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crush your demo day pitch

This is it: Demo day. The day you’ve been waiting for, and the day every moment in your incubator was preparing you for. Are you ready?

If you’re anything like most founders, you probably don’t feel ready. If you did, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Don’t worry, I’ve been there, and the nerves are natural.

After all, this is only the most important pitch of your life. No pressure.

So what does it take to crush Demo Day and make yourself unforgettable in the eyes of your mentors, investors, and peers? In a nutshell, Demo Day success relies on three things: Your product, your pitch, and your audience.

If you’ve made it to this point in an incubator, I’m gonna assume you’ve already got an amazing product; so let’s focus on the other two aspects: Delivering a compelling pitch and winning over potential investors.

For more tips on getting your startup funded, check out my free 1 hour fundraising crash course.

4 tips to deliver a mesmerizing Demo Day pitch

Some people say product is king. They’re wrong.

At least in the context of Demo Day, sales is king; and make no mistake: Your Demo Day presentation is a sales pitch.

Let’s take a look at four strategies to craft a pitch that’ll impress your mentors, peers, and, most importantly, your future investors.

1. Get to the point

Your product might have 100+ amazing features, but you’ve only got 3-5 minutes on stage. Instead of trying to cover everything your product does, focus on the 2-3 things that really set it apart.

Remember: Your goal is to intrigue, not inform. On Demo Day, your potential investors care more about the value your product provides than the purpose of each and every button on your UI.

2. Demand the attention you deserve

3-5 minutes of undivided attention might not seem like much to ask for, but the truth is, you’re probably not gonna get it. By the time you take the stage, your audience has probably already sat through 15+ other pitches and their brains are fried.

Instead of hoping to capture their attention for your entire presentation, demand it at the most important parts. For example:

  • “This is the most important part of our presentation.”
  • “If you forget everything else, remember this one thing.”
  • “These are the three things you should remember about our product.”

You don’t want to overdo it, but verbal calls-to-action like those can be a great way to quickly engage an otherwise unengaged audience.

3. Focus on the big picture

To make the most of your presentation, you need to understand your place within the greater context of Demo Day. For example:

  • Do you take the stage at the beginning, middle, or end of the day?
  • What startups immediately precede or follow you?
  • What do their presentations look like?

This greater context allows you to craft a pitch more likely to make an impact on investors. For example: If your presentation is at the end of the day, after a number of metric-heavy presentations, you’d probably stand out with a dramatic story-driven pitch.

4. Stand out at all costs

If the tip above didn’t give it away, Demo Day is not the day to fit in. On the contrary, you want to do everything you can to stand out. Here are three ways to do just that:

  • Showcase your numbers: Got great traction? Focus on that. The best way to impress potential investors is with the quality of your metrics.
  • Personalize your pitch: Every founder on Demo Day is presenting their startup as “the best, most disruptive idea ever.” And maybe yours really is, but saying the same thing as everyone else isn’t going to convince anyone.
  • Magnify your personality: Bring the biggest version of yourself to Demo Day. Be authentic, yes, but find what personality traits make you unique and crank them up to ten.

By standing out, you probably won’t impress everyone. But by fitting in, you won’t impress anyone.

3 tips to win over Demo Day investors

The concept of Demo Day is great: Allow a bunch of startups to present to a ton of investors, creating an immediate market for their funding round. But as these events become more and more popular, the signal-to-noise ratio skews heavily toward noise.

In other words: There are going to be a lot of investors only casually interested in your startup. They might say all the right things, but they’re never gonna invest a dime.

You don’t have time to waste on these people, so you need systems in place to weed them out as quickly as possible. Here are three strategies to cut through the noise:

1. Don’t try to appeal to everyone

It doesn’t matter how great your product or how captivating your pitch; you aren’t gonna appeal to every investor in the room, so you’re better off focusing your efforts on a small handful of high-value targets. Here’s a three-step process to make sure you’re impressing the right people on Demo Day:

  • Create a top-ten list: Out of all the investors attending Demo Day, identify the ten you believe are the best fit for your startup. Not just those most likely to invest, but those whose vision and track record align with your own.
  • Pitch to your top-ten list: While on stage, tailor your pitch to your top ten investors. And don’t worry if you end up excluding some of the audience in the process. It’s better to impress a small number of investors than to leave them all equally indifferent.
  • Connect with your top-ten list: Once the presentation part of Demo Day has wrapped, proactively connect with your top ten list in person. If you miss the chance, reach out with a follow-up email.

At the end of the day, you aren’t right for every investor and every investor isn’t right for you, so don’t be afraid to take a stand; even if it means alienating some of your audience.

2. Know your terms (and aggressively pursue them)

Want to quickly find out which investors are truly interested and which are just wasting your time? Introduce specific and aggressive funding terms. Let me illustrate this point with a story from our own Demo Day (I’ve shared it once before in a separate blog post, but here’s the cliffnotes version):

The night after our pitch, we received about 40 emails from investors claiming they were interested in funding us. As exciting as that was, I knew the majority of them probably wouldn’t end up investing. To find the needles in the haystack, I responded with an email like this:

“I’m so honored that you’re interested. We’re planning to close the round of funding in about two weeks with terms X, Y, and Z. If that works for you, let’s hop on a call and talk further. If not, that’s fine. Let’s stay in touch and maybe connect again for a later round.”

Right off the bat, our strict terms got a bunch of negative replies and I remember thinking I’d screwed up Demo Day. In fact, by the end all but about six investors turned us down over those terms.

But those six investors really believed in our product. They ended up connecting us with other high-quality investors and we closed our round in record time.

This approach worked for us because we’re highly-aggressive by nature. If it doesn’t feel right for you, that’s fine. Just make sure you’ve got some way to separate the signal from the noise.

3. Leverage backchannel communication

You might leave Demo Day with a ton of interested investors, but those opportunities have a very short shelf life. After all, your potential investors saw 25+ other pitches that day and may see 25 more tomorrow.

They’ve only got so much time, money, and attention, and are only going to invest what they have into those startups that are a priority to them. So after Demo Day, your #1 priority needs to be becoming their #1 priority.

One of the best ways I know to do this is leveraging your mentors, advisors, and peers for backchannel communication. Let me illustrate this concept with a story.

It was after Demo Day and we’d secured the majority of our funding. We were trying to close the round in two weeks, but one of the last firms we needed wasn’t available to meet for another month.

That timeline didn’t work for us, so I sat down with Paul Graham and asked for a backchannel communication favor: I wanted to know if he’d be willing to reach out to this firm on our behalf and get them to prioritize our meeting.

He agreed, and I utilized the power of Right the Fuck Now, pulled out my laptop, and said, “Great! Let’s do it!”

Pg sent the email right then and there and, less than 12 hours later, we had a response from the firm informing us about a “sudden” opening on their calendar in just two days.

The support of your mentors and advisors doesn’t end when you walk off the stage. Use them as a conduit for backchannel communication and you’ll increase the velocity and effectiveness of your fundraising 10x.

Make it or break it

As a young startup, Demo Day is one of the most important days of your life. In many ways, it’s your first real “make it or break it” moment. That’s a lot of pressure.

But here’s the good news: If you adopt the seven tips above, you’re gonna do a lot more than just “make” it: You’re gonna crush it.

And once you do crush it, remember: Demo Day’s important, but it’s just the start. After all, you haven’t raised shit until cash hits the bank.

Want more? Check out Steli's 1-hour fundraising presentation and the one-page fast action guide for founders.

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