LAUNCH Festival, an event where startup founders can pitch their ideas to investors, network with other startup enthusiasts and rub elbows with those who “made it” will be FREE in 2014.
The event was created by Jason Calacanis, who explained in an email why he is giving away tickets:
When I started in the industry in my 20s, I didn’t have a pot to piss in and was a ‘little rough around the edges’ – I was so lucky to have folks like Esther Dyson, Kara Swisher, John Battelle, Tim O’Reilly and (most of all) John Brockman include me in their events.
These events led to me rubbing elbows with Evan Williams, Yossi Vardi, Larry Page, Jeff Bezos, Ted Leonsis, Steve Case, Mark Cuban and countless other luminaries. Some of them became good friends and/or critical business contacts.
Now I’m trying to pay it forward for the 40+ startups that will launch onstage, the 150 that will be at demo tables, and the thousands of founders and technologists who maybe don’t have the budget yet to come to a world-class conference.
LAUNCH Festival is my legacy and I want as many folks to experience it as possible.
We had 6,000 people sign up last year and this year we hope to have 8,000 (stretch goal FTW!). This makes us the largest startup conference in the world – by far.
“It only adds 4 inches to your iPhone and gives you 45 seconds of battery life, but makes coffee” explains Jason Calacanis as he gives an impromptu presentation of iCoffee, a new iPhone app he was asked to pitch by Yossi Vardi, one of the participants in the VC Panel at the Launch Festival yesterday.
The joke is part of what makes the Launch Festival a one of a kind event, where 50 companies pitch their products to a panel of judges and 5 thousand attendees.
First Day Startups Although the conference started off with a bit of a snafu (45 mins registration line and about 1 hour delay in the program in general), things were quite good once you got inside. This is my third year attending the conference and it has grown both in size and quality.
The event is a great opportunity for startup founders to present their ideas to a panel of judges who will not think twice before coming down hard on you or your idea, and is also a great venue for networking.
Of the statups that presented on stage, the following caught my attention:
Whiplash: Not only this startup is already making money ($500K last year), they are experiencing growth and are providing a much needed service, i.e. the shipping and logistics for eCommerce. This is a huge opportunity that, if done correctly, can transform this company into a major player in the fulfillment business.
CubeSensor: Robert Scobble said that as he was hearing the live feed of the event on his way up to San Francisco, he stopped his car just to buy a couple of units from this startup. Their whole premise is to improve indoor living, and they do that by giving you a ‘cube’ that sits on a table and monitors the air quality, humidity, noise, etc. If you have ever worked in an office with terrible air quality (so called ‘sick buildings’) you wish you had one of those. The key for them will be figuring out a killer distribution strategy and strategic partnerships.
Jawfish: a real-time, multiplayer game on iOS. What’s the big deal? The team behind it seems pretty solid (guys from Full Tilt Poker) and their advantage seems to the the architecture behind the games, delivering an awesome gaming experience. If they are really this technologically advanced and can get the right deals in place, they can become a major force in online gaming.
Triptease: Trip Advisor should have been dead but is still lingering because there is simply not a better option for online travel reviews. Triptease wants to change it with a magazine-like interface that makes reviews easy to create and fun to read. But the most interesting aspect is the leveraging of social networks. As people create beautifully rendered reviews, they will be able to share it with their friends. According to founder Charlie Osmond, hotels have already expressed an interest in using the site and have been emailing customers to place their reviews on Triptease. Going after smart parterships like that is a good move. Now, they have to get critical mass to start moving the needle against Trip Advisor.
Hubskip: A better way to book travel, because it gives you money back. Not only Hubspkip has a slick interface, it centralizes all booking for your trip (hotel, transportation, etc.) so you don’t have to worry about it. We all know that booking travel sucks, no matter what Expedia, Travelocity, and the other players do to their sites, the whole experience is pretty miserable. If Hubskip can break the mold and give us better travel planning at cheaper prices, you’ve got a winner.
Next post I will talk about some of the other startups presenting and also about those in the demo pit.
