Pitching 101: Austin entrepreneurs share 20+ tips to help you nail demo day

by Kelly O'Halloran
March 14, 2017

For some entrepreneurs, demo day presentations are a perfect opportunity to tap into what they do best. It's a moment that ignites a natural adrenaline high, allowing business owners to defend their killer business models before a jury of judges and potential investors.  

But not everyone loves the spotlight. While startup founders share a desire to build something great, some entrepreneurs prefer to do so behind closed doors. To help those of us who fall on that end of the spectrum, we reached out to several Austin mentors for tips on being prepared, professional and poised for your next big presentation.  


Film yourself numerous times giving the presentation

Joe Kelly is a mentor at the University of Texas's Longhorn Startup program, a project-based course supporting student entrepreneurs. Kelly was co-founder of Infochimps, a big data startup that sold in 2013. 

Kelly said all mistakes during a demo day presentation stem from a lack of preparation.

"One other area is a failure to tell a compelling story that matches the audience," Kelly said. "Even if your idea relates to some niche enterprise market no one's heard of, you should still be able to find a way to relate that to a general audience."

In order to avoid these mistakes, Kelly said to practice, then practice again, followed by more practice. 

"Film yourself numerous times giving the presentation, and make sure you're not overly reliant on slides or materials," he said.


Kelly's pro tips: Watch standup comedians or improv performers ahead of time, then mimic their approach for your presentation. This will lead you to present more relaxed and hence more natural, which helps you adjust to your audience. Film yourself practicing, then make sure you watch it. Many people will record themselves but not actually watch it. This is another step to avoid hiccups during the actual demo by having a solid core presentation down ahead of time.


Be able to articulate various versions of your pitch

DivInc's CEO Preston James also serves as an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship in the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas. James spent 20 years at Dell in executive leadership roles overseeing the company's enterprise IT technology sales consulting teams.

James said that the biggest mistake a presenter can make during a demo is having a lack of passion and confidence about what they're doing.

"Without the passion, it is highly likely that they will not connect with the audience they are addressing," said James. "Even if there is a great story behind the startup, without the passion and confidence it will be hard to garner support and interest."

To help create a compelling story, James suggests practicing a pitch in 30-second, one-minute, three-minute, five-minute and 10-minute versions — and in front of various audiences including family, friends, kids, mentors and investors.

"As they do this, it will often help them in shaping their business model and how they present their model," said James.

James' pro tips: Be ready to go off the cuff by approaching your demo as if there's a chance you won't be able to utilize your prepped slides. Instead of trying to memorize slides, know your order of thought points. Replace words like "we hope" with confident words like "we will," and remember to ask for what you want at the end of the presentation whether it's funding, connections and meetings.


Learn from entrepreneurs who consistently get funding in your vertical market

Ed Valdez, VP of global business development at G51, serves as a mentor at both Capital Factory and Techstars Austin. He said that the most common mistake startup presenters make is not communicating clearly  their "why." 

During presentations, Valdez suggests presenters clearly indicate a few key ideas: Why does your startup exist? Why will customers pay for your product/service? Why should the investors care and why should they expect a return? Why are you the right team to execute this model?

Valdez's pro tips: Seek out advice from the top entrepreneurs in your vertical market, like those who consistently close fundings. In doing so, you can develop a robust network of individuals who will help you consistently over time through a board of advisors and mentors. 


Talk about the raw experience that brought you to the stage

Arlo Gilbert, a serial entrepreneur who has bootstrapped, raised funding and led an exit, mentors at Capital Factory. Developing companies in search, telecom, healthtech, marketing, IT and B2B software, he is currently co-founder and CEO of Meta SaaS.

As imperative as it is to prep ahead of time, Gilbert said it's also important to not sound too scripted because it translates as unauthentic. 

"Investors put money into people they like and trust first, product and market second," Gilbert said. 

To avoid this problem, Gilbert advises presenters to think about a challenge they've overcome to get where they are.

"Consider how that challenge influenced your goals and reasons for building this company and when you present, talk about how that raw experience brought you to the stage," said Gilbert. "Not only will you stir emotion in the audience but people will remember you better than the rest of the companies!"

Gilbert's pro tips: The number one mistake people make while presenting is speaking too quickly. Slow down — and make sure to thank your audience at the very start of your presentation and again at the end.


Ask a preliminary question to get to know your audience

LevelUp Institute's CEO Ruben Cantu established his first company at 18 years old, an award-winning college TV show. He's a first-generation college graduate with an M.S. in technology commercialization from the McCombs School of Business. By co-founding the LevelUp incubator program, he hopes to crop the next generation of social impact tech entrepreneurs. 

Cantu said a common mistake he sees is when the founders speak too much in technical terms, rather than focusing on how the business model works and their key business propositions. He also stressed the importance of knowing the appropriate time for requesting a valuation.

"Don't ask for a huge valuation if you have no sales or an audience to back it up," said Cantu. 

Cantu's pro tips: Plan for someone asking a question in the middle of your pitch. If this happens, acknowledge it and defer to the end.


Images provided by Shutterstock and mentor pages. 
What kind of tips are you looking for? Let us know with a here or on Twitter @BuiltInAustin

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