Demo Day Advice - From a VC Turned Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs - congratulations on approaching Demo Day!  You'll soon be surrounded by interesting people, inundated by emails, and distracted by countless potential conversations that you'll need to prioritize carefully.  Based on several years of experience and more than a handful of “Demo Days”, including the Alchemist Accelerator’s, here are a couple of tips I hope you’ll find useful:

1)  Remember that 5 Minute Demo Day presentations are NOT enough time for listeners to decide whether to invest or not.  Your goal for the Demo Day presentations, therefore, is to attract the attention and trigger the NEXT CONVERSATIONS with the individuals in the audience that could be the best sources of feedback / investment ($) / advice / or customer introductions.

  • Sometimes all of these dimensions happen at once, usually feedback and "advice" happens first as a precursor to investment or introductions.
  • None of these dimensions, however, will happen if the listener (for whatever reason) decides they are not interested in having a follow-up conversation.
  • If you think someone or some firm could be a good fit for you, then be proactive in getting their attention.

2)  The demo day presentations are only 5 minutes, if not shorter!  The short format requires you to present in "broad brush strokes" that capture the most important highlights.  Prioritize what content to present and what details to highlight most efficiently.

  • Sometimes the slides you create for "full" 30/60 minute conversations with investors are good ones to reuse.  More frequently, it helps to edit and consolidate top-level takeaways or "aha moments".
  • Pay special attention to feedback from listeners who are hearing your pitches for the first time, domain experts who know your space, and non-experts who don’t know your space.  Each of them will give you different types of feedback, and you'll need to decide who to optimize for carefully.

3)  From my experience as a VC and angel investor, the most important questions to address within an abbreviated Demo Day pitch to trigger follow-ups from the right prospective investors are as follows:  
a.  Why now?

  • Compelling answers to this usually involve something significant changing in the market, with new/different customers or pain points that are growing, or new technology breakthroughs enabling problems to be solved, or something else encouraging different behaviors (such as government regulation or customer psychology).  
  • All of you are smart and talented.  Articulate (in simple terms to someone who is not an expert in your field) why you are excited and passionate enough to be dedicating your life to your companies right now.

b.  Why you?

  • The big opportunities and major inflection points across industries will be discovered by several, (usually many) different teams. What makes your insights unique or authentic?  
  • What experience or exposure do you have to the domain?  Have you or your co-founders been entrepreneurs before, or have you had other exceptional experiences in your life that will make you succeed when others give up?

c.  Target Market.

  • What subset of the market and subset of customers are you going to start targeting first, and how big can that "slice of the pie" get as you grow your product / team / business?  
  • Most VC's focus and talk about Billion dollar markets because its difficult to build large businesses in small markets, but it's rare that new products and new companies can target actual Billion dollar markets from the start.  Usually, whether limited by feature set, market awareness, or geography, most startups have to start by focusing on small pieces of big markets to grow into bigger markets and bigger companies.
  • I prefer to see a tighter focus and deeper understanding of smaller markets as precursors to bigger / quickly expanding markets rather than claims to HUGE markets that are crowded with competition or demonstrate lack of focus or deep understanding of target customers.

    d.  Product (or service). What are you building, creating, or enabling?

    • A single sentence that clearly articulates (again in simple terms that someone who is not an expert in your field can understand) is best.  That single sentence will keep evolving, and it will require more detail when you explain it to people with domain expertise. Even so, you should aim to distill the core trajectory of your company into to a single sentence that can be remembered.
    • What signs of customer validation, or market adoption, or business potential do you have?

    e.  Differentiation. What is defensible now and into the future?

    • What is the strategy for expanding, and what will become the more UNIQUE and compelling dimensions to your product offering vs. inevitable competition?
    • Are you 2x better or 10x better than the alternatives? Across what dimensions and subject to what assumptions?

    e.  Business Model.

    • At the seed stage you don’t need to have the world’s most comprehensive business model, nor a combination of 3 different business models.  You do, however, need to have some ideas on how you might start to capture the value or benefits that you provide.
    • Again, what signs of customer validation or business potential do you see? Deep understanding of how much customers are paying for alternatives, or inferior solutions, or notable competitors in the market are good proxies.

    Overall, strong Demo Day presentations usually weigh heavily towards addressing <Why now> + <Why you> + <Target Market>, with lighter treatments of <Product> + <Differentiation> + <Business Model> (due to time constraints).  Follow-up conversations, and deeper diligence from potential investors will go deeper into the areas of <Why you> + <Product> + <Differentiation> + <Business Model>.
    You can identify individuals/VCs who are a better "fit" for you on the basis of how well they already understand <Why now> + <Target Market>, and how deep they can dive into discussing the other areas. Individuals/VCs who don’t already share your opinions regarding the <Why now> and who don’t ask thoughtful questions about the other areas are usually dead ends, or will require a lot of time to be convinced.
    4) Have fun and stay positive!  Prioritize your time and scheduling of follow-up conversations!  The Demo Day pitches and many conversations that will follow are a unique and special time for you as entrepreneurs.  Build relationships, follow-up with the most relevant potential sources of advice or funding. Don’t let the many NOs and frequent radio silences you will encounter discourage you from progressing up the paths you are on.  You are privileged to see opportunities where others are blind, and courageous to climb routes that others are too scared to explore.

    About Luis Robles

    Startup advisor & Angel Investor, Blockchain enthusiast, Experienced Company Builder & VC Investor (previously @ Sequoia Capital). Co-Founder, VP Products & Marketing at Diamanti. Knowledgeable about enterprise businesses, datacenter infrastructure, cloud computing, distributed + open source software, big data, IOT. Senior Product Manager and early engineer at VMware. BS and MS degrees in Computer Science from Stanford + an MBA from Harvard.
    About the Alchemist Accelerator
    Alchemist is a venture-backed initiative focused on accelerating the development of seed-stage ventures that monetize from enterprises (not consumers). The accelerator’s primary screening criteria is on teams, with primacy placed on having distinctive technical co-founders. We give companies around $36K, and run them through a structured 6-month program heavily focused on sales, customer development, and fundraising. Our backers include many of the top corporate and VC funds in the Valley—including Khosla Ventures, DFJ, Cisco, and Salesforce, among others. CB Insights has rated Alchemist the top program based on median funding rates of its grads (YC was #2), and Alchemist is perennially in the top of various Accelerator rankings. The accelerator seeds around 75 enterprise-monetizing ventures / year. Learn more about applying today.