If there’s a subject every startup founder fears, is the pitching / fundraising. No matter how many pitch sessions, competitions, and training you do there is still room for improvement. But, as my kung-fu instructor used to say “practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect!”. You’ve gotta know how to pitch right to be able to raise capital.
The Perfect Pitch
A recent Mixergy interview with Oren Klaff (author of “Pitch Anything“) is a great source of material to better understand the dynamics of the perfect pitch. A key concept he talks about during the interview is turning the table and instead being the jester performing in front of kings, make the VCs, Angels, Private Equity guys the ones who have to perform to get the privilege to fund your business.
Easily said than done? Sure, but the interview is worth watching for great insight into how to better prepare yourself for the fundraising presentation.
The Jester is Not You
Throughout the interview Oren talks about key concepts he discovered that allowed him to get multi-million dollar deals. Here are a few:
Turn the Table: When you come in for a meeting with a VC or private equity firm, usually right in the beginning they will spend a few minutes introducing you to their partners and telling you about their company. Turn it around and instead suggest you pitch right away and have them at the end talk about their company in the context you presented. This will save you time and will put you in a stronger position.
The Big Idea: Instead of being too quick to dissect your pitch, talking about the market, opportunity, distribution, etc. think of the Big Idea. Capture the painful problem you are trying to solve and tell the audience (VC, Angel, etc.) how you can solve it. Your big idea should trigger an emotional response, be insightful. You want people to start thinking/saying “wow, I didn’t know that! That is very interesting. I want to learn more.”
Creating Tension: If you had two, three, five hours to pitch someone you probably could convince them that your idea is good and worthy of investment. But you have 20 minutes of their attention, so you have to use tension and novelty. When you lose the neediness, when you push people away, that is when the most amount of capital is raised. Be direct, forthright, not supplicating.
Want an example? This is a great clip to watch:
(Don Draper, from Mad Men, giving a pitch).
Novelty: People come to meetings or talk to you to learn about new things, meet interesting people, learn about places and ideas they have not heard about before. The second people can interpolate, extrapolate, figure out, or create a pattern on what you’re doing, they are checked-out and gone. Don’t use the same powerpoint deck template everyone uses, try something different, show that you are different. Peak their interest in you and your idea.
Big Picture: Don’t let yourself get bogged down during the pitch by detailed questions that want to escape the “big idea” frame, because that’s just a way they are using to filter you and go from an emotional to analytical frame of mind. So when asked about revenues, put that off by saying you have them and will get to that later but let’s just focus on the big picture first, the whole concept you are trying to present. You only have 20 minutes (even if the meeting is scheduled for one hour, you only have 20 minutes of their attention anyways), so better make it count and focus on the big important things.
The Full Interview
It’s worth checking out the full interview at Mixergy. Andrew asks detailed questions and Oren is a great speaker. Definitely worth watching.
If you ever wondered what would be like to chat with Paul Graham about your startup, here’s your chance to take a peek at what’s like to be questioned, contradicted, and enlightened during YCombinator‘s famous “office hours”.
The two key questions that came up during every single interview, are “what problem are you solving” and “who needs your product desperately”. Think about that for a moment and write down your answer. Now watch the video and see how others tried answering these same critical questions.
Today was the first day of the Launch Conference, put together by Jason Calacanis. Over 1,000 attendees watched startups present their products to a panel of judges.
The first to present was no other than Joel Spolsky himself, introducing Careers 2.0, a new career site for the StackOverflow crowd. Different from your typical job hunting site, Careers 2.0 focuses software developers and takes an unique approach to presenting the candidate’s abilities. At the end of the presentation and even at the end of the first day, judges and the grand jury were enthusiastic about the site.
See below a snippet of Joel’s pitch:
And below is a snippet of Joel’s answering questions from the panel:
Internet Connection That Works!
Those who have been to conferences before know that one thing is certain: internet connection sucks. Well, Launch was different. As Jason Calacanis himself explained “We figured out how to make Wi-Fi work at a conference. Make it wired” and so every seat had access to an ethernet cable with high-speed connection. I never had an issue, wish all conferences could offer this.