Aug 2, 2016

Demo Day Presentation - 7 Mistakes that will hurt you

Demo Days provide your startup an excellent opportunity to face a large gathering and share your business idea with the world. You have gone through the grid, prepared and are now facing investors and peers as you pitch. For many startups, their demo day presentation is often the first time they give a formal pitch on a stage. The tension is palpable and mistakes do happen.

I have attended various demo day presentations and the recent one was as soon as 3 days back. Let me point out 7 mistakes startups make on their demo day presentation.

Not communicating what they actually do

This mistake, though surprising, is very commonplace. While mentoring startups I come across so many pitches where the business itself is not clear. You have 5 to 7 minutes to present and you get so occupied about telling everything that you forget to share what you actually do. Seasoned investor Vinod Khosla once remarked about investor pitches, "80% of the presentations… you don’t even know what the problem is till 15 minutes into the presentation."

How to avoid this trap? Always start your presentation with a one-liner which describes what you really do and for whom. Do you sell software for schools? Have you made a mobile app which allows students to prepare for XYZ test? Spend the first 30 seconds explaining what you do before you jump onto your problem statement or story.

Speaking too fast

Given that a typical demo day presentation lasts for 5 to 7 minutes, you as a startup founder is going to be under tremendous pressure to share more and more. You have done so much work and have so much to say.

Inadvertently, founders end up speaking fast. That's because they want to cover more topics. This becomes a problem for the investors who are hearing your startup pitch for the first time on this demo day. The faster you speak, the lesser they understand. Slow down. Present to a group of friends and seek feedback before you go live on your demo day.

Not prepared for questions

Your judges and investors will have questions for you once you end. After your pitch, you will be allotted 3 to 5 minutes of Q&A time. You will be posed 3 to 5 questions at max and you need to be ready to answer these.

But startups often do not give a very convincing answer or answer some other question (which was not even asked). Once you have prepared your pitch, write down everything your audience can ask based on everything you are telling them (and not telling them) in your pitch. You might end up with a list of 20 questions. That's fine. Now prepare a small answer to each of these.

Not understanding the question before answering it

I have seen this happen quite often. The investor asks a question. The startup begins answering even before the question is complete. After the answer is over, the investor asks the question again.

Listen to the question and take your time. Think for a while and then begin to answer. If you are not clear on the question, seek clarification. The investor need not have asked a simple question and it is important for you to understand the question properly.

Going on talking about your product

As a startup founder you are extremely passionate about your product. After all you have built it with a lot of pain. Now here's the gap. Your audience has seen your product for the first time at this demo day and they do not care about it at all. Why should they?

While you might be fascinated about the 15 cool features your product has, which no other competitor can boast of - guess what? your audience does not care. All they are thinking is, "What's in it for me? Why should I pay attention to this?" Talk about the benefits more than features and move on quickly.

Sharing nothing which is exciting and worth remembering

Demo day presentations are busy affairs. Lots of startups are given the opportunity to deliver a presentation on the demo day. You are not the only one.

After sitting through 10 demo day presentations, the audience barely remembers anything you said and does not even remember your and your startup's name. That's the reality. What can you do about this? How do you ensure you register strongly into their minds. Because if you don't, you are not going to win.

The trick is in sharing two or three extremely exciting things about your startup. It could be a DID YOU KNOW fact or your traction or a story. Make your message exciting by speaking with passion, providing supporting facts, screenshots, demo or sharing a story.

Looking at slides and not rehearsing enough

This one is the most common among first timers. Unless you practice your demo day presentation 10 times before you take the stage, you will forget something and keep looking back at the slides.

There are three ways to avoid this. First, practice well so that you know your content very well. You know what's coming next. Second, have a laptop in front of you. Most organizers place a small screen in front of you where you can have a look at the slide. You can take a look once in a while. Never look back. Third, have very less words on the slide. There is nothing to read and no need to look back. Use your slides as an aid to amplify or clarify your message. There should not be much to be read because your audience won't reading more than a few words. Use a large image or a few words or a big and bold number.