10 things to know before your Pitch at STIRR (or anywhere else for that matter)

I went to STIRR again last night (my fourth time), it’s one of the greatest resources for startups in the valley. They’ve a series of events, programs, educational programs and a strong network that helps entrepreneurs learn how to do things right.

One of the great things about STIRR is that entrepreneurs get a chance to have a table to show off their product, they also get a few seconds (it’s timed) to get on stage in front of hundreds of others of founders and VCs to pitch to the audience.

As a media guy at PodTech, I meet many founders of companies, there’s a new CEO or inventor that comes through the doors every other day at our Palo Alto office. I also started a video show focused on Web Strategy, so I’m constantly filtering who would make a good candidate for the show. You can check out my profile to learn more.

The challenge is, many startups have a horrible time pitching or describing their product. This blog Web Strategy, is about being a resource, while I primarily focus on the enterprise space, some of the same exact advice I give Fortune 1000s can be applied to startups, here goes…

Ten things to know before pitching at STIRR (or anywhere else)


1) Don’t start off with “have you ever”

Last night, at least two companies started off their pitch with “Have you ever…”, which is a cliche for “had a hard time chopping carrots, couldn’t open a jar, fallen down and couldn’t get up?” I know as I hear these words as a lead for a pitch, we’re in for a ride.

2) No stunts
This ain’t the circus, it’s business, and there’s money involved here. Putting on a costume, saying something over the top will get you an ‘ahhh’ from the crowd but it’s your business model they care about.

3) Live your word
It’s easy to say something you may regret later, so be careful about your approach to win audience flair. Fortunately, there’s always a chance to make things right.

4) Go “up” messaging

The most savvy speakers can pitch their product or service, without ever mentioning the tools or technology. If you can master this, you’ll be able to progress most of your audience to the demo. By going “up” means that you focus on the market need, user need, business need and tie it to a solution that you offer.

5) You don’t need to lead with the Feature Set
The purpose of speaking at STIRR is to get the attention of the audience, for them to remember you, and for them to be so interested in learning more, they go to your booth to get a demo, or your business card. Like a tease, keep them wanting for more.

6) Let go Mr Founder and CEO!

This is one of the hardest lessons. I know how founders love to baby their websites as their second child, however if you truly love your project, you’ll know when to let go. I’ve seen some founders pitch their product, and boy was it horrible. The passion, or focus on engineering prowess, sometimes doesn’t make for a good general business pitch. Learn to let go, and empower your Marketing dude, or a member of your Board of Directors speak if you are not a good public speaker.

7) Go to STIRR pitch lab, get resources

I love those guys at STIRR, they offer free resources to startups. In my discussions with some of the organizers, I was amazed to hear that not every presenter on stage has taken advantage of the “Pitch Lab” event that STIRR offers the community. Having been a former musician, it’s shocking to fathom getting on stage for a performance of a lifetime, without getting help from the music staff on hand. If you don’t have time, you can always hire a PR consultant who specializes in the startup space for coaching.

8) Practice your pitch

Record yourself in the pitch, time yourself, check your tone, and learn how to speak from your “lungs”. I was a former Trombone player (my final performance was with a band at the Fillmore) and you had to learn how to play by using your diagphram, which pushes the air in a constant and steady flow.

9) Learn the different types of Pitches, esp the Value Statement
The most important thing about a pitch is letting your audience figure out that it’s something they need. This is not about telling them about what they want, but letting them figure it out. It’s easy to talk about features, it’s easy to talk about pain points, but the truly skilled orator will go UP into the value statement for a clean crisp delivery.

Let’s pretend you own a Web company that provides Wine Reviews, let’s call it “whinr.net” that has is collecting reviews of wines, and has many social and community features to it. There’s a variety of different pitches you’ll need to know how to use, and when to use.

  • Pain Pitch: “Have you ever…gone to the store and didn’t know what wine to pick?” (Barf)
  • Feature Pitch: ” Whinr has the largest database of wine records, 2.4 TB to be exact”
  • Value Pitch: “At whinR, people you trust help you find the best wine”
  • Experiential Pitch: “Your face is red with embarrassment… Your hot date is not impressed with you, the wine you picked is horrible”
  • When on stage at STIRR, you’ll probably want to lead with the Value pitch, maybe starting with the Experiential lead. You want to deliver the benefits of the site, not just the attributes or features.

    10) Get more Resources, Learn more
    I’m not an expert in pitching to VCs, but I do understand marketing and messaging, so to get your VC education, here’s a few resources I see online that could help you out:

  • How to Deliver the Pitch – Guy Kawasaki Technique+Blue Rock Tips Version 1.0
  • The VC Pitch Some Tips for Success
  • Perfect pitch: Getting a VC’s attention (and dollars) Expert advice on perfecting your 2-minute spiel
  • Tips for the first VC Meeting
  • VC Pitch Tips
  • Leave a comment if you’ve other tips or observations