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Saturday, May 7, 2011

23. First Cut

Got the  news this morning.....Survey says? Made the cut. That's right folks, got past the first round of judging. Got my pitch assignment: time and date. Looks like I will be pitching 7 judges, in person Monday May 16th between 12-5pm. Pretty excited for the pitch. I was more nervous about the first round because they are just working off of your application and your not sure what the grading criteria is. I always do much better when I can use my enthusiasm and energy, in person, to explain what I am trying to achieve. I'm going to practice pitch two V.C.'s, then some teams from last year, and finally some other entrants for this year to perfect my pitch. (Practice, Practice, Practice) I'm also going to a network event "Perfect Your Pitch" on Monday. Hopefully all of this will make my presentation the best it can be.

A MassChallenge winning team from last year: (Alex Cook and Andy Cook) gave some great feedback on making a great presentation. Thought I would share it because I'm taking there great advice. Thank you Alex and Andy for helping us young fledgling teams.

By Alex and Andy Cook:

1. Build your Deck in the Shower

Starting to build your deck as soon as possible is the biggest favor you can do for yourself. Creating a great pitch deck is like building a great product - it takes lots of little iterations to make one amazing whole. For us, the best ideas and angles on the pitch come to us spontaneously - in the car, in the shower, on a run - so take a notebook with you everywhere†and write down your best ideas as you go. Don't scrap together your deck the night before the presentation.

2. Practice

Once you think you're ready to rock, give as many practice presentations as possible and treat it like you would your real pitch. Give your audience a sheet of questions about your business and have them answer them after hearing your pitch. Read what people write down and see where they are getting confused. Document all the questions that keep coming up frequently, and figure out how to address them more clearly in your presentation. Usually, the same questions keep coming up (How do you make money, how will you get users? Who else is doing this?) so be ready to answer those questions when they come up in judging.

3. Follow the 5/5/45 Rule

Guy Kawaski invented the 10/20/30 rule, which advices that every PowerPoint presentation you give should be less than 10 slides, less than 20 minutes, and all text larger than 30. In MassChallenge, we found that 5 slide decks, 5 minute presentations, and 45 font was the way to go. Put yourself in the judges shoes - they're going to be on a panel for 6 hours and will probably have listened to 10 presentations before you. They may be hungry or tired from having to be attentive for so long. Chances are your judges will also have questions brewing in their minds after your first or second slide.A 5-minute presentation is better than a 10-minute presentation... you'll have 50% more time for Q&A... which leads us to:

4. Use a Short, 5-Slide Deck

Here is the pitch deck that we think will clearly and concisely get your business across to the judges. This pitch deck is based off what worked for us, and is not an official formula or anything. We were given this layout and some amazing coaching on our deck from Christopher Mirabile (@cmirabile) and Bill Kantor during MassChallenge 2011 - thank you!
Problem + Market Opportunity - Where's the pain and how much pain is there? How much money is in the market?
Solution + Grand Vision - What is the optimal, generic solution and what is your big goal? Make sure to paint the big picture of how large you will be, and keep it exciting.
Product + Biz Model-This is the most important slide. Explain what you do in the simplest way possible, and how will you make money. The worst thing that can happen is when you are 18 minutes into the presentation, and you haven't even covered how you make money.
Traction + Data - If you have traction, talk about it. Paying customers are the best form of traction, and a working product or prototype come in close second. Also, if you have real data (CoCA, annual sales, etc) tell about that that too. Use†real and reliable data... don't lie.
Team - Why are you able to pull this off and what makes you better than the competition? Just use general terms about the competition and use†quantifiable†achievements when talking about your team (+5 years in space, started and sold another company, won a competition, etc).

5. Show up Early

Even if you are presenting in the last slot, you should show up as soon as you can to get a feel for the building, run through your presentation, eat, and get in the zone. You are also told who your judges are when you check in, so you could do a little research and maybe figure out what preconceived notions judges may have.

6. Be Yourself!

We wore jeans and Rentabilites t-shirt to our presentation. Dress however you'll feel most comfortable and talk how your normally would. People can tell when you are trying to act.

7. Bring your Power Hitter

If you have multiple team members, have the best presenter do the entire presentation (normally the CEO). You don't want to waste time or lose the judges attention while making switches between presenters. Use your other team members as bench players who come in on specific questions. If you think a team member isn't going to talk or answer a question, he probably doesn't need to be in the room.

8. Be Ready to be Interrupted

Judges are allowed to interrupt you while your presenting. Good ways to tackle interruptions:
  • Give concise answers using data - don't ramble
  • "Great question, thanks for asking - I'm going to get to that in a few slides"
Another good tactic is the "could you repeat that?" †By asking someone to repeat a question it buys you additional time to think of your answer.

9. Be Ready to Demo

If you have a demo, be ready to present it. Some judges may ask to see your website if you are a tech company our your prototype. Having a live site or demonstratable prototype shows you are a serious team. Don't necessarily plan out a demo in your deck - just be ready in case they ask.

10. Don't Argue

Pitching is sales. You wouldn't ever argue with a potential customer and insinuate she is stupid by telling her she is wrong. Tone is important - you can disagree or clarify on something but make sure you don't come across as argumentative. One of the worst situations that can happen to you is that a judge wastes 5 minutes of your time on a trivial topic. When a judge asks you a question, make sure you actually answer the question, and don't ramble. Always use data in your answer if it is relevant. Generally, data is hard to dispute. Round 2 starts soon... go for a run and don't forget your notebook! Feel free to reach us on Twitter (@andygcook @aacook) with any questions.

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