and all the pitfalls and triumphs they experience while establishing their businesses.

Episode 5 takes us to the Web Summit, one of Europe’s largest tech conferences, which brings together startups, Fortune 500 companies, and investors for a week of demos and networking. As the episode opens, large crowds of people wearing name badges mill about an enormous conference center under the Lisbon sun.

Recast.AI and Torq Labs are both in attendance. Their mission is to find a way to stand out amidst the countless other companies competing for the attention of potential users, media outlets, and, of course, investors. The conference itself is a microcosm of the startup landscape as a whole–these founders need to find a way to rise above the fray and prove that their product is has more potential than their peers’.

Recast.AI’s time at the conference is off to a great start. Its founder, Jasmine Anteunis, eagerly pulls out a tablet to show off a message she received that morning. Web Summit sent an email to all its attendees listing the top ten startups there that week. Recast.AI was ranked at number four.

The publicity seems to have had an effect: Recast.AI’s booth is buzzing with people who approach Anteunis to learn more about what she’s doing. Someone asks her about how fundraising is going, and she’s able to tell him they just opened an office in San Francisco.

That person does not reveal himself to be an investor, but he very well may be–Anteunis explains later that investors tend to conceal their motivations in those initial introductions at conferences until they can learn every detail of the business and decide whether it’s going to be profitable. At the same time, she has to use those conversations to determine whether the investor is someone she wants to work with. It’s a bit of a game, and the stakes are high: the companies need to secure funds to propel their businesses forward.

Torq Labs also has visitors to their Web Summit booth who are most likely sussing out whether they want to invest money. One of them asks a question regarding Torq Labs’ projected product timeline, and Justin Swenson responds by saying that they’re looking for investments now because they’re running out of money. The people listening wish them luck and walk away.

But they’re not the last to show interest in Torq Labs; with 60,000 people walking around the conference, there’s bound to be someone curious about each of the companies there. One person introduces himself to the Torq Labs team as a “fitness industry” person, which is exactly the type of investor this company would need. “We’ll keep in touch,” he promises.

Meanwhile, Anteunis has a few interactions that typify the spectrum of people at Web Summit: someone interviews her on a smartphone attached to a selfie stick about challenges in the hiring process; later, someone else picks up one of her business cards and asks, “What does AI stand for?”

The episode cuts to a series of clips depicting the fixtures you’d expect at any tech event of this size: someone trying on a VR headset, a presenter pacing in front of an impressively large projection screen, and people playing ping pong.

The conference center is so large that at one point Anteunis gets lost amidst the attendees, but she manages to find her way back to the Recast.AI booth. She regains her composure, ready to greet the next wave of people.

This Review was first published by All Turtles on May 11, 2018.