If you are at all involved in the startup community, odds are you’ve been to a “Demo Day” or two, either as an audience member or a participant. Formats for these events might vary slightly, but the end goal is to give growth stage startups a platform to pitch to a room full of friendly investors, and the opportunity to meet and start relationships with enough of them to secure new capital.
NVP hosts Demo Days twice a year, as a cornerstone of our NVP Labs accelerator program. Our current cohort, made up of Botmock, Brahmin Solutions, Galaxy.AI, MindRight Health, omnix Labs, Speak2 Software and Speechkit, is now wrapping up and preparing for their chance to shine at our January 15th Demo Day at Audible’s Innovation Cathedral in Newark. (Save the date - more info here!) Founders have been working hard for the past 12 weeks on getting their product perfected, fine tuning their go-to-market strategy, and ramping up their sales machines. Demo Day is the big moment that they get to share all of that with the world - and if they do it well, they will make their case to a room of potential investors, fellow entrepreneurs and corporate decision makers who could be their next big customer.
No pressure, right?
So, how do founders tame the nerves, nail the pitch, stand out to the right people in the audience, and make the most of the follow up? It’s a tall order, but we reached out to some of our best performers and some of our friends in the VC Platform Global Community for tips, tricks and best practices, and here is what they had to say:
1. Practice, Practice, Practice! Alec Thomson, founder and CEO of Riskcast and NVP Labs alumni said, “Practice every chance you get. The NVP team practice sessions were incredibly helpful because our mentors - the partners and expert team - were a great audience and gave valuable feedback that we incorporated. Also - if you are actively raising money at the time of demo day, having some commitments going into the event can take some pressure off.” Alec went on to raise a seed round of $600k following his performance in Spring 2019’s Demo Day.
Didi Dayton, Partner at WING reinforced something our own Managing Partner Tom Wisniewski says to every founder that steps onto our Demo Day stage: “Commit your pitch to writing and practice it until it is memorized.”
2. Be Confident and Stay the Course: Casey Taylor, VP of Network & Development at Digital Currency Group said, “Minor mistakes won’t register to anyone but you, so don’t get tripped up on them. Just take mental note and weave-in missed details where you can. As long as you have it memorized and hit all of your “anchor” phrases, you can rest knowing that your message was delivered.”
Bonnie Halper, Editor in Chief of StartUpOneStop added, “Truth be told, there’s no difference between talking or presenting to 5 people or to 500. You know your stuff. You know what you have to say. Your audience is there because they want to hear what you have to say. And who can tell your story better than you? You’ve got this!”
3. Be aware of your own habits and body language: Oksana Salamaszek, Program Director at Highline Beta suggested downloading a virtual speech app to simulate a TED type conference. “You can upload your pitch deck and it will track your umms, and pauses and give you feedback on your presentation.”
(NVP note: If you are looking for a digital speech coach that can do this, check out our portfolio company Orai!)
4. Standout without showboating: Demo Day is about putting your best foot forward, but it can be hard to strike a balance between strutting your stuff and turning people off by putting on too much of show. Shawn Broderick, General Partner at SOSV, says true authenticity can help you stand out to investors. “Especially authenticity of commitment to the company/vision and authenticity of passion to the space are nearly impossible to fake, and they're not very easy to 'exude' without looking or sounding either fake or silly.”
Rachel West, Director of Business Development with RevTech Ventures added, “The ability to demonstrate exceptional traction with confidence and charisma, while maintaining the humility to understand the significance of their team” is what catches her eye.
5. Engage the audience: A pitch doesn’t have to be a one way presentation. In fact, it works better if it feels like a conversation, with an engaged audience. Tessa Battistin is the current Director of Platform at Rosecliff Ventures, and was previously with the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator where she put on two, 800+ person demo days each year. She suggests that a founder will stand out “if they can use pauses to build suspense during their pitch. Founders that rush through their time on stage because they are anxious to get off stage, are very difficult to absorb information from. Investors tune out this type of talking as background noise. Measured pauses, questions to the audience, and accessible, human-centered examples are three great ways to add humanity to any pitch.”
6. If they are laughing with you, you are in good shape: Humor can be a powerful tool in any presentation. Benjamin Joffe, Partner at SOSV's hardware accelerator HAX says, “Include 1 or 2 pieces of humor. That's a bit tricky but triggering positive emotions will help people like you, and will make you enjoy the pitch more.” If you enjoy making the pitch, chances are your audience will enjoy hearing it, and that’s a good place to be.
7. Make follow up easy! Putting your contact info on the last slide is common practice - but Dom Perri, Partner at Vertex Ventures also suggests that welcoming audience feedback from the presentation might encourage some additional outreach. Perri added, “Let people know your schedule and upcoming events you'll be at - for example if you're planning to be at CES or Google Next, SF and NYC next month - tell the audience - they may want to meet with you there!”
8. Keep that Demo Day momentum going: Post presentation, don’t skip the networking. Tessa Battistin from Rosecliff Ventures recommends having a volunteer note names and emails while you field conversations with interested investors. “Use this email list to build momentum, and stack meetings up quickly in the days after demo day. Send notes reminding folks how long it’s been – ‘Interest has been overwhelming since my pitch at XYZ Demo Day, I have only a few meeting slots left for tomorrow – are you available to discuss the details of our upcoming round?’ And, bonus tip - use any demo-day video or audio collateral to rekindle investor conversations if they run stale!”
9. Demo Day is not just about the pitch today, it’s about the pitch tomorrow: Demo Day is all about attracting new capital - BUT if an investor declines to move forward, don’t be discouraged. Explore other ways to connect, and don’t be afraid to drop your guard a little. Building personal relationships with investors can open doors in the future. Rachel West with RevTech Ventures suggested that founders “find ways to help potential partners/funders/customers outside of the scope of your startup without an expectation of return. Helping first is a powerful relationship building tool.”
10. Treat Demo Day as a milestone. It is the end of one chapter, and the start of another. Sam Caucci, Founder and CEO of 1Huddle - an NVP portco and NVP Labs alum - says, “In the moment you may be overwhelmed or worn out from all the prep, but remember that your team is a part of the journey. You should make it a point to celebrate with a team meal, a night out or something to recognize that this is an accomplishment that will be one of many more to come."