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Five rules I learned from 7 years of coaching Launch Festival & TechCrunch50

I’ve been coaching companies like Yammer, Dropbox, SpaceMonkey, and Mint for the past seven years for the LAUNCH Festival and previously TechCrunch50 (RIP!).


Over 350 startups have been on the stage, including the 40 who will join us on Feb 24-26th at this year’s LAUNCH Festival. Our event has grown from 400 folks packed into the Palace hotel to 9,000+ at the Design Center Concourse.


9,000 people, wow. Might even hit 10,000!  


In this time I’ve defined five things about what makes for a great presentation at a conference:


1. Start showing the product within 15 seconds

2. “Show don’t tell”

3. Examples matter

4. Synchronicity

5. “Wow!” moments


I’ll get into those five in detail below.

Note: you can still join us for the Festival here: -- as well as the four intimate 100-person dinners we host.

1. Show product in 15 seconds


The strongest product demos start with strong products. If you have the next Uber, Dropbox, Path, Secret, Angry Birds or Yammer, show it to us. Don’t make us wait. In product pitches you have two types of folks: those with gorgeous, high-quality products and those with, well, “not.”

The longer you take to show your product the more we believe you are a talker, not a walker. When you describe the market size, your degree and how much your competitors suck, we become certain that you will not show us the goods.

2. Show don’t tell: do not talk about what your product does--show us!


Every founder I’ve worked with has started by saying something like “Dropbox allows you to share files between two computers as easily as dragging or dropping them. Installation takes only a minute, and you get 5 gigs free when you sign up.”

This is not as strong as showing us these three facts by presenting:

“My partner John is on the Dropbox website.”

“My partner John puts in his name, email and selects a password.”

“John clicks on ‘Install the Dropbox client’ and sees the Dropbox icon in his tray.”

“He double clicks it, and drags his Hawaii family photos into it, and it tells him he is using 500 megs of his 5 gig free limit.”

“John now opens his laptop and logins into Dropbox and sees his files are syncing.”

“Now let me open my iPhone and you see these same photos in the Dropbox app.”

“Now John right clicks on the photo and says share and enters his mom’s email address.”

“Here is mom’s AOL email account, where she gets prompted to click on the link.”

“She sees the photos and is prompted to add this to her Dropbox account--and we have viral growth.”

That’s a world-class demo right there. Coming out and explaining “Dropbox is cloud storage so simple your mom can use it, it has five gigs free, works on iPhone and sharing is as easy as a click of a button” is not as powerful.


Because screens want to move--and people want to see them move.

3. Examples matter


Ask yourself, “Have I selected the most memorable and demonstrative examples of your product at work?” Here is an example:

“With Uber you can order a car on your phone.”

“John is a 39-year old enterprise-software sales executive for IBM who visits San Diego, San Francisco, Arizona and Los Angeles at least twice a month each. He typically has to wait in cab lines for 20 minutes in each city, or spend three times as much money on a black car.

“Now, once his plane lands we see him open Uber and order a car. He is moving his pin to the departures level because there is less madness there. He sees the car is seven minutes away and now he clicks text and sends a message that he is wearing a blue suit and will be at departures--not arrivals. He saved $50 and 20 minutes already.”

Between those two stories you’re going to remember much more about the second one, and you’re going to be able to empathize with a road warrior like John.

Make a list of the top ten “user stories” you can think of-- the more illustrative the better. That is, the more you think the audience will visualize and connect with this story, the better. Tell those ten stories to people on your team and see which ones they like and remember the most from.

The more humor, drama and details the better. We remember things with a lot of details MORE than we remember things with fewer details.

4. Synchronicity


Every year, someone wants to have one founder do the first minute of a presentation, then switch to the second for two minutes and back and forth. It’s wildly confusing and distracting for the audience.

It’s a huge no-no as far as signaling goes. It shows that even in a five minute presentation the two founders can’t divide the labor--or worse, maybe there is an ego conflict!

So, always have the best speaker speak and the best driver drive. If you’re both amazing, world-class speakers then switch on and off at each event you demo your product at.

[ Note: in a 15 or 20 minute presentation, switching is not only fine, it’s advisable. As you can spend one minute setting up the second speaker, and it shows you have some depth. A 3rd or 4th speaker in a 15-20 minute VC pitch doesn’t help in my mind. Save them for Q&A. ]

5. “Wow!” moments


What are the two or three moments that judges and the audience will say “wow!” when viewing your demo? Ask yourself that, and test it.

