13 of the Smartest Questions Investors Ask Entrepreneurs

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

What is the smartest question an investor has ever asked you?

1. What’s the Biggest Threat to Your Success?

Andrew ThomasThis question forces you to demonstrate your ability to realistically evaluate your market potential and the maturity to acknowledge that threats exists. The investor is also testing your composure — as this question can cause defensiveness. If asked, take a deep breath and be honest about your threats and how you will address them. This builds confidence and trust instead of a red flag.

– Andrew ThomasSkyBell Video Doorbell

2. What Happens if You Get Hit by a Bus?

John RoodOf course the founder is critical to the enterprise, but especially for small businesses, I’ve found that smart investors want to make sure you have a clear pathway to generating enterprise value that isn’t just you personally working 80 hours for the rest of your life. Luckily, this can help you prioritize delegation, which you should be thinking about anyway.

– John RoodNext Step Test Preparation

3. Why Is This Opportunity Any Different Than Going to Vegas and Throwing It All on Red?

Jonathan LongI’m currently consulting for a new app and they have one investor who is funding the entire program. He jokingly asked me, “Why is this opportunity any different than going to Vegas and throwing it all on red?” While it was more of a joke, it was a legitimate question. You need to be able to sell and defend your concept. If you can’t, why should an investor feel comfortable writing a check?

– Jonathan LongMarket Domination Media

4. What Happens if Facebook Goes Out of Business?

Piyush JainWe were starting out an app idea completely based on Facebook. Investors asked what happens if they go out of business. We went blank. We ended up reshaping the model, though, so it would not be fully dependent on Facebook, and it ended up being a better app. Sometimes we tend to over-rely on big systems which can be more susceptible to failures than we are.

– Piyush JainSIMpalm

5. Why You?

Blair ThomasHaving to answer that very simple question can often stymie even the best stakeholders. Are you different? What do you have to offer that your competitors do not? Why am I investing in you when there are 12 other companies competing for my dollar? It can be a difficult question to answer, and one that you should have an answer for. Be prepared to argue your case as a differentiator.

– Blair ThomasEMerchantBroker

6. Why Now?

Charlie GrahamGreat market timing — more than even team or idea — has traditionally been the best predictor of a company‘s success. Chances are someone else has tried an idea similar to the one you are pitching. What fundamental change has occurred in the market that makes right now (versus 3-6 months ago) the best time to start this company?

– Charlie GrahamShop It To Me, Inc.

7. How Can I Help?

Zoe BarryThis question is a litmus test. Keep in mind not all money is equal shades of green. I’ve found the best investors want to know what my challenges are and where they can add value. Once an investor puts money into your company, their role is to help the management team build a great business. If an investor doesn’t ask you how they can help, don’t take their money.

– Zoe BarryZappRx

8. Why Can’t You Just Bootstrap This Business?

Ross ResnickUntil an investor asked me this question, I was convinced that outside investment was the only way to start a company. Answering his question forced me to analyze my initial product development road map and reimagine it to be immediately cash flow positive and self-sufficiently scalable. This fundamental shift enabled rapid, responsible growth.

– Ross ResnickRoaming Hunger

9. Who Is This For?

Vik PatelWe often develop business ideas by looking at successful models and applying them to a different domain — the Uber-for-X approach. It’s easy to miss the most important point: Who is this for? Being asked that forced me to think concretely about the people for whom I would be solving a problem and make the appropriate changes to the execution of business ideas.

– Vik PatelFuture Hosting

10. What Excites You?

Ty MorseAn investor asked me this to find out what motivated me, and I think that’s what investors need to know. Are you going to pursue this idea until it succeeds? Do you have the drive, the energy, the passion to make this work? This question gets to the core of who you are and lets investors learn a little about who they’re investing in.

– Ty MorseSongwhale

11. How Long Do You Think the Money Will Last?

Vishal ShahThis question forces you to demonstrate your understanding of the revenue streams, cost structure, cash burn and runway. VCs want to know how you plan to spend the money and if what your ask is realistic enough to get you to your next milestone. If you seek to raise too little or expect an unrealistic runway, it indicates that you haven’t thought through how you will scale your business well enough.

– Vishal ShahNoPaperForms

12. Does Your Business Align With Your Experience?

Erik SeveringhausLon Chow asked me why my experience didn’t match the market I was entering, as I left a successful career at IBM to start a B2Ccompany. There’s a lot written about product-market fit, but not enough on founder-market fit. Does the founder truly understand nuances of the industry? What makes it tick? Lon zeroed in on the misalignment in our first meeting and I realized just how right he was.

