19 June 2014

The right staff - a twist to the start-up pitch

Pitch night is nothing new to the founder of a start up. It's the opportunity to pitch your idea to a room full of would-be, hopeful investors.

This is intimidating to the first timer. I've been an entrepreneur for two decades and in the last couple of years, for the first time ever, I needed to seek financing beyond what I could do myself. I had only ever been to one investment pitch prior so all that I knew was that we needed refreshments and a power point.

There is so much more. SO MUCH MORE. 

Let me first say, that if you are a first time entrepreneur, save yourself a lot of heartache and read Guy Kawasaki's book, "The Art of the Start".  While I have read Guy's other books, I was always beyond the start up stage and kept this book on the shelf. This changed 4 years ago, when we founded Enthrill and I was thrust into the start-up world. I will say it again, if you are a first time entrepreneur, stop what you are doing right now, and buy Art of the Start, then read it. Twice. Every word of it is true and will happen to you. 

In The Art of the Start, Guy explains how to build the perfect pitch to investors. He introduced the 10 20 30 rule to presenters. 10 slides, 20 minutes, 30 point font. This really sets up the presenter with a formula to follow that allows him/her to "sell" their idea to investors in a succinct and compelling manner. Most investors are used to seeing companies presented in this manner as well. Sometimes you have 20 minutes to explain what you may have been building and working on for years, your choice of words, graphics and model has to be nailed down. Sometimes however, this time is limited to even a shorter presentation window. Therefore, you need to design this presentation specifically to speak to would be investors so there is enough, but not too much, information for them to get interested. Keep in mind, interest varies on the audience and the individual, but Guy nails it with what needs to be on your 10 slides, so don't stray to far from his formula. Anyways, this condensed presentation, to this audience, is called "the pitch". 

I've done enough of these presentations now. I've had great presentations that have garnered some investment and I've done some where I wouldn't even invest further... I was that bad. But, you learn. In fact, the best part is, as the presenter, you get to know your company inside and out. Tough questions get asked and sometimes you don't know the answers - that's what you take back to your team. That's how you get stronger and build resilience. I have received tremendous feedback from these 'pitches' - and, often times, it's made me go back and ask, 'what are we doing about this?' We always come out better through the experience and by having hard questions asked. 

So Kevin, you promised a twist to the pitch. Where is it already?

I think we can all agree that a pitch, in it's traditional sense, is done to seek investment in your idea. And, if the idea is good, people will invest. It's proven. 

Having been through this and seeing how it works, makes me wonder if this format would also work to seek talent. For most start-ups these days, it's not the idea that lacks, it's the 3B's of capital (Brains, Braun and Benjamins) that is required to get things off the ground. While most entrepreneurs have the Brains, they begin to focus on the Benjamins so they can afford the Braun.  

Braun comes in many forms, they are the developers of the business. And, start-ups need developers. Now, I'm not just talking about programmers (but mostly I am). When I talk about developers, I'm referring to specific talent that is needed to grow or build a business - maybe a marketer, a product manager, a graphic designer or a financial wizard... but in most cases, an actual web/applications developer. In some start-ups they have the right mix of developers as part of the founders, those folks can ignore this post. 

The rest of us, listen up! 

Here's my idea: What if we did a pitch event for talent? What if the entrepreneur got up and presented their business to a room full of developers to come work for their start-up? A pitch for talent - 10 minutes to state why a designer or programmer should come help build the dream of this entrepreneur.

Even the basic principles of Guy's 10 20 30 presentation holds true for this pitch as well, with some minor modifications, of course. For instance, replace your share cap table with benefits and an employee share plan guide, heck, show a picture of your foosball table and explain why it's better than other start-ups foosball tables. 

Would the best talent not gravitate to the best projects? I think it might. This could also be a great match-making proposition for the employee/employer - ensuring a good fit as well. Team dynamics are important, this may be one way to vet talent for fit as well as for skill.

I believe you may end up with developers that are passionate about a project and as a result, keep them on staff longer. This also puts the emphasis on businesses to ensure they have the right packages in place for attracting and retaining the right staff.

So, I call on all of the start-up clubs, incubator labs, hack nights and organizers of pitch events for start-ups to think about this. Try it out. Book a night where entrepreneurs get to pitch to talent directly. Let's see how this goes. 

Also, it's my idea, so I'd like to be in the first group of presenters. Please?

(Side benefit - could bring up attendance to these start-up events as business owners will want to ensure that their existing developers are not in the audience! LOL)

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