Easy test: demo to 10 folks and have someone in the room covertly watch them. At what points do they check their phones, smile or nod in approval? Write them down and study them. If you don’t have a “wow” moment, you’re not going to win a demo competition in all likelihood. Folks like a “wow” in their startup.

Here’s an easy way to manufacture a wow or two if you don’t have one:

a) imagine what your product will look like in five years if successful.

b) imagine what your product would look like if a major technological or behavioral breakthrough occurs.

In test (a) if we were talking about Uber four years ago, the look might be a map of 1,000 taxis in each of 70 cities in real time, with the a graph of average wait time running from 20 minutes down to two.

In test (b) let’s imagine you were demoing Vine this year. You showed a mock up of the iWatch and had it send short videos by shaking your wrist, a countdown timer starting (3, 2 and 1) and a six second video was taken as you waved your opposite hand palm up and down to stop and start the video (assuming the iWatch let you use the gesture of the second hand).

That would be wildly memorable and give a huge wow. I post a Vine in under 10 seconds without ever touching a screen or key!

In other words, play out your future if everything and more goes according to plan.

What if there was a Tesla Supercharger every 100 miles in the USA? How about every two miles?

Here are some additional best practices that are smaller but can be important:

  1. Use a Mac & Chrome Browser if you can. They tend to work best with projectors.

  2. If using a Mac desktop: hide the dock (system preferences), turn off your screen saver, turn off alerts/iMessage

  3. Browser: remove your bookmark bar (shift-command-B) and enter presentation mode (shift-command-F in Chrome)

  4. Have a canned demo prepared in case you have no internet connectivity.

  5. No switching presenters during the pitch.

  6. Technical issues: In case you have a technical issue, have a “let me tell you about our market / team / inspiration” anecdote ready. When the technical issue starts, say “While Jason restarts the presentation, let me tell you how we came up with the idea for” Hopefully you don’t have to use this, but it’s good to have one in the chamber if shit hits the fan.

  7. Answer questions quickly and concisely so you can get another question in from the judges. If someone asks how you make money, say “advertising.” If they ask you to expand on that, you can say “native advertising like Twitter or Instagram.” Short answers project confidence. If you don’t know the answer to the question simply say, “That’s a good question Robert, we don’t have an answer for that yet, but we’re going to try and figure that out during our beta by studying the data.” Again, short answers are the best answers.

Hope these are helpful to everyone, and I look forward to seeing you at the event. Some notes on the program below.

--> New angels speaking: Naval Ravikant, Matt Ocko & Gil Penchina

--> Join the Hackathon on Feb 21-23rd:

--> Register for the Festival:

--> Live stream:

--> Live audio:

--> Huge thanks to our new partners making it happen:

* AnchorFree (

* AngelHack (

* Barracuda (

* Chargify (

* Cisco (

* Continuuity (

* Ebay (

* Elevate Ventures (

* Esri (

* Freestyle VC (

* Gunderson Dettmer (

* Macy’s (

* Maven Ventures (

* Paypal Developer (

* Rackspace (

* Salesforce AppExchange (

* Venture51 (

* Verizon Ventures (




LAUNCH Festival Build Your Dream App Competition

We’ve partnered with Ice House, a mobile app development firm, during the 2014 LAUNCH Festival to give you an opportunity to build your dream app. 

Have you had a killer idea for a mobile app? Do you have an existing project that absolutely needs a mobile app?

Answer a few easy questions by 8am, February 26 and you’ll be entered to win $50k of investment to build your dream app! 

The winner will be announced on stage at the end of the final day of the LAUNCH Festival.

Bonus: after the app is built, the winner will come on LAUNCH Founder Jason Calacanis’s podcast, This Week in Startups, to talk about it. 

Read the guidelines & enter to win here:


Google Wins Everything Part Two: How to be a Partner 

Susan Wojcicki took over YouTube, Wednesday, from my pal Salar Kamangar.

Salar did an amazing job growing YouTube and everyone is thankful for his efforts; he’s a class act who quietly built the product into the most important asset at Google.

Literally, the most important thing at Google--the land of important things.

Heck, that is coming from me, a person who walked away from YouTube funding and massive growth in viewership because it was clear that there is no room given the current split (55/45) for anyone but Google to make a living. More on that in a bit.

