Outside Opinion: Advice for Demo Days
5 ways to help your idea gain attention and investors
I think most of the end-of-season Demo Days are officially over now.
It's hard to be sure. There are more than 200 of these events, where tech entrepreneurs — often standing on a stage — pitch their ideas to venture capitalists in the hope of getting them to sink money into fledgling businesses.
Chicago just had its Demo Day at the House of Blues and it seems like someone's got something going every time you turn around. I've sat through half a dozen "days" in several cities in the last couple of months and watched more than 50 pitches. It's easy to carp, but since I've been there myself literally hundreds of times, I feel entitled to offer my impressions:
1. One size STILL doesn't fit all
Too many of the pitches were just too long. Early enthusiasm turned into fatal fatigue when it felt like the last few minutes were filler. Elaboration after a point is just mental pollution.
Sometimes I swear it felt like even the guy (or girl) on the stage was just going through the motions. There's a risk of leaving your A game in the rehearsal room when you have too many rehearsals, too many coaches and too many sleepless nights. Adrenaline will only take you so far.
2. Templates are tiresome
Everyone's story is different. The type of pitch (high energy, deep detail, quick quips, pretty pix) should depend on the message you're trying to send and the type of investor you're targeting. Go with what makes sense for your story, not boilerplate.
I'm also sick of meeting "Bob," the prototypical user or target customer, who has all the problems your product or service is going to solve. It's painful and it needs to be dumped from every demo as soon as possible.
3. Don't let your dress distract
Wearing your team's T-shirt might be the safest bet of all. Dressing up or down or too distinctly is risky. The last thing you want is to have people looking at you rather than listening to you. Crazy clothes, spike heels and bushy beards all subtract from your story. It's just the way people are and it's not gonna change anytime soon. Make your statement some other time and place.
Humor is the same way. Jokes are risky. You don't want to take the chance that your gag will fall flat and the crowd will start feeling sorry for you. They might still buy you a beer during the break, but they'll be less likely to bet their bucks on your business.
4. Case studies stink
Talking about your results — user acquisition, revenue growth, major contracts and new strategic partners — moves your story forward. But trying to explain (as the clock ticks) the details of a case study — even one with impressive results — is just a waste of too much precious time. You've got to set up the case, introduce the client and the problem, explain the context and the actions, and show the success. And all the while the audience is hearing the client's name (not yours) and you're talking about the client's business (not yours).
Just claim the results: "We saved these guys millions" — and move on.
5. Funders are followers
I was amazed how many companies said they had raised X or Y dollars toward their goal, but didn't say who their investors were. Brand-name investors betting on your business send a message to the rest of the crowd that they should get on board.
You should never forget that investors don't fear losing their money anywhere near as much as they fear being the only investor who does. Nobody really wants to go it alone if they don't have to. If things go bad, at least they'll have company in their misery.
Tullman is the chairman of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy in Chicago and managing partner of G2T3V LLC. He was the founder of CCC Information Services, which provides vehicle valuation information to insurance companies and car dealers.