You usually hear a lot about the early days of being a founder CEO, but I'm going to try to write more about the days of being a founding CEO as a company grows. The articles will probably be shorter and more frequent. Earlier today, someone asked me on Formspring what the most under-rated quality of a CEO is and I responded very simply with this: The Ability To Let Go. Late last week, I was lucky enough to get advice from a very successful CEO that told me: only focus on tasks that you yourself can specifically do. If it's something someone else can do and it constantly eats into your time, then you should find someone to fill that role if you have the resources. It resonated with me heavily as I find Onswipe growing faster than ever before and thinking about what tasks I should be taking on every day.
You Can't Do It All Yourself
As a growing company, there is absolutely zero chance that you can do it all yourself. Even if you had 24 hours in a day, there's no way to do it all. Eventually deals will start to take time, hiring will take numerous interviews, product will be in different divisions, and more. You need to realize this and find someone who can start taking over the burdens. As entrepreneurial CEOs, it's in our DNA to feel like we can do everything. The great CEOs realize they actually can't do everything all by themselves.
Find People Smarter Than Yourself
The best way to do this is to find people that are way smarter than you in the area of expertise. A CEO has to do a great job at setting the vision for the organization and orchestrating it. When your company starts expanding, you need to find people that are just way better at the specific task than yourself. It might be cutting deals with partners in BD or finding top notch engineers. You have to find those that are smarter than you.
Make Sure You Set The Vision
Make sure you set the vision as CEO before bringing people on board. Everyone needs to have cult like zeal in the mission and exact vision of what you're building. If they are not on the same page, it will ultimately destroy your belief that they carry it out when you defer your trust to them. Take the time to make sure everyone is on the same page with the entity that is your startup.
Trust and Defer
The phrase I use internally a lot is "Trust and Defer". I trust certain people with making decisions on certain areas of the company and defer to them for domain expertise. I do my job well by setting the overall course and vision for the company, so the decisions within their domain expertise fit within those confines. You have to trust the people that join your company with your life because that's literally what your product is.
It Will Hurt
There's no way around this. It's going to be a weird feeling if you're used to bootstrapping and running a company with 1-2 cofounders. When you're all of a sudden 10+ people working across the globe, it hits you in the face. It's okay, this is normal. If you've found people you trust and are smarter than yourself, it will work out better than you ever expected.
We're growing faster than I ever thought. A few weeks ago we got to the point where there are teams handling BD and teams that are handling Engineering. I've learned to make sure that the vision is set and make sure that I'm focusing my time solely on the things that solely I can do.
There are over a hundred seed accelerators in the world and many more are popping up every year. In New York City, there are going to be 6 more this summer on top of TechStars NYC. The common thread amongst all of these programs is what is now known as "Demo Day", which is a single day (sometimes days) where a number of investors are put in to a room to watch all of the participating companies present for 6-8 minutes. Recently, my company OnSwipe was a part of the inaugural Demo Day in NYC for TechStars. Everyone has been asking me how we prepared and put together our demo day presentation. Without further adieu, here's how. You may want to watch the recording of my presentation below first: Actual Presentation
Put together slides with very few words
You should not have the audience focused on your slides, but your words during the presentation. Bullets are an absolute no-no throughout the presentation. My presentation had one sentence at most per slide with an accent color highlighting what was a really important word for the audience to understand. The slides should set the tone for what you are currently talking about to keep everyone on track. Stay away from transitions or overly flashy slides. They were cool when you were in junior high, but don't add a lot when talking to a large crowd.
Slide Deck (some things might be out of place due to 2 animations)
Make Sure There Is A Screen In Front Of You On Stage
The worst thing you will ever do is look back at the screen. This makes you seem unprepared, especially during demos. It also makes everyone think you didn't prepare with the person, usually your cofounder, that is controlling the slides. You don't want to look down at it too much, but it's there in case shit happens. In a split second you could be on the wrong slide or miss a beat. Instead of turning around to look back confused at the screen, you can properly pause and guide the presentation back to order while looking ahead. It's a small subtle, yet useful prop. Make sure it's there.
Practice, Practice, Practice
I practiced religiously before going on stage. Dave Tisch and Dave Cohen probably wanted to murder me when I skipped the public pitch practices with all the teams, but I was secretly practicing at home or late at night. I look at a presentation a lot like product. It just needs to be broken and tweaked a lot. It isnt' ready for public consumption or scrutiny until you've fine tuned it enough. Make sure you practice until no end. It's what makes you comfortable and confident.
This might just be my style, but you need to be bold...very bold. You are going to be presenting with 10+ other companies or even more that day. Investors and press get antsy very fast. When was the last time you could sit through 5 hours of pitches easily? By being bold, you can give a great refreshing jolt to the crowd and pique their interest. It's also great to stand out with a ton of press in the crowd as they will want to do an interview with you afterwards. "Be so good they cannot ignore you."