– Erik SeveringhausSimple Relevance

13. Why Are Other Investors Passing?

Fan BiDon’t take it as a passive-aggressive question and get defensive. You should have a good answer. The best answer you can hope to provide is that they didn’t believe in the market or where it’s going. Different investors have different theses on macro trends and will understand other investors not believing in yours.

– Fan BiBlank Label

What You Need to Know About the New SEC Crowdfunding Rules

“Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.”  — Dr. Laurence J. Peter

When Congress passed the JOBS Act it mandated that the Securities and Exchange Commission finalize new crowdfunding rules within nine months. Well, the SEC missed the deadline by nearly three years, but on October 30, 2015, it finally approved the new rules. They “go live” April 2016 and there are some details you really ought to know…

What You Need to Know about SEC Crowdfunding Rules

Verge regulars know that last year Indiana passed its own, intra-state crowdfunding law (see my prior Verge article). While the Indiana-specific rules are now likely to gather dust because they limit your pool of potential investors to only Hoosiers, the federal rules may prove to be a robust marketplace for small-scale capital raises. Here’s a quick snapshot of the SEC’s final rules.

But First, Why New Rules?

As most know, selling securities is a highly regulated activity. Securities must be sold on public exchanges, unless there’s an exception.

The exception most familiar to entrepreneurs is the 506(b) safe harbor, which allows companies to sell securities to accredited investors in a private placement. Accredited investors include, among others, banks, high net worth individuals and trusts, and the issuer’s officers and directors; that is, those with sufficient knowledge and resources to “know better” and to absorb any losses from risky investments. Sites like CircleUp and AngelList have used crowdfunding for a few years, but they limit access to accredited investors.

verge startup pitches at the hi-fiOf course, there’s potential upside to investing in startups, and the “99%” who lack the income to qualify as accredited investors are presently shut out from investing in early and mid-stage companies.

Crowdfunding solves that problem by creating a new safe harbor where start-ups can raise money off of the public exchanges.

5 New SEC Crowdfunding Rules for Companies

Here are a few key rules for companies crowdfunding under the new SEC guidelines:

  1. Max Raise. A company may raise up to $1 million in a 12-month period from the crowd. (Note: under Indiana’s law, a company that provides Hoosiers with audited financials may raise up to $2 million).
  2. Portal. The company must conduct the raise through a registered third party “funding portal.”
  3. Target/Deadline. Through the portal, the company must set a target offering amount and a deadline to reach that amount, and it must allow investors to back out of any commitment up to forty-eight hours before the deadline.
  4. Investor Disclosures. The company must disclose certain company information to investors. The amount of disclosure required is similar to what start-ups are accustomed to disclosing to accredited investors: risk factors, business plans, financial statements (balance sheets, income statements, and cash flows), governance, and the like. You’ll want an experienced lawyer’s assistance.
  5. Annual Reporting. The company must file annual reports with the SEC, but with nowhere near the depth required of publicly-traded companies. Failure to comply with this or other SEC rules could strip you of your exemption. Not good.

Ding Dong the Wicked Audit is Dead (Sort Of)

New SEC Crowdfunding Rules For financial disclosures, the SEC’s proposed rules had called for audited financial statements for all raises above $500,000. There was tremendous push-back due to costs; for instance, Slava Rubin, Indiegogo co- founder and CEO, called audits, “a massive deal breaker.” Fortunately, the SEC slackened the requirement for first-time crowdfunders. The new rules require:

  1. For offerings of $100,000 or less, financial statements must be certified by the company’s CEO.
  2. For offerings between $100,000 – $500,000, financial statements must be reviewed by an independent auditor.
  3. For offerings greater than $500,000, financial statements must be reviewed by an independent auditor for first time crowdfunders, but for any follow-on crowdfund campaign the financial statements must be audited.

4 Crowdfunding Rules for Investors

Individuals will be allowed to invest based on annual income or net worth. Under the new rules, an individual may:

  1. If annual income or net worth is less than $100,000, invest the greater of $2,000 or 5% of the lesser of annual income or net worth.
  2. If annual income or net worth is $100,000 or more, invest 10% of the lesser of annual income or net worth.
  3. Invest not more than $100,000 per annum aggregate in crowdfunding offerings.
  4. Sell the securities, but only after holding them for one year.

