The investment industry shelled out $47.3 billion to startups in 2014, reaching levels approaching the height of the dot.com bubble. With this growth of available money, pitch competitions are plentiful and smart startups are lining up to tell their story.
You've landed an opportunity to pitch at a killer conference like Launch Tennessee's 36|86, Brooklyn's Northside Festival, Venture Atlanta or Raleigh's CED. You polish your pitch deck, practice ad nauseam and line up your travel plans.
What else should you do to maximize the precious time and financial resources you're investing in this endeavor?
During 36|86 in June, I connected with Lucy Beard, founder and CEO of Feetz, and Fynn Glover, founder and CEO of RootsRated. I asked them to weigh in on the top ways to maximize time and investment at conferences and pitch competitions beyond the pitch:
1. Ask for a Media List and Introductions from the Organizers
Media lists are a great way to consolidate potential press contacts for the future. Being aware of key influencers, and introducing yourself while at the event, can lead to valuable mentorship or future connections.
View competitions as a way to provide the exposure needed to catapult your business into the limelight. The next best outcome to receiving funding is coverage and an opportunity to tell your story beyond the stage.
2. Research and Meet Potential Investors in Advance
Understanding your potential investor increases your likelihood for success. The investor pitch is all about building trust. Who you pitch to, and what they care about, is as important as what you pitch.
According to Glover, "Do your due diligence on attending investors and try to arrange meetings with those most relevant ahead of time."
You should know why a specific investor would be a good partner for your company. Do what you can to convey that your team, your product, and your approach is one that investors can buy into.
3. Establish Concrete Goals for Investor Meetings
While there is an endless list of prerequisites and expectations, having three or four primary goals is imperative to moving your startup forward.
Before you meet with investors, have a clear idea on where you want your business to be, how investors can get involved, and when you will be ready for market. Think through how the investor meeting will be a win for you even if the answer regarding investment is "no". What piece of advice or connection can the investor provide that will move your venture forward?
4. Plan the "Off-Stage Pitch" and Experience
It is crucial to gain awareness around what you offer. While investors are your main priority, building hype among the attendees through unique demonstrations or hammering social media channels is just as beneficial.
"We spent time thinking how to get people aware we were wearing 3D printed shoes and came up with ways to have fun dancing in the street, running up and down escalators, wearing our shirts, carrying and wearing our product to step it up a notch," Beard said.
VCs invest in people, so your offstage persona is just as important to the pitch.
"Be friendly, smile, and talk to as many people as possible," Glover said. "You never know who you're talking to!"
5. Know Your Business
Your honesty and thoughtfulness will only take you so far, and that's where research and preparation comes in. Have a deep understanding of the key drivers of your business, your largest customers, and what your team is focused on and how you will specifically use the investment.
According to Glover, if there are other companies that could be potential partners, introduce yourself and share notes. While many startups deliver excellent pitches, many forget to prepare for the Q&A. Every step counts from beginning to end, so be prepared.