Thursday, March 26, 2009

Learn From My Mistakes

I broke a lot of my own rules in my talk at the First Look Forum and, unfortunately, it wasn't the best thing to do. I've spent a lot of time listening to advisors over the last few months. And, most of the time, the advisors know more than me, so I've learned a lot. But, sometimes, you have to trust your gut. By not doing that, my presentation did not accurately reflect the potential of my company.

Before I go on, let me make a few things clear. First, it wasn't a total loss. I made some great connections with potential investors and I have some follow-up meetings scheduled. It just wasn't as good as it could have been and I didn't have the opportunity to do my full 10-minute pitch to the room full of investors. I would have liked to do that. And, second, I'm not faulting any of my advisors. The buck stops with me.

The First Look Forum process is unlike anything I've gone through before and, to some extent, that led me to some bad decisions. We started by creating 10-minute slide decks and, then, after they were created and reviewed, we created shorter 3-minute slide decks. Almost all of the 3-minute presentations at the forum were clearly shortened versions of the 10-minute presentations. As I noted in an earlier blog post, I started that way, but I ended up with a 3-minute pitch that was completely different.

If you've ever heard me speak, you'll know that I never use notes. I speak extemporaneously and I do a pretty good job of it. I will sometimes create an outline, but it is a very brief outline and I never refer to it during a talk. In thinking about it, the last time I gave any sort of a scripted talk was in 9th grade.

However, 3 minutes is really short -- it's easy to run over, as most of the presenters did. And, over and over, my advisors kept telling me of all the things I had to make sure to include. So, I ended up scripting the talk. That was mistake number one. Next, I rehearsed the talk in front of a lot of people. This was good and I kept tweaking it. By Saturday, I really had it down.

On to mistake number two. On Sunday, one of my advisors told me they thought that the pitch was only a B+, that to make it an A, it really needed work. I had too much fluff (compelling fluff, but nonetheless fluff) and I needed to cut that out and add some critical things that were missing, like a brief discussion of revenue. I think her advice was basically correct, but I should have ignored it, for two very important reasons:

  1. By taking a pitch that I really knew and replacing it with a pitch that I didn't, I made it worse, not better. I could have elevated the B+ pitch to an A with good oratory. But a poorly delivered A pitch can easily fall to a C level. I didn't have the time to do the changes and I should have deferred them to the future.
  2. Most of the other pitches, including the majority of the ones chosen for the 10-minute session, had more fluff than I had, and far less in the way of fact.. It turns out that the investors were looking for the grab, not the facts, in deciding who they wanted to vote for. My original pitch had more grab and fewer facts, especially given the delivery.
Whenever you're in unfamiliar territory, it's a good idea to assume the worst. I considered having an audio clip as part of my talk, but decided that there was no guarantee that we would have sound. I also could have had a little demo using the Internet and my cell phone, but I decided there was no guarantee of a net connection or that my cell phone would work (in fact, there was no internet connection available, which we didn't find out until Monday). I brought a backup of everything on a USB drive just in case something got messed up (and, in fact, the wrong version of my presentation was included in the deck, so that came in very handy).

That leads to mistake number three. We were told there would be a podium. If I'd been able to put my notes on a podium, I could have spoken more naturally and the notes wouldn't have mattered much. The fact that there would be a podium allowed me to make mistake number two above. But, the podium had the laptop and was basically in the way, worse than having no podium. If I had assumed the worst -- no audio, no podium, etc., I would have been in much better shape.

So, in short:
  • Listen to advice, but do follow your own rules as much as you can.
  • Time pressure trumps good advice. Defer it to later if you don't have time to do it right.
  • Assume the worst, most inhospitable environment. You won't be far off.
  • Learn from your mistakes. Or, even better, learn from mine.


Mason Boswell said...

The first thing I always say in response to situations like these is to give yourself credit for having the courage to do what 99% of other people wouldn't do, which is stepping up to bat. It takes an amazing amount of preparation and courage to even enter a situation like this. It sounds like you learned a lot, made some good contacts, and you never know the unexpected collateral effects of exposing a new group of people to what you are working on. Kudos!

Unknown said...


I only found your blog after the NWEN FLF was all over and done with, but I wanted to write anyway to commend and compliment you on several counts:

+ I'm impressed at your candor and humility in these posts; you know quite a bit but never boast (a rare combo for a blogger!)

+ Excellent and useful info for anyone laboring to make a sumittal for an angel or other investor-style event. Also for anyone presenting. Having done quite a few of these myself, I could really relate to what you say.

+ Your sincerity in wishing your competitors well comes through clearly, as does your gratitude to those who've coached and helped. You're accountable and willing to learn. Bravo!

It is too late to wish you well at FLF, alas. Based on what you write here, however, I am sure you will do very well going forward. My very best wishes for your future success,
Chris Leyerle

Roy Leban said...

@Mason and Chris: Thanks to both of you for the very nice comments.

@Chris: I'm looking forward to what happens with Hydrovolts as well.

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