Last week I spent two full days watching approximately 50 companies demo their products for the first time at the Launch Festival in San Francisco. There were a number of interesting companies there, but I was so impressed by one that I took a big risk: After listening to their 5-minute pitch, I made a live offer on stage for the founders to join the next class of TechStars and presented them with a $118,000 check. Luckily for us, they accepted the offer. 

What made this one start-up stand out among 50? If a team is going to get our attention at TechStars, they must do the following four things: 

1. Show, don't tell

Think about the late but incomparable Steve Jobs. He never told you about Apple's amazing products—he always showed you. You may not have the same sort of presentation skills as Jobs, but you can borrow a few of his tactics:

  • Get rid of your bullet points and tell your story as you show your product.
  • Don't focus on features. Instead focus on the power of your vision and how your product brings it to life. Walk through a compelling example that makes your most important points clearly.
  • Have on hand a taped demo of your product in action rather than relying on a live Internet connection or other fallible technologies. This way you ensure there won't be any surprises.
  • If you find yourself telling the audience something for more than 15 seconds, think about how you could show it to them instead. 

2. Share the vision, not the status

At TechStars, we're constantly asked how much a demo should focus on what’s possible now vs. what’s possible in the future. The answer is, it depends. If your presentation is a product launch, be careful to only show what exists today. You're essentially opening it up to the public and inviting them to participate. You're making a promise about what they can do with your product today. Investor-focused presentations are quite different. Investors want to understand your vision thoroughly. They want to know if you can think big, so talk about where you want to go with your product. 

3. Respect design

Consumers have zero time for products that are not simple, intuitive, and attractive to use. This is especially true with Internet products, where clean and useful design is a prerequisite to keeping anyone on your site for more than 30 seconds. The Internet is full of choices, and nobody is going to make the choice to use a product that is hard to use or unattractive. Respect design in your presentation materials and in your product, and you'll keep the audience from giving up on you just as quickly. 

4. Bring energy!

A few of the presenters at Launch were boring. While this was a great excuse for me to check my email, it didn't do them or their products justice. The most common reason they bored me was simply because the founders didn't seem excited about their product. If you're not excited, why should I be excited? This doesn't mean that you have to drink four Red Bulls just before you go on stage. (In fact, please—don’t do that.) It just means that the audience needs to see your passion. Your energy can be infectious, and it's certainly more interesting than my email.

Happy Demoing!