Last month I, along with Tim Williamson, had the honor of hosting the second Barpreneur at SoBou restaurant. This event was a fun gathering of local entrepreneurs pitching to Tim and I. There are a number of things that I really like about the event (pic above is from the last one). I like that even if you aren’t pitching, or an entrepreneur the whole bar gets into it. You can see everybody listening, nodding and of course clapping as the treps deliver their pitches.
Another thing that I really enjoy about the event is the structure. Startups deliver a one minute pitch trying to get chosen in the top 3 so that they can come back and pitch for 3 minutes. After the second round one entrepreneur was selected to join Tim and I for lunch. What I like about the process is that it is identical to real life. As startups we often get so focused on our decks, our one-pagers or our website that we forget the cocktail party, dinner table, hallway introduction. These are places where the objective of the pitch is different and you have to earn permission to continue the dialogue.
Following the Barpreneur process, here are my thoughts on one approach for making that first cut.
One Minute Pitch
The objective here is actually not to tell us all about your company (surprise) you are pitching to earn 3 more minutes. There are two parts to this pitch the first is your infomercial. Capture your audience’s attention with a wow fact, a big win, a mind-blowing benefit of your startup. You want the audience leaning forward, curiosity piqued wondering, “how can they do that?” Stay away from operational details unless they build credibility that would win over non-believers but keep it brief. Only tell me that 4 out of 5 dentists prefer you don’t give me the details of the study. This part should leave your audience thinking, “I want to learn more about this amazing product.”
The second part is the passion. Let your audience know why this is your mission and why you are the right person to lead this charge. Personal stories that show your commitment and dedication are “pitch gold” here. However, make sure its authentic. Where as you can often use hyperbole, etc. to good effect in the first part don’t try it here. Audiences have little tolerance for overstating personal details. Keep it real and don’t be scared to open up a bit. Vulnerable can be very compelling. This part should leave your audience thinking, “I want help/work with/buy from this person.”
I am looking forward to the next event and maybe even having lunch with you.
One of the things that has consistently impressed me in startup communities is the willingness to pay it forward. It seems to be a universal agreement in every ecosystem that I have seen.
Entrepreneurs have a heightened sense of the many contributors it requires to achieve success. The potential customers willing to spend 20 minutes in a customer development interview, the other founders willing to lift their heads up from their own startup to offer feedback and advice as well as the advisors, mentors and others who pitch in to lend experience, expertise and extra hands are all part of the journey. Like the volunteers who hand water and power gel to runners of a marathon, they all cheer when the runner crosses the finish line.
While many cities are looking to entrepreneurship as an economic driver what is overlooked is that this attitude can be the ultimate catalyst. We just saw a great local example of this in New Orleans where the Jolly family just made a large donation to the Newman School. Tarun Jolly (TJ) is the founder, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of Renaissance RX, a rapidly-growing medical services business based in New Orleans that has attracted funding from TPG. At the announcement TJ said “As medical practitioners and entrepreneurs, Rupa and I believe strongly in the power of science education to fuel innovation and improve lives.” I love that he identified himself as an entrepreneur and I love that he has not lost his commitment to paying it forward. And hopefully it is contagious. You can see the full announcement here.
In this spirit, I try to end all my conversations with, “is there anything I can do for you?” So I will end this post with it as well. Let me know if there is anything I can help you with.
This is a phrase I seem to being using a lot and one of the ways that I think New Orleans startups are beginning to develop an advantaged approach. Here in New Orleans we frequently have to remind visitors and new comers of this important distinction. Surrounded by so many opportunities for great music, food and fun it is easy to find oneself worn out or moving zombie like through the motions of experiencing this great city.
The Startup Marathon
A quote went around on Twitter a few weeks back that said something like, “Most companies are overnight successes. And that it happens somewhere between the 1,000th and 2,000th night.” We all know that startups are hard but we must also be prepared for the fact that they are hard…for a long time. Not 6 months hard but 3-10 years hard. And that is if you are one of the lucky ones.
Seasons and Rhythms
Down here we operate in seasons. And not necessarily calendar ones. Although Summer is one sticky slow one you learn to get through, most of our seasons are tied to other things. Saints football, Mardi Gras, Jazz fest and Crawfish season are all more important dates on the calendar than any solstice or equinox.
Down here you don’t schedule meetings on Thursdays or Friday late afternoon during Carnival for fear of being trapped on the wrong side of a parade route. And you don’t schedule a Startup Weekend if the Saints play on that Sunday because your teams won’t get anything done. Some find this annoying (I did when I first got here) and think that startups can’t waste that time and should be at it 24/7. I have come to embrace it, recognizing that it teaches an important lesson. Push when you can but if you can’t then take that time to recharge, refresh and prepare for the next push.
Acceptance that some things take time and that everything follows its own rhythm, including startups and cities, is an important lesson that allows you to run the marathon.
I have been thinking a lot about accelerators and incubators recently. The rapid rise of these startup ecosystem players has been interesting to watch. I remember the run up of incubators during the web1.0 craze as everybody sought to offered shared space, services and Aeron chairs in hopes of creating the next IdeaLab. All but the original failed.
