I was sitting in the crowd during a startup pitch event. The presenter strode up to the stage with an air of confidence and California cool. He said one simple sentence.

"There's a problem with the wearable tech market that must be addressed..."

Right away, a video started to play and showed how people are using more and more wearables. They have one on their wrist when they go for a run, they use a smartwatch at work, and they have a sleep tracker they use at night. It's a cornucopia of wearable gadgets, and it seemed utterly confusing and complex. There are just too many of them! Something must be done! Then the screen went dark, and a few quick messages appeared asking us to imagine if there could be a way to manage those devices.

If the room could have shown thought bubbles for each person in attendance, I think we would have seen light bulbs appearing over many people's heads (and mine) as we engaged with his idea and agreed it was a good solution. We understood that his software, called Strap, would solve this problem of having too many wearable devices. In truth, Strap provides a way to create apps for multiple wearables (and maybe that's a bit too narrow and technical), but we understood the basic message of his presentation--that there are too many wearable tech gadgets and we need a better way to make sense of them. (Intel has apparently realized the same thing.) It was a problem we didn't even know existed. Now we were all in agreement: Strap was a good way to address the problem.

What I realized during this short talk is that every startup pitch has to follow the same recipe to be successful. The key is to make sure, when you pitch an idea, that you create the light bulb moment for everyone in attendance. It's critical.

So, what is a light bulb moment anyway? It's a realization that there's a problem and there's a need for a solution. It's self-ownership of a serious dilemma. A light bulb moment is a personal conviction about an idea. You see the logic in something, you accept that there must be an answer, and you open your thought patterns.

I've attended many pitch sessions, and you'd be surprised how many entrepreneurs fail to create this basic dynamic. They communicate information about a product, and they even present a problem and a solution, but they fail to make their visuals, their talk, and their entire pitch tie into this crucial ingredient: that the presentation really has to create that light bulb moment. It has to create tension and then provide relief.

Think about someone trying to pitch you a product that purifies water in developing countries. When the presenter shows you that one billion people do not have daily access to clean water and that 3.4 million people die each year because of it, you get the eureka moment.

Surprisingly, a presentation at a pitch event can hit all of the right buttons but still fail to create the light bulb moment in the crowd. The presenter can show a flashy video and tell a few jokes to stir up enthusiasm. He or she can offer up some brilliant data that shows how a product is rising in popularity or creating momentum. Yet the pitches that seem to resonate the most make it seem like those in the crowd have realized, right then and there, that there is a problem and they have seen "the light" of how to solve it.

I'm not sure if Strap won the pitch event or not. I haven't seen the list of winners. In my mind, it gave the only presentation that day that tried to go for the light bulbs. I'm guessing nearly everyone else in the crowd went home thinking about how there is this new problem and new solution, and maybe even remembered the name Strap more than the names of the other companies that presented that day. Strap had the key ingredient.

Published on: Jan 14, 2015
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