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Lessons from 150 startup pitches (asmartbear.com)
126 points by tsondermann on July 11, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 17 comments

Regarding this one: "Pretending your faults don't exist."

Having seen quite a few pitches myself, one good thing you can do is point out your major flaws/obstacles before you're asked about them (assuming they don't clearly spell out your impending demise).

This may seem a little counterintuitive, but it lets you present the issue in a better light and explain how you're going to fix it, instead of having the investor feel like they've discovered a glaring weakness that you were trying to brush under the table. I believe lawyers use a similar technique.

One caveat to this: I'm a blogger/reporter, so investors may have a different perspective. But I'm guessing it holds true for them too.

This ties in to an amazingly important (and rare) personal characteristic: self-awareness. Being able to honestly identify your own strengths and weaknesses is the only way to systematically build the former and eliminate the latter.

In my experience, few people are able to assess themselves effectively; it's too easy to slide in one of two directions: avoidance or neurosis. But as the saying goes: the unexamined life is not worth living.

I understand avoidance, but what do you mean by "neurosis"?

Self-analysis can sometimes precipitate a cycle of anxiety and doubt. Some people can leverage this constructively and use it as motivation, but for others it's destructive.

I tend to think those people who seem crippled by self-doubt see just as distorted a picture of themselves as people who are incapable of self-examination, just skewed the other direction. Minimization vs maximization of faults.

I was really surprised to see this post from Jason; it seems to go against most things I've read from him in the past, including one of my favorite startup posts:


I was involved in the hiring process for faculty members in academia, and our approach has always been to invest primarily in individuals, rather than in ideas. Ideas are disposable, and competent individuals will quickly learn how to adjust their ideas to the circumstances.

Case in point: Jason's own product Code Historian (see blog post above).

I understand the difficulties that come with 100's of applications. The admission criteria always end up being far from ideal. In my former academic circle, we relied heavily on letters of recommendation; both who wrote them and what was said about the candidate mattered. Everything else the candidate wrote was only glanced over.

I would think something like that can be more effective than meticulously analyzing someone's pitch.

It seems from reading that post that PayPal's and Flickr's original ideas were ahead of their time.

Paypal's original idea is still a problem for people and it's similar to what Square is doing now.

Flickr's original idea is lot like the social MMOs we see now like FarmVille and many of the other Zynga games.

I don't get it: Are you agreeing or disagreeing with what I said?

If you're right and the ideas were indeed ahead of their time, that means they were still a bad business proposition (at the time). The founders should take full credit for realizing this and adjusting accordingly.

I was merely commenting on the link you posted.

However, since they were ahead of their time so pivoting was the right thing for them at that time.

Hi Arturadib, Jason here.

I think you'll find when reading the individual posts on each topic that it's not contradictory.

Also there's a distinction between seeking things like competitive advantage -- which of course you have to do -- and going ahead and doing something regardless.

That is, "just do it" is the prime mover, but of course you have to be seeking things like happy customers, competitive advantages, ability to describe what you do in 30 seconds, etc., as you go.

Also remember this is in the context of pitching investors, at which point you do need some ideas -- you can't pitch "I'll just try stuff."

I don't find it contradictory. Go do it anyway, but don't make these mistakes when trying to get someone else's money.

That sounds kind of hypocritical. If you agree that ideas don't matter so much, why dissect a pitch like that?

The important point is to understand what the person is and is not aware of, when they make the pitch. If someone pitches an idea, but clearly has no idea what makes them better, and has just as clearly never even thought about it, it tells you a lot.

Often you assume your customer is the same as you - sees the problem the same way, wants to solve it your way, and wants to pay for it. But you're explicitly not like your customers; for one thing, you have enough initiative and insight to quit your job to start a company. It's easy to let your idiosyncratic preconceptions prevent you from observing what the larger market will accept.

I think that's a corporate perspective to review a startup pitch. In a startup you're iterating and evolving your idea but you have some start point and perhaps it's your 'idiosyncratic preconceptions'.

At the very least you need to have the idea confirmed and ensure the problem exists outside of your entrepreneurial vision.

Very accurate - I think this is a must read for anyone embarking on a new startup.

I see a lot of these issues all the time, but sifting these out and articulating them this concisely is very difficult.

I can also see these issues created the biggest challenges in previous projects I have worked on.

Very well stated Jason. I think your opinion on "Pretending your faults don't exist" is especially spot on. Programmers, myself included, can sometimes become so attached to a feature or coding approach that any criticism, warranted or not, becomes a personal attack. I also think it has become way to acceptable to say "no" to customers. Rather than the constructive reasoning behind saying no, often times arrogance or even self consciousness leads to pretending faults do not exist. For this reason it is always helpful to have a trusted source for non-programmer feedback.

I'm looking forward to "positioning against the competition". I think this is something a lot of startups will find useful. Many people have good ideas, but when it comes right down to it, it's a dog-eat-dog world, and the cash flows from the customer/users opinion of your offering weighed against the competition. You can iterate all day long, but to take home the money you need to be more attractive than the others out there. That takes a well thought out plan.

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