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Monday
Feb172014

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

I’ve been coaching companies like Yammer, Dropbox, SpaceMonkey, Brilliant.org 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:

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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: http://festival.launch.co -- as well as the four intimate 100-person dinners we host.


1. Show product in 15 seconds

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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!

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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.


Why?


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



3. Examples matter

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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

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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

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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 Inside.com.” 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: http://hackathon.launch.co

--> Register for the Festival: http://festival.launch.co


--> Live stream: http://launch.co/live

--> Live audio: http://launch.co/liveaudio


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

* AnchorFree (http://anchorfree.com)

* AngelHack (http://angelhack.com)

* Barracuda (http://barracuda.com)

* Chargify (http://chargify.com)

* Cisco (http://cisco.com)

* Continuuity (http://continuuity.com)

* Ebay (http://ebay.com)

* Elevate Ventures (http://elevateventures.com)

* Esri (http://esri.com)

* Freestyle VC (http://freetsyle.vc)

* Gunderson Dettmer (http://gunder.com)

* Macy’s (http://macys.com)

* Maven Ventures (http://mavenventures.com)

* Paypal Developer (http://developer.paypal.com)

* Rackspace (http://rackspace.com)

* Salesforce AppExchange (https://appexchange.salesforce.com/)

* Venture51 (http://venture51.com)

* Verizon Ventures (http://verizon.com/ventures)


best,

@jason