Accelerators todays are the storefront that startup communities put out to signal they are in the market for disruptive innovation. But too many are mistaking the finger pointing to the moon for the moon itself (last night’s super moon still on my mind obviously). Accelerators are, as the name implies, taking what is already there and making it faster. They are the pedal, not the engine. Below are some thoughts from my readings and recent discussions on startup accelerators. As always, the IMHO disclaimer applies and your comments are welcome.
Build on what you have
In order to ensure an accelerator is not an event, but rather a sustainable catalyst, accelerators need to be authentic to the communities they serve. Startups only get 10-12 weeks of support. If after that all the mentors, service providers and fellow ‘treps scatter or close their doors so will the startups. An accelerator should focus and rally the resources startups need but not “import” them. If you don’t have them in your community already maybe that is where your energies should go.
Accelerators need a superpower
The basics don’t count for accelerators. Most quality startups can get access to the space, lean methodology expertise and even cash they need. What accelerators need is to figure out what their uniqueness is. When we started the Delaware startup ecosystem we turned our “weakness” of small state into our “superpower” easy access. Size matters took on a new meaning and they are seeing startups that value small choose them as a place to launch. You won’t win on your accelerator’s brand or platform, Techstars/YC/500 Startups have that cornered. pick something else. Protip: If you don’t know what it is ask someone who just got there. A transplant or other outsider frequently sees things you don’t.
Turn some people off
Dave McClure used to do a talk where he suggested that you want customers to either want to f&@k you or want to kill you. The middle ground has little value. They aren’t passionate. I know it is safe to have the proof of an existing model in another city but too many accelerators seem to be city agnostic. Accelerators are competing too and if you don’t have startups that look at your program and say “not for me” you won’t have passionate ones that say “that is perfect for me.” Startups are not cookies and accelerators can’t be cookie cutters.
As EIR for the Idea Village accelerator this season I am excited to try and put these and other learnings into practice. One thing I am sure of is that our program, like the city that birthed it, will be full of rhythms, rituals and great relationships.
Stay calm and ‘trep on.
I started DJing when I was 13 years old. Did school dances, weddings, high school radio (WHFH The Voice of the Vikings) and an endless stream of basement parties. I DJ’ed all through college in clubs and fraternity houses. During that time, I took endless requests. As I sat this morning and thought about some blog post ideas I took a look at my draft file and was a little shocked at how many ideas I had left unfinished. My goal for August will be to change that. But where to start?
I am taking requests
If any of these titles seem more interesting to you than others leave me a comment and I will play your request. Look forward to hearing your thoughts on the “playlist” below.
I worked/lived in Delaware for almost a decade. As a transplant and Chicagoan at heart I have heard all the “Dela-where?” jokes and made some as well. But after ten years hanging out in the state where they ask which high school you went to right after they meet you I can tell you that all those jokers are right. Delaware is small. And when it comes to startups, size matters.
Almost three years ago an idea started to percolate amongst a few of us hanging out in Wilmington. Two guys who were young and naive enough to think that co-working could work in downtown Wilmington had brought a number of us together periodically for what would eventually become our 400+ member Delaware Tech Meetup. But then it was a much smaller group that would meet to share stories, practice pitching and dream about what the startup ecosystem in Delaware could be.
One of the great strengths of working in a small business-focused state is the access you have to key people. From business leaders to government you are never further than one degree of separation from the person you need. We saw this in spades when an eduction focused startup came to talk to us. After determining that getting to decision makers in school districts was on their critical path it was a short step to arrange for a meeting with both the head of the largest school district and the Secretary of Education for the state.
This past Monday, three years later, I joined a group of well over 150 people to re-launch a newly renovated, larger co-working space. Surrounded by representatives from all parts of the ecosystem we listened as Governor Markell spoke about the importance, the progress and the contribution of the initiative to date. Led by Mona Parikh this initiative has grown well beyond our initial discussions. With growing corporate support and an ever improving cadre of startups Delaware is defining its identity amongst the I95 corridor. No longer will Wilmington be just the stop between DC and Philly for Geeks on a Train.
I left Delaware soon after we established the Public/Private partnership with the state that defines our official launch in 2012. I have returned many times to share my learnings from new home in New Orleans and support the various events that have led up to this point. Each time it has been eye-opening to see the growth, the new faces, the enthusiasm. While I will continue to make New Orleans my home I will aways be only a call away for my Start It Up Delaware family. “A catalyst for dreamers” is an appropriate mission for the coming years and a great recognition that this all started with a bunch of dreamers.
Thanks are due to many but here are a few that I want to personally call out from the early days.
- Wes Garnett and Steve Roetteger – Thank you for being crazy enough to build us our first clubhouse.
- Brian Sowards – Thank you for your vision and spark.
- Brad Wason – Thank you for taking the leap of faith so early (and often).
- Tim McIntosh – Thank you for being my sanity check and wingman for much of this ride.
- Jeff Rollins & Lee Mikles – Thank you for be willing to listen to me and trusting me enough to join and lead the board.
- Dan Freeman – For being the best university partner we could have asked for and for building the pipeline of entrepreneurs with the Horn program.
- Mona Parikh – Thank you for leading by example and being the best connector the community could ask for.
- The Net DE community – You guys rock!
If you are ever in Delaware come join us HERE