Last week, I attended Launch Festival. Hosted by well-know venture capitalist Jason Calcanis (J-Cal to his friends), the event brings together start-up and investors, giving them all an opportunity to get together. One of the highlights of the two day event is a pitch fest where startups get a few minutes to tell their story and try to win a $100,000 investment. While many of the businesses I spoke with were well prepared for the two days, there were some clear lessons to be learned.
Have an elevator pitch ready
Over the course of Launch Festival, I spoke with about 20 different businesses. Some were well on their way and had managed to get their product or service beyond a prototype and had a couple of paying customers while others were months or years from being ready for market.
Regardless of where you're at, you need to be able to explain what you do and why it's valuable in less than a minute. At a busy event, or a random meeting with an investor, that might be all the time you have to impress someone.
Get out of the weeds
I get it. You've spent years working on an idea and used all of your money. That's admirable but very few people will be interested in minutiae of how you make your product and the specific chemical composition of a particular component.
If you get past the elevator pitch and have some time with an angel investor or venture capitalist then you need to be able to communicate the value of your proposition. The engineering details may be interesting but moving from idea to start up to success is about engaging people. And while there are some people that are interested in the detail, most people aren't. They want to know what's in it for them.
Be smart about where you spend your early dollars
I saw some impressive displays at Launch Festival. There were colourful banners, flashy brochures, digital displays and all sorts of other things. But some of those businesses, by their own admission, were bootstrapping and running low on funds.
It's interesting that the company that won the pitch fest and its $100,000 prize, Winely, had one person with a laptop at a table and some brochures.
But the company's representative was prepared to chat, could clearly convey the value proposition and show on the laptop what the service does without spending lots of money on unnecessary extras.
Have business cards on hand
Sharing contact details easily is important. Business cards may be very old school but they are an easy way to share contact information.
There are services that let you print 250 decent cards with a nice design on glossy stock for under $30 if you shop around. An extra $5 for nice paper shows you have an eye for detail as well - something prospective investors will notice.
Be ready for opportunities
I was at Launch Festival to pitch my media training business. My business partner and I have a particular focus on startups and fast growth companies but I made it clear, whenever I spoke with someone, that I was a journalist looking for stories.
Not a single startup was prepared with an elevator pitch, case study or interesting angle that could be used to craft a story.
By way of contrast, I wrote a story last year about a startup whose founder had a great story. Having a great founder story, or how you chose the company name or something quirky is a great way to pique interest. Have those things prepared ahead of time so you're ready if an opportunity for media coverage appears.
That coverage could either get the interest of an investor or help bolster your chances of securing investment because you've got a product deemed to be newsworthy.