I’ve spent a couple days wandering the floor of the Launch festival and sitting in on the various sessions. It’s a great opportunity to see what it’s like getting 15+ pitches per day. It’s also a great opportunity to deconstruct what works and what doesn’t when pitching to an audience of a few thousand investors and investors. Here are the greatest takeaways that I had.
It Needs To “Work”
Simply put, don’t deliver a dysfunctional product at Launch. For hackers who are also founders, it’s easy to follow Reid Hoffman’s advice: “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” At Launch, this isn’t true. If you are releasing something that doesn’t work, the key strategy is make something that appears to be incredibly functional. I’d emphasize “appears” here because there were startups who came on stage and showed things moving around, but you have no idea whether or not the product actually works.
Zillabyte was the best example of this. They are a business intelligence platform that appears to be completely functional, yet nobody in the audience has used it. I have no doubt that the team has built something functional, yet they took no risk during the demo: they had a pre-planned demonstration that couldn’t fail. The key here: you don’t want to be embarrassed on stage. You can be embarrassed in front of your customers, just not in front of a massive audience.
Simplify The Pitch
There were countless startups that totally bungled their pitch. They had what they thought was a great way of describing their product, yet nobody was interested in it. When Zillabyte came on stage and said what they did, “Pandora for leads”, we got it. There was no way to confuse this (unless you don’t know what Pandora is, but any digital investor knows Pandora).
Provide Use Cases The Audience Understands
Sometimes there were startups who completely missed the audience when pitching. Crypho was a great example of this. They provided customer use cases that included, “when the government is trying to seize your servers”. How many people really have this issue? I guarantee most people in the audience, as well as the judges, couldn’t relate to the problem. The companies that tend to perform the best, as far as likelihood of winning Launch, are those that connect with the largest percentage of the audience.
Simple Products Are Key
User experience has become increasingly critical. A number of presenters had products that you simply couldn’t understand. Simplicity doesn’t mean the product isn’t functional though. AdStage was not a simple product in terms of the number of pages in the product, yet the company’s product walkthrough was incredibly easy to understand. The product functioned as it should (had a great user experience) and the audience could get it.
Other companies combined multiple screens (email, mobile, web) and it quickly became difficult to follow along. Key takeaway: use one screen and make your product walkthrough straight-forward.
Roll With The Punches
There were a few startups that were literally ripped to shreds on stage. In some cases, it may have been a bit excessive, however many of the startups seemed quite beat up over it. While at Launch, many people will become insensitive to the founders’ emotions because they’re seeing so many pitches. The result is constructive criticism can quickly turn into what’s effectively insults (“this product is the worst thing here”). Whether or not the fact is true, you should be able to handle a little smack talk.
Best example at Launch was the founder of HomeDine.in, who basically had the judges tell him that it was going to be difficult to get users (the easiest critique from anybody) and basically say they’d never participate. The founder brushed it off, stayed optimistic, and is now in the top 3 startups on Launch’s mobile app in terms of funding from the crowd. His attitude was telling and the audience loved it. If you can’t take a few insults from somebody, how are you going to make it through building a startup? Suck it up and have fun!
Dress To Impress
I know that Mark Zuckerberg popularized the flip-flops and hoodie style for entrepreneurs, yet there was a reason he could get away with it: he built Facebook. However he wasn’t pitching at Launch, and had he done so early on, I’d bet many people would have said the idea was a ripoff of MySpace, or something else. If you stand on stage and you’re wearing a beat up t-shirt and running shoes, people will think you aren’t serious. Bottom line: if you’re going to wear a t-shirt, at least wear a blazer over it. There were only a couple of females presenting and they were dressed to impress, so I don’t need to provide advice there!
Winning Launch Doesn’t Matter
While being on stage can be great publicity, winning isn’t the key. There are tons of incredible entrepreneurs and investors walking around the conference and get this, some of them are even successful! The point is: the winners of Launch aren’t the only winners at the event. You can literally get funded, meet other business partners, and have fun without competing for the grand prize. It’s just as likely that someone in the audience will build the next big business as the people on stage.