I've been thinking about bread for the last couple of days.
No, not bread... bre.ad, a new startup launching whose founder has perfected the art of the conference pitch. I was sitting at lunch at Techcrunch Disrupt in the middle of a bunch of people. The guy leans in and says, "Hey Charlie, sorry to interrupt, my name is Alan, I'm with bre.ad, I'm going to follow up with an e-mail to you about our startup. Just wanted you to match the name to a face." He put his card in my hand, and after 5 seconds, was off. No pitch, nothing more.
Minimum Viable Intro.
You see, we hear a lot about elevator pitches, but to be honest, most short pitches really don't do your company justice. People try and shoehorn all the amazing things about their companies into a passing moment when the investor is on their way to something else, trying to stem the tide of e-mail, etc. Your one-liner? Can you really pitch a company in one sentence? I think it's kind of a crapshoot and you're better off just trying to be an e-mail that I'm looking for.
If you really want to show me something and pitch then during the conference, because you're in from out of town or something, tell me when I can come see you if I'm interested. "We're going to be demoing all afternoon in this location. I'll send you a calendar invite as a reminder... hopefully you can come by."
The absolute worst is you're obviously trying to leave to get to a meeting and the entrepreneur hasn't picked up on social cues, or just don't care about them, and instead tries and grab you for as long as possible. It makes you feel like you got your leg caught in a bear trap.
With pitches, you have to give the person an out. Introduce yourself, but say, "Hey, I'm sure you have a million people to meet here, so maybe the best thing is for you to e-mail me about my social calendaring startup."
If I'm hot for social calendaring, and I have the time, I'm totally going to stop and ask you more about it. If not, thanks for giving me the ability to say, "Yeah, thanks, that would be great!" This way, I don't need to feel like a bad person when I'm not giving you enough time. It's not that I'm not interested... I just literally am already ten minutes for my next meeting and I'm just trying to minimize my rudeness.
Sometimes, however, I do indicate a lack of interest. This is where entrepreneurs need to fail fast on a pitch. A guy approached me about something in the dating space the other day. I don't really love the space, which I told him, and he asked me what I thought of his particular take. I gave him honest user feedback and said that I probably wouldn't use in and don't think a lot of other people would either. It ran counter to my observations about user behavior on those services. So, that should really be it. I not only didn't love his take, but I'm not really forward leaning on the whole space.
He persisted, and at some point I just had to say, "Listen, I don't mean to be rude, but as an entrepreneur, you've got to find the person in the room who is ridiculously enthusiastic about your company. I'm just not that guy. It's really all about time allocation and ROI." He got annoyed and said, "I get it... fine, fine..." and kinda stormed off. Buddy, I wasn't trying to be a jerk. I listened to what you had to say and wasn't interested in being an investor... and I was trying to save you from wasting a lot of your time with me. If I'm clearly not interested in the idea, instead of trying to convince me, you should politely move on and try to find the investor that doesn't need to be convinced--the one that believes in the idea right off the bat.
But let's get one thing straight. If I ask you to e-mail me, I'm not blowing you off. That's just the process that enables me to give all of these ideas their proper consideration. Trust me, I want your company to be awesome. I want to invest in it if it is. I want to help figure out how it can be...but I just can't do that in a minute on my way to a meeting I'm already 5 minutes late for.
And PS, on the subject of e-mail, this post "How to e-mail busy people" is brilliant.
One last thing about the quick pitch. If you absolutely must say something about your company, tell me an accomplishment, not a description. This way, I know what you do and how far you've gotten with it all in one sentence. If your company does "easy mobile invoicing" that doesn't sound that interesting to me, but if you come up to me, hand me your card and say, "We've got 10,000 paying customers in less than a month for our mobile invoicing product, and we'd love to follow up with you in an e-mail" then I'm definitely going to be on the lookout for that one. Otherwise, if my mind is just going to wander about what your product might be (and I'll prob get it wrong) and all the ways it could fail.
Anothing thing... please try to skip the lame conference chatter.
"So, what do you think of the conference?"
What does anyone think of any conference? The speakers are never as good as you hope they'll be, because the conversation stays way too general and the networking is where it's at, because everyone shows up who you usually don't get to see.
How about picking out a fact that you learned, or telling me who I should meet? Give me something other than the conversational equivelent of treading water. Otherwise, I just might answer, "Lovely weather we're having" to just make things one notch more boring.