In this piece I want to talk about three things:

1. Why YouTube is the most important product at Google--by far

2. Why Google is blowing it

3. A simple solution for Susan to fix the problem

[ The New York Times actually caught up to my “Ain’t gonna work on YouTube’s farm no more” piece ( eight months later ( NYT is on it! :-p ]

1. Why YouTube is the most important product at Google

YouTube is the most important asset in Google’s collection of brands and services. It has 1b+ users a month.

Over the coming years, the number of people using the service will be 110%+ of the people who have internet connections.

Wait, what?!? How?

Yes, more people will use YouTube then use the Internet itself.

Two reasons:

a. people taking their mobile devices out and saying “watch this video!” to people who don’t have the Internet (aka a smartphone) yet.

b. people with smart televisions will increasingly hit the “YouTube” button on their remote controls--and every TV will have YouTube on their remote in 10 years--pulling the rest of the world in.

YouTube is a more valuable asset than Facebook and Twitter--combined!

Humans love watching video and advertisers covet video ads most.

YouTube revenue will eclipse Google search revenue in the next 10 years. I’m certain.

Given that Google paid $1.7b for YouTube, and it would be worth at least $100b if it was public today, YouTube was the M&A deal of the century.

Google paid for a pony and got a unicorn--with Pegasus wings!

[Click to tweet this editorial -- can edit before sending:]

2. Why Google is blowing it

YouTube has unfortunately inherited Google’s odd--some say passive-aggressive or controlling--”we don't have partners!” position.

By treating everyone the same, Google shuts down any negotiation on price or features. It’s take-it-or-leave-it, and with Google’s search and video monopolies--and they are monopolies--it’s hit the bricks for a few and bite your lip for the rest.

Matt Cutts, Google’s long term public face, was fairly clear saying "Google doesn't have partners," recently at an event we both spoke at.


He actually believes this, and he is the most visible person at Google--1,000x more visible than Larry or Sergey (by design).

For 15 years, however, I had the advertising side of the business--Susan’s side--telling my companies what great partners we were!

How valued we were as a partner, how they wanted to deepen the relationship with Engadget/WeblogsInc/Mahalo/Inside/etc.

Heck, even after the Panda update destroyed all of our traffic at my last company, Mahalo, the ad side of the business was calling me saying “why aren’t you publishing more pages to Google’s search index?” and “how can we help you, we value you as a partner!”

Uhh… we stopped publishing because you destroyed our company!

Then YouTube backed Mahalo with seven figures to make content, and they offered us, and others, use of their studio space as *partners*. They host partner conferences constantly, which we have all attended.

But when it came to discussing the revenue split or getting help to make the business sustainable, you are faced with the “Google Death Glare.”

It’s a blank stare Google executives give you when you express a concern, as if you’re talking to someone who doesn’t speak one word of your language.

Anyone who has Google as a partner knows this stare.

It’s just weird, and very Silicon Valley--in the worst way.

Google only sees you as a partner when they need you to run their ads or they need your content to draw in advertisers. When you need help, Google says “we don’t have partners!”

That’s why folks are so frustrated with Google, and I see that tipping over into hate more and more often. The people I meet who run Machinima, Maker and other major YouTube partners exhibit outright hate for YouTube.

That’s bad news for Google.

In fact, it’s fairly clear to this executive, who has been working with Google since Day One, that Google thinks of content creators--artists--as this necessary evil to put their ads next to.

They don’t really respect us since they won everything. If they did, they would listen to our needs and think about making their platform sustainable.

They don’t listen any more really (that is, unless you need help implementing their advertising technology).

Have a question on how to optimize your ads? They’re all ears!

Have a question about the revenue split, making your business sustainable or why you were replaced in search results by their service (see Yelp v. Zagat)? Google Death Glare!

This gives people, inevitably, the message that Google doesn’t care about them, and it builds massive resentment.

That resentment is coming from protesters in the streets (directed at Google buses) and at conferences at $600-a-night hotels packed with media executives.

Resentment of Google has never been higher, which is what happens when #googlewinseverything.

But it could be easily reversed!

3. How Susan can solve the problem


Susan: why not create an objective system where not everyone is treated the same. Where you are more loyal to the folks who are most loyal to you?

This was my suggestion to Salar on how to keep YouTube from becoming the most loved/loathed platform in the world--which it now is.

Here is a simple example of how to implement it: create four levels of YouTube publishers.