Importantly, funding portals may rely on the investor’s representations concerning annual income, net worth, and the amount of the investor’s other crowdfunding investments, unless the portal has reasonable basis to question the investor’s representations. That is, there’s no affirmative obligation on the company or the portals to prod into investor’s private financial affairs to verify the investor’s representations.

Outlook for Investors and Entrepreneurs with the New SEC Crowdfunding Rules

Crowdfunding Rules for InvestorsVenture capitalists aren’t sweating. At $1 million a crowdfunded project is small even for a seed round, where average deal size hovers around $4 million and which constituted a mere 1% of 2014 VC dollars ($719 million of $48.3 billion).

On the other hand, one commentator noted that if U.S. families invested 1% of their assets in start-ups via crowdfunding, it would unleash $300 billion annually. The success of state-specific crowdfunding rules and of non-equity platforms such as KickStarter, Go Fund Me, and Kiva indicate there’s a sizable market for small denomination equity investments. And there’s certainly no dearth of start-ups looking for capital.

Ongoing SEC rules and reporting requirements will always be a deterrent to start-ups and will hamper crowdfunding’s potential, but as quality funding portals develop and the public acclimates to the new investing landscape, crowdfunding may become a useful tool for small-scale capital raises.

How will these rules change how you grow your business? Will you invest using the new Crowdfunding rules? Let us know in the comments below.

© 2015 Faegre Baker Daniels. All rights reserved.

8 Universal Qualities of Great Pitch Decks

“Send me your deck.”

Early entrepreneurs hear this a lot. And it’s because a pitch deck is a great way for an investor or potential customer to quickly size up your company. 

So, don’t leave this important communications piece to chance. We interviewed eight experienced entrepreneurs to get their perspective on the important aspects of an effective pitch deck.

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

What’s one lesser known thing you can include in a pitch deck that will really wow a VC?

1. Revenue

Danny BoiceWe very deliberately set out to have a solid revenue story for investors from day one. I know this sounds like common sense, but it’s unfortunately quite rare. I can’t believe how many investors we’ve pitched to who couldn’t believe that we had revenue our first month in business.

– Danny BoiceTrustify

2. A Personal Connection

Kristopher JonesDo research on the personal background of the person(s) you are sharing a deck with, and find one or more things in common to create a lasting personal connection. Maybe you went to the same college or high school. Maybe you are both Philadelphia Eagles fans (that would make three of us) or both attended Burning Man. A genuine personal connection can impress a VC and set the tone for discussion.

– Kristopher JonesLSEO.com

3. Synergies With Their Current Investments

Daniele GallardoI found that it is really important to understand the portfolio of your VC or strategic partner. Browsing the companies that they funded in the past gives you an understanding of what is important to them. If the companies are in the realm of what you do, it is often very simple to find synergies that the VC would really love to see in your deck. Do the homework for them, and show them!

– Daniele Gallardo, Actasys

4. Lessons Learned

jared-brownTelling VCs that you’ve made mistakes and sharing what you’ve learned from them will definitely make you stand out from the other startups that might be pretending to be perfect. You’ll show them that you’re adaptable, resilient and perceptive — all qualities they’re looking for in a potential investment. Then show how the lessons added to the value of your product or expanded your market reach.

– Jared BrownHubstaff

5. People Who Believe in You and How to Contact Them

dave-nevogtIf you already have influencers and advisors on board, show VCs who the three or four most important ones are and how to best get in contact with them. Having established entrepreneurs and businesspeople who will sing your praises to potential investors is an important signal of credibility, and in some cases, it can sway a VC that’s potentially interested but still needs some reassurance.

– Dave NevogtHubstaff.com

6. Video

Miles JenningsVideo and imagery are what attracts attention most from any audience you are trying to speak to, even an audience of VCs. Include a short video in your pitch that shows who you really are as a company, what you have accomplished and what your goals are. The video will make your story more tangible and will give a VC an inside look at your company and what you have to offer.

– Miles JenningsRecruiter.com

7. Thorough Financials

Jason LaAs an active investor in early stage companies, I review pitch decks every week, and I would be impressed by a thorough discussion of key metrics beyond mere sales projections. This should include compound annual growth rate, customer acquisition cost and return on equity as well as a timeline of the cost to achieve specific milestones. Thorough financials demonstrate solid business acumen.

