his is the third part of a 3 part series on Techstars. If you haven’t read Episode I, you can check it out here, and for Episode II, head here.
Every team’s goals are different. Each of us comes to Techstars at various stages of development in our stratups’ lives. Some entrepreneurs at Techstars NYC 2014 were just beginning to set up their companies. Others like our own had a product, but were in search of a market. And yet others, were beginning to become well-implanted in their respective fields. Regardless of where you started, everyone finished at Demo Day.
Demo Day was the culmination of the program. It has traditionally been known as the opportunity to peak the interests of hundreds of investors, both angels and funds. It’s been considered the chance to raise millions in an instant, and sign a round of fundraising the same day. But, the event has evolved over the past few years, and while it is an important moment to showcase a product and seduce investors, it has become more of a PR event than the end-all-be-all of fundraising.
I’m CEO Bitch
Halfway through Techstars, the training begins. For several hours each day, the 13 CEOs would gather in the presentation area of the Techstars office to run the pitching gauntlet. Treated like a product, a pitch was to be written and molded, but often scrapped until it was certain that the final draft was flawless. The pitch itself would be so rehearsed that it become second nature. In fact, Techstars rated each pitch on a scale of 1 to 10. In order to be let on stage, you had to have a score of at least 8.
At the time, Julien, our CEO, was in the midst of closing a round of fundraising that had been in the works for nearly 4 months, but had been delayed by the legal gridlock involved with flipping a company from France to the US. At the same time, we had made a commitment to building an in-house analytics system after several painful attempts to integrate and adapt off-the-shelf solutions to our use case. Julien, as a developer himself, assumed the task of building and implementing the foundational bricks of the system.
The First Draft
In mid-April, despite the pressure to focus on fundraising and contribute to the product, Julien sat in the presentation area and watched entrepreneur after entrepreneur work their way through pages densely scribbled with text. Will Dennis from Hollerback stood out. He sounded natural and calm as he spoke. He worked his way smoothly for the first time through an unpracticed, rough version of his presentation. When comments were made, he simply crossed out one phrase, replaced it with another and picked up succinctly from where he’d left off.
As a French CEO, Julien was understandably uneasy about presenting in English to a room of 500 people. His accent, an unusual mix of western French and Cambridge English, needed to be molded in order to annunciate difficult to pronounce words. Moreover, after his first attempt on week 7 of Techstars, with a pitch axed on the “pain point” of sharing files, he was confronted by his peers about two significant facts: 1) people were already comfortable with sending files (i.e. it’s less of a pain than it used to be) and 2) that the elephant in the room was quasi-competitor, Dropbox.
With too many tasks on his plate and so much to digest and consider, Julien all but withdrew from the next few weeks of pitch practice. It was not until 3 weeks later that he reengaged with the process.
When Julien finally began refocusing on the pitch, he decided to take a different approach. Infinit no longer needed immediate funding. The round was nearly closed with our new investors. We were also just about to launch a Windows app and were beginning to think about a mobile application. Demo Day thus began to be considered a chance to get some press and create a memorable experience for those present. In doing so, we could open up doors to future investors without pressure, but also make an impression on the press, other entrepreneurs and the rest of the New York tech community.
Julien began constructing a pitch that would play on our culture, brand and humor. It would talk about our progress, but would also be saturated with oral and visual subtleties that would make a striking departure from the traditional startup pitch. So Gaëtan, our designer, and Julien set out to craft a sort of skit.
Crafting the Pitch
Their first attempt, although rough, offered a result that made everyone giggle with references to baguettes, Patrick Sébastien, berets and other French nonsense. As the pitched began to evolve, we began to put more effort into every detail we considered most important.
Branding and Design
Infinit is a creative company. We place a strong emphasis on design and cleanliness. Our designer creates an elegant experience from our landing page all the way through to every screen of our desktop app. We wanted to create continuity between our brand image and the slides we used. The result was a minimal amount of text on each slide and that each slide would showcase a single concept with one cohesive image. Many of the subtleties would be present within the slides and each slide would complement Julien’s oration.
The original feedback about the big blue elephant in the room, Dropbox, weighed on Julien hugely. He eventually decided to address the issue head on. In our case, it was difficult to bring up file sharing without drawing a comparison to Dropbox. In reality, we were competing with WeTransfer and the company formerly known as YouSendIt, Hightail. Most of our users saw us as a better version of these apps. Nevertheless, to this public, Dropbox was the point of reference, and differentiation was a key sticking point we consistently needed to overcome.