Level one: Everyone! (i.e. you upload a cat video 1x in your life)

- 50 / 50 revenue split
- standard YouTube feature set

Level two: prosumers with < 100k subscribers

-- 60 / 40 revenue split
-- standard YouTube feature set

Level three: professionals 100-500k subscribers who publish regularly

-- 70 / 30 revenue split
-- ability to collect email addresses from consumers
-- advances of up to six months of revenue to fund production

Level four: elite publishers 500k+ subscribers who publish regularly

-- 80 / 20 revenue split
-- ability to collect email addresses from consumers
-- ability to control 25% of their channel page (as long as they don’t break it)
-- advances of up to one year of revenue to fund production

If YouTube had given me this deal, I would not have launched and would not have shut down Mahalo’s video operation.

In fact, I had $15m in venture capital ready to go if Google gave us the features I describe above.

Instead, they gave me the Google Death Glare, as if the idea that they might actually give me or Ellen or Maker or Machinima or iJustine a different deal based on merit would rip a hole in the universe.

I wish Susan and Google the best.

I hope, at some point, Google will look back at what got them to this point: their hard work and their partners.

No one wins alone; we all get there together in life.

Winning everything is awesome, but when it is at the expense of the partners who got you there it becomes a real, real shallow victory.

There is no reason everyone can’t win at YouTube and with Google.

Google doesn’t have to win everything, they can give their “partners” a taste.

[[ SPECIAL: A legend who worked actively with YouTube, but doesn’t want to damage the relationship, comments on my article below! ]]

best @jason

PS -- LAUNCH Hackathon filling up, get in there!  Feb 21-23rd. I’m investing $100k in the winners!

PPS -- Had an awesome This Week in Startups interview with Stewart Alsop:  

PPPS -- has three openings for folks who love the news business: Android, iOS and design. Work from anywhere, change the world:   

PPPPS -- LAUNCH Festival is happening Feb 24-26 in San Francisco (

Tickets here: Want to reach 10k entrepreneurs/startups? Thanks to these partners for making the event happen: BitPay (, Capital One Labs (, Carvoyant (, (, CoTap (, Draper University (, Pivotal Labs (, Samsung (


From someone deep in the YouTube community for seven years:


“I’d say this reflects a lot of the sentiment out there among YouTubers fairly accurately, though they lack your ability to actually get away and change up their businesses approach to community. If you are Toby Turner or SeaNanners, you really don’t have the option to pivot or pick up and move your content elsewhere -- your army of loyal 12-year-olds are on YouTube, and that’s where they want to see your stuff. Which is why Google thinks it can get away with this stuff -- what are you going to do, post on DailyMotion? You do speak a bit about this -- the notion of YouTube as a video monopoly -- but it’s really on people’s minds a lot these days, particularly as companies like Maker, FullScreen and Machinima have started toying with the idea of breaking off their own domains and video players.

“Some major issues that are also of concern to the creator community that you could also touch on, in this or a future piece:

- Google+ Integration: Essentially, YT content creators are community managers with no control at all over their community and no tools to work with, and the way everyone was forced to switch over to Google+ was just highlighting this larger issue

- Non-Existent Customer Support: Having problems uploading a particular video? Videos not syncing with Facebook properly? You’ve swapped out a thumbnail but it isn’t updating? It’s EXTREMELY hard to get any help with that from Google themselves, and a lot of people’s upload schedules are extremely time sensitive. For the amount of ad revenue creators are sharing with Google, shouldn’t they at least be guaranteed the platform itself will work smoothly?

- No Prep or Consultation Before Sweeping Rule Changes: No one who makes video game-related YouTube content was unaffected by the sudden, massive changes to how “copywritten” game content was being treated. Creators whose livelihoods depend on their deep back catalog of “Let’s Play” videos suddenly saw their content vanish, and others were left confused about what exactly was and was not permissible moving forward.

- Inconsistent Community Outreach: Sometimes it feels like Google is everyone’s best friend and just wants to help their creators blow up and find an audience. But Google also sends a lot of mixed messages. I had one creator who makes almost exclusively comedy videos tell me that he was always being invited to “Comedy Nights” at the YouTube Space, only to find out he was invited to be in the audience while more mainstream celebrities actually performed comedy. Which is insulting -- why won’t Google embrace its own community, the ones who made their streaming site the leader in online entertainment? Look also to events like the YouTube Music Awards, which ignored almost all of the extremely talented musicians who are personally active on YouTube in favor of honoring celebrities who couldn’t be bothered to show up, like Eminem and Taylor Swift.”



