thump thump…. thump thump….. thump thump……. My heart rate was starting to rise. As I looked around the room I noticed it overflowing with people. There must have been hundreds….
Was I sure I could recall the points I wanted to make as I stood on the platform?
Was I actually going to make sense to these people?
SURF Incubator recently held their launch party at the offices in the Exchange building on 2nd and Marion in Seattle. It was a great night with many lasting memories, the biggest being the pitch competition. Ten different founders each took the spotlight and had 90 seconds to pitch their startup, with the audience voting at the end for their favorite, or the one with the clearest value proposition.
Turns out I won pitching my startup: Seconds!
All the participants deserve recognition and needless to say there will be some great stuff emerging out of SURF for years to come. But as I look back on the experience that night, a few things become clear and I felt I needed to get them out before they fade away down stream like most other good thoughts tend to do nowadays.
I discovered those 90 seconds taught me more than I ever would have thought a small collection of seconds could. Some of the lessons were clear as day in the moment, and some took a few days to really sink in. Here’s what I found:
Back in high school I played soccer on a team (West Valley – Yakima) and for a coach that will both go down in history as one of the best. We were nationally ranked, in the state championship game all four years and won three of those times. It was an amazing dynasty and a truly talented team. Whenever I think back on that experience, one of the main things I remember is our coach would have us 1) determine and publicly state on the outset what we will accomplish that season and 2) have us memorize and repeat certain statements though out the season.
One of those statements was “I come through when I need to” and it has stuck with me to this day.
What does that statement actually mean? My take is it’s a commitment to deliver in the moment. There are certain times in your life you find yourself in a binary situation.
Either I deliver on this (whatever it is) and X will happen, or I don’t deliver on this and Y will happen. Back then it was scoring goals and winning state championships. But today as a CEO, it could mean company existence, other people’s jobs, millions of dollars and possible notoriety in the community. As I stood up there last week it became crystal clear the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is simply a matter of delivering when the time calls for it.
Speak with them in mind
Whenever you are talking to a group of people it’s probably a good idea to assume the know very little. This is not a “I’m smarter than they are” comment (trust me, that’s not the case here) but more of a generalization of the crowd. Even at the SURF pitch event, where the average person at least knows something about technology, it’s just a fact that getting technical is not going to come across well.
In this instance, the crowd was the judge so if winning them over is the goal you must talk from their point of view. Clearly describing how your solution benefits their life goes a lot farther than a basic technical description of the product.
To all the engineers out there, sorry to burst your bubble but most people don’t want to know HOW it works. They want to know WHY it works. People are naturally emotional and mostly irrational. They are very selfish inside and want to know how things benefit THEM first and foremost. If there is no connection within, there will be no clear value proposition to them.
I realized this is as true in a pitch competition as it is in the overall business world. Lacking a clear value proposition – one that can be quickly understood and easily shared with others – is the death of many startups.
I don’t know about you but I have noticed a drastic increase in pressure, speed and intensity to my life. That might be the startup roller coaster I jumped on last year but as I look around I see it with others too. Are our mobile devices driving us insane? Does the habit of swiping and checking if someone has messaged us or tweeted something useful really make us happier? I have a creeping suspicion the always on, always wired, running around needing to do this or that lifestyle is truly messing with our psyche.
For those reasons and more I have really tried to embrace the have fun mentality. I do believe you can build a great, successful startup and still have fun. If you see me around you will probably notice a smile on my face. This is not by accident. I really try to bring myself to smile, say hi to people, shake hands and see the better part of life in others. Life is just more fun that way.
The night of the launch party and the pitch event I noticed a lot of the other participants nervous, which in reality threw them off their game. I consciously made an effort to acknowledge my ‘fight or flight‘ response, but rather than let it get to me I embraced it. I let it in, leveraged it to help me be more in the moment.
I used it to show my passion and deliver on point. I actually said to myself, “Nick, look around man… this is fun!” (OK, a few beers didn’t hurt to calm the nerves either but I digress).
It’s amazing what you can learn in just 90 seconds. I know these life lessons will stick with me forever and hope they might make a difference in your life as well.