Brutal, but not Malicious

I attended last week’s Ultra Light Startup pitch night and discovered that critics can be brutal without being malicious. Eight companies pitched for two minutes in front of four judges (real-world VCs) and about 200 audience members. Some pitches were strong and some were weak and there was surprisingly little schaudenfreude when the pitchers stumbled or were stumped.

A couple highlights and thoughts:

  • I’ve seen Dan Vallejo pitch The Mutual a few times in a few different contexts — cocktail parties, small meetups, and so on — and he’s gotten better each time. (The Mutual is like a health club except 80% of your dues go to a non-profit and you get perks with local businesses instead of having to feel guilty about not working out). Dan comes across as confident and unrehearsed and handles criticism and Q&A well. The best moments for Dan must have been when one of the judges asked whether they were a B Corp — not yet, but in process — and when another said that the subscription donation model was unique. Having seen and heard a lot of pitches over the past few months, it’s becoming clear that these guys definitely have something special and it’s been exciting to watch them evolve in the few months I’ve known them.
  • If you’re going to pitch an idea, you absolutely must be prepared to answer in multiple ways and multiple times the following questions: (1) What is your revenue stream? (Alternative: How are you going to make money?) (2) What is your value proposition? (3) How are you going to scale? (4) What is your secret sauce? (This question often comes after the observation that the investor has been pitched this idea 10 times this month.) I felt some amount of pity but also a bit of frustration with the presenters who didn’t have killer answers to these obvious questions.
  • You must know both your competition and potential models almost as well as you know yourself.
  • Apparently, it is okay to talk about, and credentialize yourself with, how much money you made on your previous startup. At least one judge and one presenter did this. My feeling is that saying “I sold my last company in 2007 [full stop]” signals pretty clearly that the person is now rich and saying it out loud feels gauche. That said, if a candidate for president can’t speak about his personal wealth non-awkwardly, what chance do a bunch of amateurs have?