Speak in tweetable soundbites
People love to tweet live events and demo days are no different. Inside of the room, you will have a great group of influential people that can send your message out to the right people. The thing is, they can't send out the entire presentation, they can only send out 140 characters at a time. In our case, we had 3 tweetable soundbites that became well known afterwards. These weren't by happenstance, but planned well in advance:
"Apps Are Bullshit"- opening slide that set the tone for presentation.
The best way to do a demo day type presentation is to put the entire delivery into three different acts. Entrepreneurship and delivering a presentation is absolutely no different than theater. You should look at your delivery as a spectacle that enlightens those in the audience, not a typical slide deck pitch.
Act I - The Setup Setup the enemy for the entire presentation, the elevator pitch, and the big vision business. It should be under 90 seconds and even that is something I found difficulty with. The goal here is to give context, hook the audience in, and get to a killer demo.
Act II- The Demo This is what really matters. Too many companies approach demo day as investor day, instead of showing what they've built off in-depth. Screenshots are a no-no and sadly, pre-recorded videos seem to be the way to go due to Wifi. Show off a logical progression of what your product does. Nothing gets someone ready to write a check like a great demo.
Act III- The Execution This is where you talk about what you have accomplished and where you are going. I usually like to talk about a few things: Press, current investors, business development deals, and the team you have been able to attract. This shows where you have been and how you are able to execute as a team. You should also make sure that you talk about what's next. When are you launching? are you raising money? what is the big credo and philosophy behind the company? Tell the world why you exist and why you are going to take over the world.
Get to the demo as fast as possible
This was the biggest lesson we learned through practice. The first version of the presentation took 2:30 to get to the demo. That was an absolute eternity. Even now, I could have shortened things by a good 30 seconds or so. Make sure you get to the demo as fast as you can. The other side of it is, making sure that you give enough context to the audience.
Have an "enemy"
We set out to say app store apps for content publications like the Wall Street Journal and Wired were just complete bullshit. We were very bold in this statement, but we backed it up with undeniable fact. If you are going to make an enemy, make sure you have the weapons to combat them. You have to seem sure when declaring ane enemy and have a logical argument.
Make sure the big long term vision is known
Too many investors and potential partners will think about the present since that is mostly what you are showing. Spend time talking about the big vision in terms of product and in terms of business model. Your product is often different than your business model. ie- Google's product is search, but it really makes money through advertising. Sometimes you may not know what this big vision is, but if you do, make sure that is known. Most people thought our big vision was: be a WordPress plugin that makes things pretty. We made it clear that our goal is to power the advertising in a world where content is consumed with tablets, not point+click devices.
I'm an outlier here, but the pink shirt went over well. It made me hard to ignore and ended up color coordinating the presentation. Trivia: The onswipe pink colors come from that shirt, not the other way around. Make yourself memorable with appearance. People will remember your ability to command an audience and that can often be done through how you dress. Once again, demos and presentations are not pitches, but theater.
Have an "ask"
Most companies go into a demo day with an intention of raising money. It might be something direct with an exact dollar amount or it might just be an announcement that you're playing around in the waters. Either way, make sure you have an ask that lets the world know your fundraising plans. The biggest problem in entrepreneurship is the fact, that most entrepreneurs just don't ask. If you have existing fundraising commits, let the world know who is in and for how much if possible. My buddies at thinknear did this by letting the world know IA Ventures was in for 400k of a 1.2 million round.
Show Off Social Proof
Social proof is one of the best things that you can portray during a presentation. Do not be arrogant or cocky, but certainly be confident. Show the world who is behind you and what you have accomplished. Nothing gets an investor more excited than tangible traction, social proof from their peers, and the ability to execute.
Things that didn't work along the way
We spent a lot of time getting to the demo. We originally had a lot of social proof and big vision talk before the demo. That got people antsy. Let the demo be your proving ground and then
Don't try to practice in full run throughs at first. Go act by act, screwing up along the way.
Do not use anything from your investor slide deck. Even though we have never used a slide deck to raise money, we still sort of have one. I dusted it off from the Series Seed and tried to insert some slides. It just doesn't work for demo day. Demo day pitches should be looked at a lot differently than your traditional investor pitch at the end of the day. Demo day pitches really appeal to three broad crowds, with some companies focusing in on one more than the other: press, investors, and potential partners.
In short, this was the most important day of my life and a huge success. The only downside, is that it meant TechStars is officially over. You should apply to the program , and if you get in, hopefully this post will be of use.
Have you presented at a "Demo Day" before? Any tips of your own that you'd like to share?