Building the world's greatest news product

For the past year I’ve been working with my team to conceive of what would be the best news product in the world. It’s a huge mission and with the launch of Inside we take the first step. 

We decided that the best news product in the world today would have the following characteristics:

1. It would be mobile — specifically for smartphones
2. It would be real-time
3. It would be fact-filled 
4. It would connect folks to the world’s best journalism
5. It would respect the reader’s time 

When we researched the space we found a ton of great journalism in the world, but it was being drowned out by a lot of “other” stuff. Mainly link-baiting, reblogging and generally low-quality content. 

Readers need help navigating this new world filled with social media, blogging and stories breaking in real time — be it on Reddit, Twitter or blogs. 

Inside is an app that’s available today on your iPhone, Blackberry and mobile web browser. An Android version will be coming soon. 

[ Click here to tweet this editorial. You can modify before sending: ]

Here’s how it works:

1,000 Updates a Day
Every day a team of curators find the 1,000 most important and fascinating stories in the world and the journalists who did the best job telling those stories. They write a 300-character “update” on the story and link directly to the source. These updates have a short “embedded headline,” generally contain 10 facts and are categorized in up to three topics. 

What they don’t contain is fluff, bias or deceptive headlines. 

They are designed, like our entire product, to save you time. 


Your Personalized Feed 
You can vote any update up or down, which will customize your “My Feed.” The /myfeed is where you get the stories you care most about. There are two other feeds in the app: /allupdates(where you can see all updates to the system in real-time) and /topnews (where you can see the 25 stories of the day as selected by our curators). 

We’re sort of like Pandora for news. 

Swiping The Deck
We decided to use the metaphor of a feed for our app with one very important difference: the hidden deck of cards. When you’re on an update about the /stateoftheunion or the/grammys, you can use your thumb to slide the update to the left (grab the image!) and reveal the previous update in that topic. 

With over 20,000 updates a month you’ll be able scroll and slide the deck to your heart’s delight without ever using anything other than your thumb.


[ Note: We are not responsible for any thumb fatigue or injury you may incur. ] 

In Summary
We’re not sure exactly where this journey will lead, but we know that news is critically important to our society and we want to showcase the amazing journalism occurring today by doing the best curation in the world. 

We take our responsibility for selecting stories and sources extremely seriously, and we hope you challenge us and let us know how we are doing often. You can post your comment under any update or email the any time with your thoughts. 

all the best, @jason, @GabrielSnyder & the Inside team 

@inside || iTunes App Store || Join Inside mailing list ||Blackberry || Mobile Web


Paul Graham fireside at LAUNCH Festival + our judges!

Really excited to announce that Y Combinator founder Paul Graham will be joining me for a fireside chat at the LAUNCH Festival this year. Paul has been one of the greatest supporters of founders and startups in the past decade, with over 500 startups coming out of YC in the past 8+ years. You’ve heard of a couple of them, including Dropbox (which launched in the first year of our event) and Airbnb.

He’s also a great blogger and thinker, and I’ve been waiting seven years to interview him. It’s going to be an awesome discussion.

The LAUNCH Festival runs Feb. 24-26th, with the LAUNCH Hackathon occurring Feb. 21-23 ( The festival takes place at the San Francisco Design Center Concourse.

Over 6,000 folks have registered for the event, and we’re going to close registration at 8,000. You can register today for $49, $495, $1,000 or $5,000 depending on what dinners/events you want to attend (we try to make it available to all levels, from broke founders to flush VCs!):

We’re thrilled to announce our seven latest judges for the event:

 * Katie Rae, Techstars Boston
 * Dana Settle, Greycroft Partners
 * Kara Swisher, Re/Code
 * Gina Bianchini, Mightybell
 * Sarah Lacy, PandoDaily
 * Aileen Lee, Cowboy Ventures
 * Tina Sharkey, Sherpa Foundry

Finally, we have a second stage this year called the “Startup Stage” where more established companies will do deep dives into their performance and strategy. This stage is based on the demand that investors had to see more mature companies, and from founders who had goals of showcasing their performance to the press – recruiting new team members and updating investors. If you want to do a deep dive into your company you can find out more here:

Special thanks to our new partners that make this event happen:
 * Fertl (
 * Ice House (
 * North Bridge (
 * Pearson (
 * Swell (
 * Twitter (

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