– Jason La, Merchant Service Group, LLC

8. Future Vision of the Industry

Mike SeimanInclude the vision of the future of your industry. Too many people get caught up in the numbers and forget to tell a story. VCs want to know the bigger picture – where your company and your industry is going. In the end, marketing and finance decks aren’t that different. Both tell VCs a story and focus on getting them to invest in that vision.

– Mike SeimanCPXi

Pitch: PactSafe is the 1st Application that Seamlessly Manages, Tracks and Deploys Website Legal Agreements

PactSafe is the first application that seamlessly manages, tracks and deploys website legal agreements. In his August presentation at Verge, Brian Powers unveils PactSafe to the world. Watch his 5-minute pitch here:

PactSafe: Seamlessly Manage, Track and Deploy Your Website Legal Agreements

What is website legal?

  • Terms of Use
  • Privacy Policies
  • Terms and Conditions
  • Disclaimers


The problem:

  • Enforceability
  • Deployment and Management is a Huge Distraction
  • Tracking is Non-Existent

The solution (PactSafe):

  • Maximizes enforceability of website legal agreements.
  • Manages and deploys all aspects of website legal without disrupting development teams.
  • Tracks and records user acceptance of website legal agreements and modifications.

How you can help:

  • Sign Up and Use PactSafe!
  • Spread the Word!
  • Email the founder, Brian Powers if you or someone you know is looking for any of these awesome jobs

How are you currently managing website user agreements? Does PactSafe look like something you would use?

The Overlooked Pitch – Your Online Presence

online-presence-will-ferrellToday’s post comes from Nick Wangler, a recent addition to DeveloperTown. Every two weeks, Nick will be sharing stories of DeveloperTown startups and the lessons we can learn from them. Today, he’s introducing us to the overlooked pitch – our online presence.

You know those videos where celebrities read angry tweets about themselves? If you haven’t seen them, imagine Will Ferrell sitting on a toilet reading tweets where he is heckled mercilessly and you’ve got the idea.

There’s something surreal about the moment when words clearly intended for the internet are heard in a different context. Read aloud and considered, what’s written online often takes on a new perspective.
For instance, imagine reading your LinkedIn profile from the stage of the next Verge event. Are you totally satisfied with how that would go? Would there even be anything to read? Would it be compelling? And if not, why? I know I’ve got work to do and I’m sure others do too.
Everything we write online is a pitch to the unseen yet seemingly ever present potential investor, partner, employee, and customer. A pitch for who you are, what you’re about, and how well you can communicate big ideas in constrained spaces.
What’s more, taking the time to write original thoughts with the constraints of a summary on LinkedIn or 140 characters on Twitter forces you to understand exactly what you want to convey and do it concisely. As author John Piper once said, “The effort to say is the path to seeing.”
While I’ve always paid attention to the way I communicate online, I hadn’t given this area as much thought as I should until a recent discussion with Jason Seiden made me reconsider. He said, “If you aren’t at least as compelling online as you are in person, you’re doing it wrong.”
When is the last time you read your LinkedIn profile from the perspective of a potential client? Or took the time to think through how to communicate an original thought in 140 characters rather than just sharing yet another blog post about your industry to appear knowledgable? (I’m guilty.)
Frequent writing and refining of original thoughts through online platforms doesn’t just broaden your reach, it strengthens your core ability to communicate. While design and development is (righfully) experiencing a huge boom, the need for good writing is as important as ever and will multiply the effectiveness of whatever position you find yourself in.
So go watch Will Ferrell read tweets on a toilet (somewhat nsfw, obv), check out one of my favorite resources for learning to write well, and then go write something.

To learn more about improving your online presence, make sure  you check out our September event with Connections!

3 Pitching Mistakes That Make You Sound “Salesy”

ben-franklin-close“Draw a line down the center of the paper,” said Mr. Brown.

We were on the third hour of back and forth and Brown wasn’t ready to let go without pulling out all the stops.

“Now on the left side of the paper, write ‘Reasons For,’ and on the right side, write the word ‘Reasons Against,’” Brown said. This was the first time I had ever been sold anything in a one-on-one situation. But even I knew the “Ben Franklin” close.

I’ve seen a lot of pitches since then. It’s surprising how many make the same mistakes—especially because they’re so easily avoided.

We’ve all had bad days, or even found ourselves in a rut. So, do a quick self check on these common “salesy” pitch habits:

You’re way too eager.

