The ListHunt Startup Series: Part Five (The Finale)

January 5, 2016
Henry Vasquez

Accelerate or Die: the Techstars Experience (Part 5)

For part one of this series, “The First Day”, click here.
For part two of this series, “Mentor Madness”, click here.
For part three of this series, “Momentum and Metrics”, click here.
For part four of this series, “Silicon Valley wants to Kill Email”, click here.

This is it. Chicago Techstars DemoDay 2015

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Stu hits the stage with a humongous smile on his face. The lights come crashing down and draw the energy of the room into a single point. I know what this means. I’m almost up.

I retreat to my standard pre-stage prep, slapping the life into my face and doing a little tippy-toes Rocky routine with some air punches. I’m never thrilled about using microphones, handheld or the current Britney Spears headset mic. I remind myself of the key points: (1) smile more, (2) keep your eyes moving through the crowd, (3) and keep a steady pace. The stage mechanics aren’t natural behavior by any means. They are the product of repetition and refinement: over 100 practice pitches to be precise (we counted).

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The lead-up to this critical day started on September 14, a whole month before our Demo Day. I couldn’t understand why we needed 30 days to prepare for a 6-minute pitch. I’d done plenty of public speaking. What was so different about this time?

The best way to understand this prep process is to experience it. The second best way is to watch the finished product of those who came before us. So once or twice a week, Troy would show the entire class a Demo Day video from years past, some great and some good. We dissected each video and saw how the speakers incorporated timing, humor, and impressive data into their presentations. Many of the companies who struggled with traction had masterfully told their stories in a favorable light. And those who already had the numbers to back it up used carefully designed charts and infographics to their favor.

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Pretty soon it became clear that this was going to be a shit ton of work. We had to get all of these things right by Demo Day:

  • A great story arc that ties together our key points and leaves investors wanting more
  • A beautiful slide deck that fits our brand aesthetic
  • Detailed word choice that is simple and clear
  • Timing: critical pauses and slide transitions at the right time
  • Annunciation, volume, and emphasis in speech
  • Appropriate body language: posture, gestures, eye movement, hands
  • Energy: projecting confidence, smiling, and connecting with the audience

You realize through this process that it is really a lesson in crafting an excellent product under the extreme pressure of limited time. It’s not about this one business. It’s about pushing us to engage our teams in something challenging and reach our highest potential.

I’ll be honest. I really struggled in the early days of preparation. I couldn’t get a good handle on our story because we were still figuring it out. The Techstars experience had taught us so much, but I lacked the confidence in our vision to quickly articulate it after a few days of storyboarding. This and a clear lack of design talent on our team led us to a rude awakening on the first judgment day. A zero out of 10 score from Brian and Troy. Ouch!

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I knew it was bad, but I had worked around the clock on our pitch for 6 days. Each and every day, Sam and I met with Brian and Troy for 30 minutes to review our story and practice the pitch. Between sessions, we would work tirelessly to apply the feedback and refine our deck. But I hadn’t done enough to really nail the core pitch, and we were spinning our wheels. I needed to bite the bullet and really dig in for an extended session to get this pitch to where it needed to be. That night, after our terrible score, I pushed through until 2am, woke up at 6am, and grinded out a fresh new version of the story. My slides were awful, but it was one complete pitch from end-to-end.

I was so nervous, desperately trying to climb out of the hole that was last place. I ran through the pitch and tried to show some passion in my delivery. As I finished, I paused and looked at Brian and Troy for a reaction.

They loved it!

Well, they didn’t exactly love it, but they were excited to see that we had made so much progress in a day. It was still so flawed, but it was a story we could build on and refine moving forward. Sam and I walked out of that day with a renewed sense of confidence and a commitment to kick ass on October 13.

Over the remaining 3 weeks, we worked around the clock on weekdays and weekends, tweaking, practicing, filming ourselves, memorizing, and doing anything we could to be ready. It was a grueling process that made studying in finals in college look like bush league. There were late nights where I wanted to quit and just buy a plane ticket to Thailand and run away. It brought back memories of all the cross country races and wrestling matches where you want to fall down and die. That tempting voice just says to let it go and give in. But there’s another voice, the one that tells you to stay laser-focused on the finish line, that the end is near. It’s a powerful force that keeps perseverance alive in athletes and entrepreneurs alike.

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When my turn finally came, it was the muscle memory and excitement that took the wheel. I couldn’t make an error. The invisible guardrails of deliberate practice take over. If there is really an invisible hand in the world, it lives in the place of routine. There’s a great scene from Netflix’s Master of None (feat. Aziz Ansari) that came to mind:

Dev- “You know what I was thinking about the other day? If I played pool all the time, for like three months, I think I could be a pool shark. Like, how good you got to be to get shark status? And then the whole pretending to be bad? I mean, that I can do really well.”
Arnold- “Dude, same with bowling. If I bowled every night for a month, I would be on that non-stop strike status.”
Dev- Yeah, pro bowlers are just people who practice bowling all the time.”
Arnold- “I guess what we’re saying is, if you do something long enough, you’re gonna be good at it.”
Dev- “Mm, yeah. This conversation isn’t that insightful.”

demoday
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The saga of Techstars went out with a bang. It all started with a crazy surprise sales challenge on day one. Then we got pummeled with advice for a month called Mentor Madness. We dug into metrics and tested our assumptions as our product grew from hundreds to thousands of users. And we capped it all off with a big show at the House of Blues in front of 500 guests. 3 months passed and we were exhausted, battered, and proud.

That got us thinking: if we could do this, what else could we accomplish?

Wanna see the pitch? Follow this link to watch Tribe’s pitch on DemoDay!

Editor Note:
We wanted to Thank ListHunt, Henry Vasquez for his stories, and of course Techstars for providing the experience. We encourage any entrepreneur interested in Techstars to apply to a program! With programs all over the world (literally), Techstars is redefining what it means to be a world class accelerator. We are just proud to have been apart of our class, here in Chicago this past summer.

Additionally, we’re avid followers of ListHunt for all of our new favorite gadgets, posted on a daily basis. Go now and visit their website and you will see what we mean.

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Tribe has gotten lots of press, here are links to other posts:

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