Wise Words for Entrepreneurs – The Fast Pitch Competition
April 23, 2009 2 Comments
There are several really good organizations around southern California supporting startups and entrepreneurs, including the Tech Coast Angels and Tech Coast Venture Network. One of the more endearing activities is the grand old tradition of “Fast Pitch Competition.” The Fast Pitch Competition brings a large group of enthusiastic, energetic, and hopeful young entrepreneurs into the lion’s den of venture capital and investment banking critics.
Here’s how it works.
The Fast Pitch. 30 seconds to accomplish the following:
- Introduce yourself
- Introduce your company
- Describe the market pain point your product or service solves
- Describe the target market, and size
- Present how your product or service makes money
- Sell why you believe you and your team can win in your market
- Tell the panel what you want (how much money)
- Investment bankers
- Venture capitalists
You go to the fast pitch venue, sign up for the competition, and wait while a “panel” representative introduces the competition to the listening audience, reviews the rules of engagement, makes a couple jokes (mostly bad), and tries to put some of the pitchers at ease (actually, he makes them really, really nervous).
When the competition is ready to start the pitchers line up in single file, and wait for their turn in the shark’s pit. The pitchers get up and try to give their best. They show enthusiasm, practice, pride in their product, and the hope their efforts will be recognized.
The next step is a critique of the top 5 or so pitches, and the rest of the pitchers are left to assume they did not catch anybody’s interest, and quietly move to the back of the room hoping nobody has noticed them. Their enthusiasm showing signs of dilution.
The top 5 have the luxury of a warm, supportive, nurturing, and completely positive critique of their presentation, product, and quality as a human being. OK, not really. It is actually a brutal shredding of the pitcher’s presentation, product, with a healthy personal character assassination mixed in so nobody harbors any misconception of who has money and control.
One entrepreneur survives a critique that makes Simon from American Idol look like Mother Theresa. The others walk off to the back of the room looking like deer caught in the headlights, searching for a table or chair to crawl under and tend to their emotional wounds.
The winner gets to have a coffee with the panel, and a crisp $100 bill.
You can have one of two reactions to the Fast Pitch Competition. You can either let it go, much as you try to forget driving by a horrific car accident on the freeway. Or, you can learn from the efforts and mistakes of those who tread before you.
In personal and professional networking you have an obligation to make contact. There is a certain amount of truth to the idea that any recognition is good recognition – unless you are being accused of something nefarious. Watching how these entrepreneurs deliver the goods, then deal with the response is about as fun as watching the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross.” For a moment you kind of put your hands over your eyes and peek through your fingers. Why? Because deep down you know that will be you some day. And you are already feeling the pain, rejection, humiliation, and fear of those pitchers who have walked before you.
At some point in most entrepreneur’s careers we will face the same panel of skeptical venture capitalists who are trying desperately to ensure their hard earned cash is not wasted on a substandard business plan with substandard management. If you know what they want to hear, and are able to articulate your ideas in the format they want to hear, you may have a much better chance of getting past the fast pitch and into a one-on-one discussion.
The Fast Pitch Competition is brutal, but necessary. Attend one near you. Take notes. Practice your Fast Pitch. Earn some experience, and let’s get out there to innovate.