My First Pitch

I’ve been neglecting writing this blog post for a while now, and in a few paragraphs, you’ll see why.  In June, I pitched Jewelbots At MAVA’s TechBuzz event. It was a wonderful event, with exposure to investors and the NoVA tech community.

I didn’t talk much about it at the time, and I didn’t blog about it because, well… I didn’t know how to.

MAVA TechBuzz

MAVA Techbuzz is an event put on a few times a year where early-stage startups can present their idea to a crowd of investors. They’ve played with the rules over the years, but this session, the rules were simple: a 4 minute pitch; with hard limits on the time, and no more than 6-7 slides.  The pitches were given in a ‘bam bam bam’ fashion, with half the companies presenting one after the other; and then a break for Feedback from the Investor panel; and then the rest of the companies present.  I was the second to present in the second half of the session.

And I had four minutes.

To prepare for TechBuzz, I started out by taking our stock pitch deck and modifying it towards both my style and the audience:

  • Kept below Five words
  • Communicate vision, not data
  • Data kept super focused
  • Does not require reading to understand
  • augments what I’m saying instead of replacing it
  • Followed the 10/20/30 rule (really, 6/4/30 given the pitch target)

Due to the hard time limit nature of the pitch, I also chose to write a script instead of capture Ideas and speak on those ideas without a script.  I normally speak extemporaneously; I have in pretty much every talk I’ve ever given.  If I have a format and flow; I’ll keep the key idea in my head for that slide, but I’ll explain it slightly differently every time; but I always react to the format and flow that I’ve encountered for that talk.  It’s weird; I’ve given dozens of talks, and every single audience and room is different; so I tend to react according to the vibe of that room instead of trying to make a script and following it.

I wrote out the script, and practiced it.  I then spent the next few weeks editing that script to take out redundancy, remove any words that didn’t flow, and arrived at the final product.  I used Git to track the pitch’s genesis’s both in terms of the slides and the script.

I practiced that script a lot; both with slides and without, with special focus on ensuring each paragraph ending was a good transition to the next slide.  Finally, on the day of, I went off to TechBuzz to set up and give my pitch.

Day of

TechBuzz is an all day event; the morning time is used for demo purposes, and each company has their own booth. I set up our App as well as the prototypes and met with dozens and dozens of people, using parts of my pitch as well as talking with them about Jewelbots.

Finally, at 4:00 that afternoon, it was time for my pitch.  I walked up to the stage, hit the first slide, saw the picture of my daughters, and boom.

The photo from my pitch
The photo from my pitch

I wasn’t prepared for the emotions I’d feel just seeing my daughters’ picture come to life on that screen.  They represent the future I’m working to a create; and I work every day as if I’m working for them in particular.  Because I am; and there is no more powerful feeling for me than knowing that what I’m working on will benefit them and make their lives better.

For me, Jewelbots isn’t an abstract good; it isn’t something that ‘may help thousands’; it’s a product that will directly impact my daughters’ lives and fill that gap that we experience today.  They will grow up in a world where technology doesn’t differentiate between girls and boys, and where boys get ‘the cool toys’ and girls don’t get that.  It’s a world that recognizes the difference between boys and girls interests, and works hard to cater to those interests. It’s a world where we don’t have to say, “Toys should be gender agnostic” as a way to solve our problems, we can instead say, “If you have an interest in Jewelry, we have products that fuse technology with Jewelry.” My daughters have vastly different interests, even though one is 3 and one is almost 2 — I can see the differences in what they like, and what they don’t.  Faith is every bit the girly girl; and Penny is (affectionately) the Destructor that enjoys taking things apart and seeing how they work.  I want technology to cater to their interests; not remove the individuality that makes them who they are.

All of those emotions hit me right as I saw the picture of my daughters, and I blanked.  Completely blanked. I didn’t even know my own name at that point in time. Luckily I had brought my phone with me and had my script on it, so I was able to glance down and see the next bit of my talk, and I recovered; although I didn’t deliver the speech I wrote down.

If you watch the video of my talk, you’ll see that happen.  I haven’t watched it; partly because I don’t really want to know how bad the mess-up was.  In my head, I must have spent minutes blanking –Time slowed to a crawl.

Lessons Learned

From that experience, I learned the following:

Perfect practice makes perfect:  I spent every day for weeks practicing and refining that pitch.  I could recite it in my sleep. But I did it just for me, or just for me and Emily.  I didn’t do it for strangers, and I didn’t do it in like conditions.  I practiced a lot, but I didn’t practice in the same form that I’d actually give the pitch: With strangers looking at me, coming up to a platform, and going for four minutes.  Perhaps if I had, I would have encountered this emotional reaction before TechBuzz, and could have worked around it.

Don’t ignore your failures; use them to make your talk better: That moment where I stumbled would have been a perfect moment to say, “Sorry, about that, seeing my daughters on the screen and thinking about how Jewelbots will help them caught me by surprise. I care about them a lot; and Jewelbots represents more to me than a product, it represents changing the status quo.”  But I didn’t do that; I tried to hide it.  Later on when I received written feedback, my stumble was chalked up to “didn’t practice” instead of “wow, he really cares about this topic.”  It was a missed opportunity, but a great learning experience.

Find your speaking style, and stay close to it:  I’ve given a lot of talks, but this was the first time I’ve ever written a script for my talk. I don’t do that. I form ideas and have a sentence for each idea, and then the rest I just use to speak from;  it leads to a better flowing, more natural talk, even if it’s not 100% reproducible.  Giving this pitch showed me that I’m not the sort of speaker who can memorize and give a talk as well as I can ‘speak from the hip.’

You can’t bat 1.000: This is something my wife told me after.  Even months later, the sting of this talk still follows me, but she’s right — I’m not perfect, and I won’t always hit it out of the park, even if I feel like I should be able to.  All I can do is be better next time.

Overall, TechBuzz was an amazing experience and I’m grateful to have had the chance to pitch Jewelbots.

What have been your lessons learned from giving talks?

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