Slow down, Sparky. We appreciate your enthusiasm, but we can’t understand what you’re talking about, no matter how wide you open your eyes or how broad make your gestures.


When you give your pitch, you’re going to get a shot of adrenaline. And that jolt can be your friend or your worst enemy.

Stay calm. You need to be enthusiastic about your business, but you also need to make good decisions (and stay coherent) during your pitch. A few deep breaths before your next pitch may do the trick. But if you’re really amped up, you may want to try a quick meditation.

Yes, meditation.

Even if you have only 2 minutes. Research has shown that you communicate better and make better decisions when you’re calm.  And meditation has been proven to decrease stress and maintain a calm, confident mindset.

eleven-fifty-pitchYou sound like a robot.

Have you ever had someone impress you with their industry vocabulary or clever sales phrases?

Yeah, me neither.

When you really know your industry and product, it’s easy to get carried away. But using big words or jargon makes it difficult to make a genuine connection.

At the same time, clichés and overused phrases are an easy (and did I mention, ineffective?) fallback strategy. Unless you’re making a joke, don’t ever use any of the following:

  • “We’re world class…” << It’s great that your product is world-class. Instead of claiming this, tell your audience who said you’re “world class” or why they should believe this.
  • “This is cutting-edge.” << Oh snap! Cutting edge, you say? This idiom couldn’t be more ironic. If you actually utter the words “cutting edge,” you’re not cutting edge. Think of something original to say in a way that makes sense for your product.
  • “Can I be honest for a second?” << If you want to build rapport with your audience (hint: you do), you should just go ahead and be honest all the time.
  • “I will offer this only to you on a discount.” << Don’t resort to these kinds of “sales tactics.” They make you seem cheap and disingenuous, and they rarely work.
  • “It’s a paradigm shift.” << No. Just no. Please don’t say this.
  • “Value-added” or “Added-value” << How do you add value? Why does this matter? Talk about the benefit or the pain point you’re solving and you’ll hook the audience’s attention.

I could go on, but you get the point. Bottom line: People do business with people. Pitch accordingly.


You forget the “ask.”

You’ve hooked the audience’s attention. You built intrigue and demonstrated the value of your business. Now bring us home.

I’m sure you’ve done research on your audience (right?), so craft a concise, actionable ask for the end of your pitch. When you deliver your specific request—this could be a sale, funding, a referral, etc.—remind your audience why they will benefit.

pact-safe-pitchThen, shut up.

If you keep talking, you’ll lose your audience. So, give your audience the opportunity to help you.

If you’re using slides, leave your contact information presented for all to see. If you’re presenting to a large audience, keep yourself extremely visible to the room and open to starting new conversations. Book a specific next step and make sure you have a way to contact your new friend (grab their business card).

Hopefully, I gave you some “Reasons Against” being too eager or robotic during your pitches. And when you nail your “Reasons For” during the ask of your next pitch, there is one thing of which I’m certain…

Ben Franklin would be proud.

Did you find these suggestions helpful? Learn what investors have to say about pitching mistakes entrepreneurs make when pitching for Seed Funding.


Grown Up Lessons For Your Startup’s Next Pitch

startup pitching lessons from thaddeus rexAs they gear up for this year’s Innovation Showcase, over 80 founders from across the nation are honing their investment pitches. They have read every book, every blog, and consulted a half dozen mentors, but this month, Verge is bringing in an incredible resource for honing your pitching skills who has a surprising background.

Thaddeus Rex is an extremely well respected public speaker and consultant. Today he works with marketers and salespeople across the country on building and leveraging world-class brands. Sounds cool, right? He must have spent his youth hopping from Madison Avenue Ad Agency to Madison Avenue Ad Agency, learning the biz better than anyone in the world.

Not quite.

Thaddeus didn’t start off as an advertiser or a sales guru. In fact, he got his start as a children’s singer. Thaddeus began his career as a musician on PBS followed by a decade’s worth of touring performing for schools and family groups.

So what could this possibly have to do with crafting an investment pitch? Thaddeus sat down with the Verge crew for a Google Hangout to chat more about the lessons he’s learned about crafting brilliant presentations and building winning brands.

The Magic to a Perfect Pitch? Appealing to Dual Audiences

It’s extremely easy to get caught up in the minutiae of a pitch deck. To Thaddeus, it’s all about understanding who your audience is (and why only thinking about one audience is never enough.)

“If you’re writing songs for kids, you’re really writing songs for parents. It’s about appealing to two audiences.”

