What happens when you win a startup contest: the data driven answer

The AirHelp were part of our Collide startup track at Collision. Applications for Collide 2015 are open now – sign up here.


Startup contests come a dime a dozen, but should you participate in one, and if so, what should you expect?

There is no shortage of startup competitions at the moment, chances are that there are at least 1-2 in your home town. But the question that most entrepreneurs (should) ask themselves: what is the ROI on participation, aside from bragging rights and instant fame. The short answer is, it depends.

Are you looking for investment, Media attention, users or something else?

With AirHelp we won the Spark competition in Las Vegas, and the question above, was something we asked ourselves as well. I could go on about the many great connections we got, and as you might be able to tell from the picture, we had quite an amazing time. But…. at the end of the day I thought it would be more valuable for you to see the numbers and judge for yourself.


Set goals for your participation

The most important thing to do before signing up to any conference or contest is ask yourself, what is the goal?

If you don’t set a clear goal, you might end up wandering about without a clear focus. You might have a kick ass time and get to drink a lot of free drinks, but as a startup founder you need to spend your time getting growth.

Coca Cola PITCH Logo

When we attended Collision we were mostly done with our post-YC funding round. This meant that investment wasn’t the most important factor for us at the time. We knew that a lot of the traffic we were driving was through press.  This meant our goal for collision was press attention.

But, what was the actual impact;

To give some answers to the question posed in the heading, I have looked at 2 cohorts. 10 days from the month before Collision, and the 10 days surrounding Collision.


The numbers

Cohort 1: Control – 10-20 Apr

Cohort 2 : Collision– 10-20 May

There are 3 major differences

–       Traffic

–       Conversion rate

–       Traffic source dispersion



Airhelp Graph 5

  •  Change  – 149%

Conclusion: We got more traffic, hurray


Conversion rate

AirHelp 4


  •  Cohort 1 CR – 5.4%
  •  Cohort 2 CR – 10%

Change in conversion rate – 86%

Conclusion: Not only did we get more traffic, we converted 86% more of that traffic, Double hurray


Traffic source dispersion

Airhelp Graph 3

 If we compare the numbers with what our goal was (press attention) Winning collision increased referral (press) traffic by 39%, and converted this traffic 13% better compared to the first cohort.  While we didn’t get the traffic spikes we had experienced earlier, the traffic was higher quality and converted better.

This could be due to the fact that it was smaller niche publications with a more dedicated  “early adopter” readership. Some of the press traffic will also go into the “direct traffic” bucket and can be hard to distinguish.

Overall we got a traffic increase across the board, and we converted that traffic 86% better in average.

Conclusion: Triple hurray


Don’t underestimate the impact of the attendees

There are a lot of intangibles that can be hard to quantify, but what seemed to matter a lot, was the people present at Collision, or at least the social proof of being part of it. When you’re at a tech conference/competition, not only should you measure success by the impact from press, investors etc. you should see the attendees as potential evangelists.


Cutting to the chase

I could probably go on about the various aspects of winning “Spark”, but at the end of the day what matters most is what impact it had on AirHelp. Most startups are time constrained and therefore have to think about the short-term gains while maintain focus on the long term vision..

Every action we take is driven by the question: “How will this affect our business?”.  In the name of transparency below you will find the business case for winning “Spark”

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 11.29.17


What can be concluded from our participation?

Startup competitions are a great way to gain some ephemeral exposure that can help create opportunities for any startup.

However, there are no silver bullets. You can’t build a business from spikes in traffic. Don’t get me wrong, it feels amazing when it’s happening, but it shouldn’t be the end goal.  To put this into perspective I have included our traffic in the form of a column chart from different cohorts.

AirHelp Graph 1

While our experience can’t simply be extrapolated into universal rules, I hope it will serve as an idea of the effect of winning a startup competition.

So the conclusion is, we won a startup competition and it kicked ass, temporarily…….

Think you have what it takes to exhibit at Collision? Sign up for Collide here.


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