The pitch would skip Julien’s introduction and dive straight into the Dropbox use case for sharing. This is considered fairly uncommon. Most pitches start with the presenter’s name, company, role and a quick snippet of what the product is. But Julien wanted to draw the comparison on ease-of-use and the actual user experience of sharing in order to illustrate the blatant differences from the get-go. We would also address our product more globally. We had just launched our Mac app and our Windows app was just about to be released in beta. Our metrics were fairly steady throughout the program as we hadn’t launched most of the features we built until the last month, so we wouldn’t yet be able to present sustainable growth.
Involving the Team
We’ve always seen Infinit as a collaborative company, especially with respect to our image and how the brand is portrayed publicly. Our CTO, a former social network hater, is now active on Twitter and even interacts with some of our users.
We had previously had a heated discussion about using a quote on our website. When Patrick suggested asking a media executive to have a quote attributed to him, Quentin, our CTO objected saying that it would be unethical to create a quote for someone. Long story, short, the compromise would be to attribute the quote to Kim Jong-Il’s character from Team America World Police. Gaëtan, when designing a slide depicting how much our users like Infinit, included the quote from Kim Jong-Il. It took a few seconds for the audience to notice, but when they did it was priceless. Check out the video at the end of this post to see their reaction.
Every slide was a reference to our culture. It was important for us to show our identity and make sure that the audience knew that Infinit was as much a brand and culture as it was a fun and useful product.
Demo Day felt like an episode of Silicon Valley. It was a hyped event that assembled nearly every major investor in New York, business angels from around the world, press from every major tech media outlet and even the like of Forbes, The New York Times and other major publication.
When the time came for Julien to pitch, Mitch Wainer, Digital Ocean’s CMO, came out to introduce Infinit. After his kind words, Patrick Sébastien’s Le Petit Bonhomme en Mousse kicked on and Julien walked out on stage. The typical French music sounded absurd and gave everyone a laugh. When he referenced Dropbox and showed the file being transferred, it was named Fisinière.mpg. The Fistinière is a reference to a documentary on a French fisting resort that went viral within the French urban youth community for its open portrayal and nonjudgmental treatment of fisting.
At the end of the presentation, Gaëtan had made a last minute addition to the presentation whereby a Smirinoff Ice bottle slowly rose in the background of the final slide as a farewell to @TechstarsIcing. KJ proved to be too clever and to Julien’s dismay, it had been removed just before the live run of the presentation!
Without further ado, I present you with the long awaited and much talked about, Infinit Techstars pitch:
The End of an Era
As Demo Day came to a close and the typical mingling and cocktail with investors and mentors wore on into the late afternoon, the Techstars teams regrouped in the background. The plan? One final hoorah at our favorite, Nick the Doorman, in Williamsburg.
As the L-train chugged beneath the East River, Julien and the rest of the French Infinit consortium erupted into song, blaring lines from Patrick Sébastien’s Le Petit Bonhomme en Mousse. Shockingly, strangers began handing our team coins. Although, in retrospect, it may have been a bribe for them to shut up.
When we got to the bar, it was as quiet as we had ever seen it. The trickle of entrepreneurs, hackstars and associates began. First 10; then 15; then 40. The lone bartender became increasingly anxious thanks to the drunken hoard that was forming.
The Concert Window team, with whom we found so much in common, had ordered a gracious gift for our Infinit team in the form of fake startup t-shirts. The fake startup, a fascinating concept, developed during our last Friday night party, was called Dickswitcher.
As the bartender’s anxiety transformed into frustration around 1 am, she began closing down and kicking us out. On the street outside Dirck, the alcohol-driven emotions became more noticeable for our team. There was one party left, but most of the Infinit team was being forced to leave in order to avoid overstaying ‘merica’s 90-day visa restrictions.
Goodbye New York
There are points in your life when you come to a final goodbye. You recognize it. It’s unpleasant, but it’s also inevitable. When you spend 3 months with a group of ambitious and creative people like the teams, hackstars, associates and staff of Techstars New York 2014, the adventure seems like it’s just beginning, and in many ways it is. But, this was the end; the end of just a single chapter of a long story. And so we said goodbye.
Thanks to the other Techstars teams that made memorable impressions on all of us from the outspoken, boisterous Makerskit team to the studious Lynxsy and the unique and atypical, Rival Theory. Thanks to the hackstars and associates that not only made tangible contributions to our companies, but offered their friendship and encouragement when we needed it. Thanks to the Techstars staff and mentors that gave us an opportunity, critiqued us, taught us and guided us through the most grueling and relentless of intellectual experiences. And finally, good luck to those of you that will choose to take part in Techstars. It’s an unforgettable experience that will have an impact on you long after it’s over.