So how do you apply that to a startup pitch? When you’re pitching to an end user, it can be extremely easy to forget about the business and focus on the features and benefits. When you’re pitching to an investor, discussions of market cap and revenue streams may clutter what the product actually does. To hone your pitch, you need to choose a defined target audience and put investors in those shoes. Make sure that your investors can see the end user experience while still appealing to their pocketbook.

If you’re pitching in the Innovation Showcase, you may be wondering “How do I fit all this in 60 seconds?!” Thaddeus has a quick three-step solution to taking this solution and fitting it in a tight time frame.

1. Develop intrigue and connection and immediately by highlighting an issue and making them feel a part of that problem.

2. Help them imagine the solution to that problem.

3. Surprise them! You have the solution.

Want Your Brand to Tell a Better Story? Give It Vocal Lessons

The biggest challenge brands face can be trying to take a product that no one really cares about and giving it value. Because of this, many marketers go on and on about brands telling a story.

“A story is important, but a song is linear, a song has a theme.”

Thaddeus Rex – Your Brand is Like a Song (a Rainmakers’ “Sparks Talk” event) from Thaddeus Rex on Vimeo.

It’s Time To Sharpen Your Ax

We’ve all heard the Lincoln-ism “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax.” Well if you’re going to be looking for funding any time soon, this month’s Verge event is your time to sharpen your ax. With all of the investor insights we’ve given you in the past, Verge has never provided such a great resource in the art of public speaking and honing your message.

On top of that, we’ve got two killer pitches, one from a well-known neighbor to many of our friends at the Speakeasy and another from a newcomer to the Indy startup scene who is already working with some SERIOUSLY big name clients! You also have the opportunity to meet the Hoosiers vying for over $100k in funding at this year’s Innovation Showcase and meet Indianapolis’ newest superstars, the Indy Xterns. 

KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR INBOX. Tickets are going live tomorrow AM (Wednesday, June 18th) and with the interest we’ve seen from founders and investors alike, they won’t be open for long. In the mean time, beware! Dinosaurs are everywhere!


DreamShare takes on Video with BadaBoom

badaboom video pitches verge

Video’s hot right now and everyone knows it. Trying to cash in on the gold rush is web app developer, DreamShare. Their new web app, BadaBoom, aims to act as a sort of Pinterest for video. Make it easy to make lists and share those list among your social networks. John, Josh, and Squid walked us through the pitch at Verge Bloomington

Company: DreamShare (BadaBoom)

Business: Web App Building

Key Value Prop: Bada Boom allows you to keep a clean record of your favorite videos and share them through various social media sites

Pitch Successes We Can Learn From

  • Establishing a Gap in the Market: We all know how large the market is for online video sharing, but we may not know that there is a gap in services being provided. By establishing this early, you’re validating your idea.
  • Live Walk Through: So frequently you can get lost in screenshots. If all you have is an MVP, that’s one thing, but when you’re pitching a working web app, I want to see it! I love that they went through and did a live demo.
  • Comparison to Something Established: It could be easy to look down on them for being small and not well known, but by drawing a comparison to early stage Reddit, they’re sending a message. Don’t you wish you invested in Alexis Ohanaian early?

I was missing the comparison to their competitors. Let’s not shy from the elephant in the room (and the marketplace). How is this app going to differentiate itself from YouTube which allows you to create and share playlists? What about Vimeo and Vevo that allow you to do the same? This is a crowded market, what makes you different?

What were your thoughts? Do you believe in BadaBoom’s product or do you think their competition is too stiff?

Winning Startup Trade Show Ideas from The Innovation Showcase

It’s been a big year for Santiago Jaramillo and the BlueBridge Digital team. The kind of year that landed him on the Inc. 30 under 30 list.

Startup Conference Tips to Win

Santiago Jaramillo, Founder and CEO of BlueBridge Digital.

A year ago, BlueBridge had fifteen clients and three employees. They now have over 110 clients and more than fifteen employees, but that’s only the beginning–with plans to add 199 jobs over the next nine years, Santiago and BlueBridge are only going to continue accelerating.

And when Santiago pitched at The Innovation Showcase in July 2013, the team was already well on their way to growth mode: they took home 1st place in the Early Stage Startup category, attracted lots of attention from the startup community in Indiana (and around the country), and have continued to innovate in the mobile space.

So when Santiago shared with me how he and the BlueBridge team prepared for The Innovation Showcase, I knew it was advice worth heeding.

