Jason Calacanis’ 20 secret tips for pitch perfection (from the Lexity Live Sales LAUNCH launch)

Screen Shot 2013-03-15 at 1.16.04 AM50 startups launched at the LAUNCH festival this week, and if you watch the videos, it feels like each one of them channeled late Billy Mays, the legendary TV pitchman. So, are great founders born great presenters?

Turns out, behind the scenes, Jason and Tyler Crowley spent tens of hours working with every startup, helping them hone, and sometimes rewrite, their pitches. In-person, on-Skype, on-stage – until every startup sounded pitch perfect.

Lexity was one of these 50 startups who benefited, and launched to great applause! So what were the top lessons we startups learned from them? Here they are.

Top 3 Tips

  1. Show your product in the first 15 seconds. 6 years of data says – the audience gives you exactly 15 seconds before they turn to Facebook or Email. Nothing engages more then a picture or demo of your product, so show it to them quickly!
  2. Practice makes perfect. Dropbox got a 5/10 at their first rehearsal. The second time it was 8/10 – and a 9.5/10 by the time they got on stage. So keep practicing! (Lexity itself went from a 5.5 to… you be the judge)
  3. Things will go wrong. So, always be prepared. Have a full video of your entire demo, so you can run it and narrate over it, if need be. In fact, Lexity’s own demo hit WiFi snags while presenting, but the video recovery worked well.

Choosing the right content

  • Tell a story. Pick a customer, give him/her a real name and an actual background, and tell a story of how they’d use your product, and why it makes a difference to their lives.
  • Show your product. Use 2 slides at most – instead, focus on showing off your product. Do a couple of different use cases. Demo a signup flow if it drives the simplicity message. And, mention pricing so the market positioning is clear.
  • Include: testimonials. Exclude: trigger words. If you have prominent users with actual usage photos/stories/quotes, use them! On the other end, avoid trigger words like ‘it’s entirely legal!’ – leave that for Q&A 🙂
  • Use context. If possible, use a familiar context. Some startups used Jason or the LAUNCH conference as context, Knowyo even used a picture of the presenter from the pitch right before them!

Structuring the delivery

  • Address the Elephant. What does the audience notice most when they’re looking at your demo? Is it a big, unexplained number in the middle? A large colorful icon you haven’t talked about? Explain things in the sequence they’ll be noticed, or at least address the elephant in the room quickly.
  • Humor hurts good products. If your product is good, let it speak for itself. Humor works, but in low doses. A lot, and the audience starts wondering if the presenter is compensating for the lack of a good product.
  • Identify the WOW. At what point in your presentation does the audience go WOW? If there isn’t one, make one happen. If there is one, make sure to make to build up to the crescendo!

Navigating the Presentation

  • Ctrl-swipe to zoom in. On a mac, you can hold down Control and swipe up or down with two fingers to zoom in and out. Use this to zoom the screen on what you want the audience to focus on.
  • Use Text expansion to enter text quickly. On a mac, program text shortcuts to write out long sentence you’re supposed to type, by typing a macro like ‘xxx’. This even works on the iPhone. Reliable, and quick.
  • Use Reflector.app to mirror a smartphone. Instead of relying on a video camera or ‘elmo’ to show interactions done on a phone, use the Reflector app, which display the contents of your iPhone on a Mac, and then project the Mac instead.
  • Or turn up the brightness. If you do end up projecting up the video of a mobile phone or tablet, remember to turn up the brightness, so the picture quality looks good.

On Stage!

  • Involve the audience (only if you’re sure!) Starting the presentation off with an audience question works really well – but only if at least 15% participate. If nobody does, it looks bad, and could throw off your rhythm. Use with caution!
  • Address judges by name. When answering questions, try to use their name. For some reason, all of us like the sound of our names 🙂
  • Always sound confident. You don’t have all the answers – but the judges don’t need to know that! Think fast, be confident, but always give a specific answer.
  • Answer within 15 seconds. Answer as many questions as you can – and answer each within 15 seconds. Hard question? You can move to the next one quickly. Soft question? Answer it quickly, and drop the mike on the floor. #BOOM

These are the top lessons I learned – but there were so many more. Jason and Tyler really did a great job, and I can’t wait till next year!

What’s your best tip for doing pitch presentations? Share it below!

Amit Kumar
Founder & CEO, Lexity


What makes startups work, or not work, in India? 5 founders share their secrets (highlights)

Lexity Labs started in Bangalore mid-2011, and we’ve been growing leaps and bounds since. It’s a core technology center for us – no outsourcing balderdash here – and we recruit top researchers and technologist from all over India.

