I am ambivalent about startup pitch events. There are a lot of them nowadays. Many would say this is a great thing. Some talk about how it exposes more people to startups. Others cite the fact that they are an outlet to reach investors and customers and recruits. Still others tout the benefits of founders getting out of the building and honing their pitch skills. Regardless of the reason, there are a ton of events these days.
When I first got involved in startups several years ago, there were not so many startup oriented events in the NYC area. Many were paid events where startups had to pay gatekeepers to present in front of a room of pseudo-investors. So pitch events were the one of the few low-key and nominally free opportunities you could socialize and commiserate with other founders. It was more catharsis than pitching. Did anyone ever tell you that startups can be a lonely experience?
I tend not to go to many pitch events anymore. Most are simply a complete and utter waste of time in many cases. It was not something that I really thought about too much though until I read a post called Eradicate the startup pitch event by Paul Orlando. I could not help but do plenty of head nodding.
Pitch events are the fast food restaurants of the startup world. Easy to leave feeling full, but not that nutritious.
If anything, pitch events reinforce the wrong message — that the best place to tell your story is in front of other startup people. That companies can be adequately judged by the way they present themselves, in a few minutes. And that entertaining an audience is as important as figuring out your business.
Startup pitch events have become another sort of entertainment for founders, investors, other startups, bloggers, service providers, and wantrepreneurs. Until Paul’s post however, it never really occurred to me why I found most events banal and empty. The worst tend to be the pitch events with judges that often have little quality input to provide other than barbed responses and witty comments. Just like a fast food meal, you eat a lot of empty calories and not much else.
Are there worthwhile events? Sure, but they are not necessarily “startup” events and it really depends on your objective. For example events, that cater to your potential customers can be great for lead gen. With Enhatch, we focus on vertical markets like Medical Device, so presenting at industry specific events is a better venue for us. If we attend generic “tech startup” events, usually it comes with the potential for customers and press. One solid event we recently pitched at was the New York Enterprise Tech Meetup which tends to attract a mostly corporate audience.
With this in mind, here are some things to consider if the opportunity to pitch your startup comes up:
o Is it even a quality event to begin with? This should be the very first question. Getting invited to pitch is cool, but not if the event itself is lame and the audience not worthwhile.
o Can it help you build your network? If you are just starting out as an entrepreneur, then pitch events can be useful to get your name out there. Otherwise, probably not a great reason to pitch.
o Are you pitching to your core user or customer base? If not, avoid.
o Are you actively recruiting? This is not a bad reason, but if you are looking for coders, most pitch events tend to be devoid of such folks building their own things or attending hackathons.
o Are you launching your product? Again, are you pitching to your core audience? If not, then avoid.
o Is it part of a startup competition? Avoid, most competitions are a major time suck with little upside.
o Does winning the startup competition mean you get a lot of cash? Hell yeah, do it (though “a lot of cash” probably should be qualified).
o Does the “cash prize” simply mean a bunch of services? Meh, depends on what the prizes are. Free AWS credits is useful, most other stuff is only kind of “free” and a chore to cash in on.
o Have you been in a coding cave for the past nine months and haven’t seen the sun since? Go ahead and pitch, your social skills might be rusty and human interaction could help smooth our your rough edges.
o Is it one of the premier tech events in the city? The big ones are covered by the press and get lots of broad exposure (like NYTM in NYC), so it is probably worth it.
o Do you get free drink tickets for pitching? No. What are you, an alcoholic?
o Will the pitching be part of an event featuring a well-known special guest? If industry relevant or gets wide exposure, then it might be worthwhile.
o Is the pitch event part of a longer day or multi-day program? Probably avoid as you will simply get lost in the shuffle. Possibly worth it however if the event is solid and you get in for free because of your participation.
o Are you part of an accelerator and the demo day is coming up? That was why you joined in the first place, right?
o Is it to a room full of investors and not an accelerator demo day? Avoid, no one has ever gotten an investor from pitching at one of those events.
o Do you enjoy getting grilled by people that do not have a clue? Avoid, you do not need to do that to yourself. You need a dose of Kanye West Self-Confidence boosting.
While this list may come off as snarky in some ways, the point I want to drive home is that you should be judicious with your time. That is the one thing that founders have at their disposal, so do not waste it frivolously on events that probably do not move the needle for your startup. If you are going to pitch, pitch wisely and pitch to the right people.
This article was originally published on Strong Opinions, a blog by Birch Ventures for the NYC tech startup community.
Image credit: CC by Jeffrey