By Michael Woloszynowicz

By Michael Woloszynowicz

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Startups, Where is your Story?

While attending the Web 2.0 Expo in New York near the end of September I had the pleasure of visiting the startup showcase. The showcase was an exhibition of various startups that were then judged by Tim O'Reilly and Fred Wilson. Overall there were some interesting ideas, my gripe however was with the delivery of those ideas. The three companies that were invited to present in front of a wide audience had ideas with mass market potential and an ideal opportunity to promote their business to a room full of bloggers, media, and tech enthusiasts. When faced with such an opportunity I expected a well refined and compelling presentation, but instead they felt relatively flat and uninspiring.

Although delivery in two of the three cases could use a little improvement, it was the content that was lacking. Rather than giving a dry and clinical rundown of your product, tell me a story, let my imagination wander and relate to your product on a more personal level. Put me in the shoes of a person faced with the problem you are trying to solve, make their problem my problem. Now that I see the situation that your target consumer is in, pitch your solution for that specific context. With a rich and compelling story you've told me two key components of any good startup pitch, the problem and the solution, and you've done so in a way that makes me believe the problem exists. With this in the bag you can proceed to two other components which are traction and market size. Whose problems have you solved so far, how many customers do you have, and how many others have this problem. This is a great opportunity for a testimonial or interesting example of your product being used in the real world (ideally the story you just told was a true story and you can tie it back).

Let's go through a concrete example using one of the companies at the startup showcase. I will use hour.ly as their concept is straightforward and easy to understand. The premise behind the startup is a job board for part-time and temp employees. The actual details of my example are fabricated but what I intend to do is offer a quick presentation on the company's concept.

"Good evening, my name is so and so and this is my partner so and so, [in an actual vc pitch you would give some background on yourselves here], and we'd like to talk to you about a product that we're very excited about called hour.ly. Let's start off by talking about Jane (show a picture of Jane). Until two years ago Jane was making a good living as an administrative assistant at a large marketing firm. Shortly thereafter she found herself in the same place as millions of other Americans, struggling to find work in an economy plagued by high unemployment. On the other hand we have John (show a picture of John), a business executive at a mid-sized software company. John is seeing demand picking up slightly but sales of his product are still variable and fear of a double-dip recession are preventing him from hiring anymore full-time staff. He's tried to meet the sporadic demand for administrative personnel through posts on Craigslist but has found it too time consuming and difficult to gauge the quality of candidates. He's also tried staffing and temp placement companies but hates spending the high fees attached to these services. Hour.ly aims to bridge this gap by providing an online marketplace for highly qualified people just like Jane. We ensure quality by providing a sophisticated recommendation and matching system that allows John to easily find reputable candidates with the skills he's looking for at fees well bellow those of traditional staffing companies. Today Jane works 20-30 hours a week providing part-time administrative help to John and other companies like his thanks to hour.ly. We currently have 3000 candidates and 500 employers using hour.ly and have personally facilitated the placement of over 4000 part-time and temp positions. Given the permanent change in the business landscape, flexible staffing will become an ever more popular alternative and hour.ly is well positioned to service this growing market."

With this example we've covered the problem, the solution, the market size, and the traction with a compelling story. The audience is placed in the shoes of the people experiencing the problem and seeing first hand how the product solves their problem. Startup presentations needn't be dry feature demonstrations. Remember that your product services real people, people with a story and real emotions.

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