Santiago explained that three things take the most effort and time to prepare for startup conference and events: the exhibit, the team, and the pitch. Catch the full interview and my takeaways below.

Winning Startup Trade Show Ideas

Startup Trade Show Idea #1: Be Intentional with Your Exhibit

Attendees at most conferences won’t have any clue what your company does when they walk through the door, so start with the pain or problem you solve. Try to avoid industry jargon. Your goal is to be understood–to create an “Ah, yes, I see!” moment–not to speak over attendee’s heads.

BlueBridge delivers Mobile Apps as a Service (MaaaS?). Which may or may not come across clearly, even to a techno-literate audience.

Keep your exhibit simple, like your pitch, Santiago said. Put a lot of thought into the few items you will bring, and keep attendees laser-focused on the real value you provide–not the chintzy usb drive the booth next to you is giving away.

Startup Trade Show Idea #2: Be Intentional with Your Exhibit

Startup teams are tight-knit, but that doesn’t always mean that everybody is on the same page going into scrutinous environments like The Innovation Showcase. Prep your team with finely-tuned talking points to make sure the message is consistent. Rehearse.

“When you start describing what you do,” said Santiago, “There are just so many solutions out there that people wonder why you should even exist.”

So why does BlueBridge exist?

“There are more smartphones sold than babies born in the world,” said Santiago, chuckling. “It makes you laugh, but it captures their attention…and they’re willing to listen to how we’re solving that issue.”

Key Startup Trade Show Idea: Ask yourself what key metrics you can share, and how you can create buy-in from attendees with your reason for being.

Startup Trade Show Idea #3: Perfect the 60 Second Pitch

Startup Conference Pitch

Santiago Jaramillo and his partner Adam Weber delivered a conversational, easy to understand pitch that really resonated with the judges.

At The Innovation Showcase, companies only have 60 seconds to pitch–but since founders really only have about a minute to get the point across any time they pitch, the lightning-fast 1-minute pitch gets a lot more use than you might think.

“Put yourself in the shoes of your audience,” said Santiago. “You have to really simplify and condense.”

Key Startup Trade Show Idea: Keep your pitch simple. Really simple. Questions afterward do not always mean the pitch was unclear–often, they demonstrate real interest.

Santiago’s pitch style earned him a win at The Innovation Showcase–and if you’re thinking of applying for the 2014 Showcase, his advice is certainly worth incorporating into your pitch: “Be very specific, clear, and simple. Those people don’t know the industry and buzzwords like you do.”

“You want to be either loved or hated, but not ignored or confused!”

The Innovation Showcase is accepting exhibitor applications until April 30, 2014. Get your application in now for a chance to secure one of the first 15 spots!

Haters Gonna Hate: How Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian Deals with Critics (from UberFacts)

Three months into the launch of Reddit, co-founders Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman were invited out to Silicon Valley by an executive at Yahoo. What happened next, is now legend among many tech entrepreneurs.

That’s why UberFacts—one of the most awesome brands on the internet— teamed up with us to capture this story first hand during Ohanian’s recent visit to Verge ®. Take a look:

“Haters Gonna Hate”

If you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t need reminders that haters are gonna hate. But with this new story from UberFacts, Ohanian gives us a perfect anecdote for why early criticism should be taken with a grain of salt.

alexis ohanian haters gonna hateYou are a rounding error,” scoffed the Yahoo executive at the other end of the table. A memorable line, given the history of what happened next. Of course, Reddit went on to grow to one of the top websites on the internet and eventually sold to Conde Nast Publications.

Alexis Ohanian‘s new book Without Their Permission chronicles this entrepreneurial growth story in detail, with several other insights into the magic behind Ohanian’s career. It’s a worthy read of anyone who does anything with the internet, as Ohanian’s stories also delve into his personal and political efforts to keep the Internet free and accessible—for everyone.

It’s clear from this story, and others within Without Their Permission, that Ohanian has loads of hustle. But he also had the foresight to build himself an awesome support infrastructure. And much of that early foundation came through the mentorship of Paul Graham and the community at Y Combinator.

So, how can you build your own support team? How will you deal with haters?

Because as long as you’re building something different and taking risks, haters gonna hate. The next time you’re feeling down, remember this story and replay the video to remember (in the immortal words of Alexis Ohanian), “Haters gonna hate …So, you know what? Eat them for breakfast.”

haters gonna hate

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