To coincide with my visit to this office, Lexity organized two talks on entrepreneurship, in Delhi and Bangalore. The startup ecosystem in India is really taking off, and we are doing our part in helping it grow!

@ IIT Delhi – Rajul and Amit on Startups across the time/space continuum

Rajul Garg and I were roommates at IIT Delhi, and took different routes in our entrepreneurial journey. He’s now with Sunstone Business School, having started what’s now GlobalLogic right after school, in India; while I completed a masters program, and worked at a few different companies, before starting Lexity in the US.

We had a healthy audience, and covered a lot of topics. A few tidbits:

  • We discussed how there was a lot of investor interest in ecommerce startups in India last year, but there’s been more scrutiny of these businesses in the recent months.
  • What’s ‘hot’ in the startup zeitgeist really depends on, unfortunately, what the current hype cycle is. When outsourcing companies were growing leaps and bounds, a lot of startups popped up in that space. These days, the same story is being repeated in eCommerce.
  • Pivots are natural, and sometimes dramatic – one of Rajul’s companies went from a product company to a services company, while the other started as a services operation, and ended up building a product.
  • Mobile startups in India face the prospect of working with telco operators, know to be tough negotiators. You can control your destiny better with an app-oriented mobile startup, but distribution is still a tough problem.
  • Starting a company right out of school has the big advantage of a low burn rate – you can sustain yourself for much longer as you figure things out. Once you have a family, this becomes much harder to do (but not impossible).
  • Traditionally, India businesses have been averse to paying much for B2B products. As a result, B2B enterprise companies haven’t really taken off in India

@ Claytopia, Bangalore – Amiya, Anshuman and Amit on Building Startups

Founders of 3 hot startups – Zipdial (Amiya Pathak), MyGola (Anshuman Bapna) and Lexity (Amit) came together to chat in an intimate setting about what it really takes to do a startup, especially in India.

We had a very lively discussion with the audience – here are a few highlights.

  • When starting out, err on the side of sharing more, rather than less. Talking to people helps make ideas stronger, as each successive critique forces you to refine the idea further and solidify the pitch, feature, or product.
  • Valley-returned founders definitely miss the sense of urgency and excitement of Silicon Valley – simple things like overhearing other founders on Caltrain discussing their progress, and getting motivated by it.
  • Indian ‘jugaad’ is the name of the game – when faced with constant power cuts, MyGola packed up their bags and went to work out of Sri Lanka for a few weeks. Now, it’s an annual tradition!
  • All the founders acknowledged, to some surprise, that they always have a Plan B/Plan C tucked away in their back pockets. While you might be unflinchingly focussed on executing on Plan A, it’s also your responsibility to know what the various strategic options are, and keep them warm.
  • It’s natural, expected, and kinda important to take your time finding the right co-founders. You’re looking for someone with complementary skills, and make sure to ‘date’ for a reasonable period of time before committing.
  • Food – it’s important! Breaking bread together brings teams closer, and has all sorts of positive side-effects.
  • Startups often misdirect casual observers about what their most profitable products are, or downplay features that caused them to take off. In fact, often, the first products or features totally bomb.
  • Successful entrepreneurs in India don’t habitually share their stories, and every wave of startups has to learn from the same mistakes again and again. We agreed that talks like these are invaluable in spreading the knowledge and helping budding startups.

We really enjoyed sharing our experiences with entrepreneurs and students of the startup ecosystem. Stay tuned for more such talks in the future!

Amit – @akumar

8+1 principles that guide Lexity (aka, why we are the way we are)

We founded Lexity two years ago to build a different kind of an advertising/marketing company. While we’ve iterated our product, tried different pricing models, and watched experiments become full-fledged products in their own right – the core principles underlying Lexity haven’t changed.

We’re a fat startup – not measured by dollars in the bank (though we have a few), but by the grandness of the ambition, rigorous thought process, and relentless progress towards a clearly articulated goal. We believe that fundamental disruption in an industry as huge and well-established as advertising can’t come from feature companies (Dave McClure be damned).

In this post, I lay down some of our guiding principles – not only what we do, but as importantly, what we don’t do. All out in the open – for your feedback!

The complete list

  1. Small retailers first
  2. eCommerce first
  3. Simple, simple, simple
  4. Fair, affordable, upfront pricing
  5. Full transparency on ROI – and in real time
  6. Complete solutions for every ad channel
  7. Customized multi-channel marketing
  8. Relentless automation
  9. Bonus: Global ground-up

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