Answer the Damn Question

An investor asks you a simple, direct question: “Have you ever lost a customer because they couldn’t figure out how to install your product?” Your answer might be: “No, that has never happened.” Or maybe: “Yes, that has happened once.” It was a short answer, but you answered the damn question. This is where it often goes wrong. Then comes the dreaded pause. You don’t like that pause very much. It makes you uncomfortable. So you fill the silence by veering off into other topics or offering up more information: “We’ve never lost a customer for that reason, because our product is incredibly easy to install.” Pause. “So that’s just not really the reason we lose customers at all.” Wait. How did that happen? Now you’ve brought up an issue the person wasn’t even asking about. You have created an entirely new line of questioning, when you could have simply said, “No.” Or, “That has only happened once out of 400 customers, so it’s definitely not a trend.” The next question is probably going to be "Can you tell me more about how you do lose customers?" That pause isn’t by accident. It’s a tactic many investors use. After you provide the short, direct answer, a savvy questioner will often remain silent for a moment, hoping to get you to say something beyond the answer you’ve already given. So when you’re asked a question, simply answer the question. If the investor wants to follow up with a related question, that’s great. But learn to be comfortable with the inevitable pause that will occur after you give a direct response to a direct question. You don’t need to fill the silence by elaborating on all kinds of other things or volunteering a bunch of additional information. Don't create the next issue and remember that less is more. Just answer the damn question.

The Purpose of Pitching in Public

Your precious public pitch. You prepare, practice, polish and finally, present it. I know, that's a lot of "P" words. Here's one more: Purpose. Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 8.33.12 PM Never lose track of the reason you're pitching to begin with. You aren’t pitching investors in order to get them to make a decision. The purpose of your pitch is to get a meeting. Keep that goal on the forefront of your brain as you create, practice and deliver your pitch. Nobody’s going to walk up to you immediately after your presentation and write a check. Okay, so that does happen occasionally--we’ve seen it a handful of times at Techstars Demo Day. But the majority of the time, the purpose of your pitch is to get that next meeting with an investor. And how do you get a meeting? You get it by being awesome. As an investor, if I'm thinking about potentially working with someone, I'm going to spend some time with them. I want to see how they interact and figure out if they have what it takes to execute on their idea. But the thing that often compels me to meet with them in the first place is simply this: Do they seem awesome? I watch lots and lots of pitches and meet with tons of entrepreneurs, and it is just way more fun to meet with awesome people. So use your pitch to show me that you’re awesome. Show me that your product is awesome. Show me that you can describe it awesomely. Within the first minute of your presentation, you should really draw me in and get me excited about this big opportunity. Help me clearly understand what you’re doing, show me that you have momentum and tell me about your traction. Like I said, investors typically aren’t going to make a decision on the spot. But if you can do those things and demonstrate that you and your product are awesome, you’re much more likely to get that next meeting, where you can share more information and go deeper. So how do you use your pitch to show that you and your company are downright awesome? Bring some energy and show your enthusiasm for what you’re doing. Always be yourself. Whatever makes you particularly interesting and awesome, find a way to showcase that through your presentation. Maybe you have a great sense of humor, a unique perspective or a dramatic story to tell. Show that you truly understand your market and why you're passionate about what you've built. Finally, practice your pitch over and over so you’ll be able to deliver it with complete confidence. If you can combine being interesting with an amazing product and/or significant traction, there's a good chance you’ll have investors thinking: “I really want to spend more time with these people. They're awesome. I’d love to learn more about them and what they’re doing."  That's exactly the reaction you want. That is how you get the meeting. Hopefully it will be an awesome meeting. That's why you're pitching in the first place.

No Vision, All Drive

It was pretty fun to sit on stage recently with Techstars co-founder David Brown to tell our story in front of the newest class of Techstars founders in Boulder. Since it was our first time on stage together talking about how we built and sold our first company, Pinpoint Technologies, we put together a few short videos from the talk that highlight our entrepreneurial adventures. Together we’ve had successes and failures over the last 25 years, and we’ve laughed a ton along the way. Here’s the quick story: in 1993, we founded our first company, Pinpoint Technologies, which grew from a basement startup to a successful multinational company with $50 million in annual sales and over 250 employees. Later we founded a company together called iContact, which failed (you may have heard of the one that was successful - we sold them the domain name after we failed). And finally, we founded Techstars together and it seems to be doing OK. David recounts our experiences together, from founding Pinpoint to coming back as Managing Partner at Techstars just one year ago, in the updated and re-released version of his book, No Vision All Drive. These short videos give you a glimpse into David’s book, which exemplifies what it was like for two young entrepreneurs who knew nothing about building a business to grow their startup into a real company with a successful exit. The reason we started Techstars together was based on our experiences together. We sold Pinpoint Technologies for half as much as we later learned that the acquirer was willing to pay. Since then I've seen 48 Techstars companies exit. I've seen that pattern play itself back, and in some cases we've been able to double exit values for our founders. Sure wish we had that help when we sold our first company successfully! Check out the videos and if you like what you see, grab a copy of No Vision All Drive, just released this week.

Hurry – Kickstarter for Knee Deep #boulderflood

"Knee Deep" is a documentary that explores the tipping point for taking action. It's based on what happened here in Boulder last September, with the floods. It would be a great thing for you to go and back right now with a few bucks, so they can make the documentary and inspire others. Deadline to back is July 25.

Kansas City here we come

The Demo Day for the inaugural class of the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator powered by Techstars is Thursday, June 12 at 5:30pm CST in Kansas City. Three of the four Techstars founders (me, Brad Feld, and David Brown) will be talking about the origins of Techstars and how the mentorship driven accelerator model is impacting communities at the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator demo day on the afternoon of June 12th in Kansas City. The event is at the beautiful Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and unlike most Techstars demo days we are completely opening this one to the community because the venue is so spacious. There's a great deal of excitement about these ten mobile health companies in the Sprint Accelerator which Techstars is powering. Fast Company has a nice writeup about why this program is really special and how it could impact mobile health in a big way. You can RSVP and get other details about the event here. If you're in the area, come hang out. If not, jump on a plane, train, or bus. We hope to see you there!

Africa Online: Check out “The Shift”

Technology is changing lives -- even saving lives -- in Africa, the world’s second most populous continent. For entrepreneurs, this also presents an opportunity of epic proportions.

In Rwanda, for example, where electricity is available to less than a quarter of the population, more than 60 percent of people now have access to mobile phones. And although only 8 percent of Rwandans are internet users, that number is growing rapidly.

In The Shift: The Entrepreneurs and Companies Bringing Africa Online, my good friend Elizabeth Gould who produced the Techstars documentary series on Bloomberg TV now reports on some of these inspiring stories of ingenuity and entrepreneurship in Africa. A production of BloombergTVAfrica, this will be an ongoing series about technology and entrepreneurship across Africa. In the first segment, Rwanda, Kenya and South Africa are featured:

African entrepreneurship has really been moving forward for some time now. A while back I invested in a company called Mobius Motors, which is based in Kenya. Mobius designs, manufactures and sells durable, affordable vehicles designed for typical road terrain, usage and income profiles in the region. The company also makes transport platforms that local entrepreneurs can customize for various transportation businesses.

Here's a second segment about Kenya's mobile money revolution. It's great stuff.

It's exciting to hear about all the development taking place and the lives being improved across Africa, and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the continent. I look forward to upcoming installments of "The Shift" with more compelling stories of the individuals and companies who are creating that future.