I want to conclude my short week of posts around pitch competitions by telling you the story of the three worst pitches I have ever witnessed and hopefully finding something we can learn from their shameful, shameful, failure. (I’m kidding… every pitch is a good pitch.) I don’t need to change the names to protect the innocent because I truthfully don’t remember the company or the peoples’ names. The Smack Off
This one goes down as one of the funniest AND one worst pitches of all time. I can’t remember the setting but I’ll never forget the pitch. A well dressed guy got up and gave a fairly standard introduction but what happened next was anything but normal.
Now, I’ve never been a fan of professional wrestling but apparently this guy was. He later told me that he was copying, what he called a smack off. Apparently this involves a wrestler (or wrassler, as he called it) standing on stage and describing in great detail what he was planning to do to his upcoming opponent. Things like… “So and so… I’m coming for ya and I’m bringing the pain!”. But instead of talking about his opponents he talked about how he was going to dominate his market and beat down his competitors in the space. Like a car wreck, I couldn’t watch but yet I couldn’t look away.
The best part was his movements coupled with his extremely expressive facial expressions. He would sort of pose like a body builder to emphasize his points despite the fact, he was only about 160 pounds but could still be considered to be overweight.
The crowd loved it and everybody laughed including the pudgy wrassler and while his pitch was memorable, I couldn’t tell you a thing about his company.
Lesson: Being entertaining is good. Making the pitch more about you than about your company…dumb.
A group of students were charged with pitching me their ideas as if I were a rich investor and they caught me in an elevator (get it … an elevator pitch). Playing a rich investor was the acting challenge of my life and while I have no idea how to act rich the top hat and monocle were nice additions to my character. The students were amazing, confident, funny and courageous. A few of them had some really good ideas.
Now I have been told that a lot of people fear public speaking more than death. I’m not sure if it’s true but, in this case, I think the young girl would have preferred death by root canal without painkillers to the torture of standing in front of a classroom of 30. From the moment I saw her, three things were obvious. First, she was deathly nervous. Second, she was no more than 12 years old (probably closer to 19 but she looked like she was 12). Finally, she thought I was the devil (or at least looked at me as if I were).
She managed to whisper her way through the opening but started to come unhinged after about 10 seconds. She looked up, met my eyes and froze. Flushed 3 shades of pale and began to sway on her feet. It was hard not to take it personally.
At this point, I was guessing there were two possible outcomes. She would either pass out (In which case my best bet was to take a step closer so I could catch her before she knocked her head on a desk and inevitably sue me), or she would puke. (In which case my best move away, move away quickly.) You can see my dilemma.
The girl was frozen with fear. I felt as if I needed to say something. “Do you need a second?” I asked.
The sound of my voice was apparently too much for her to handle and she let a shriek that loosened the fillings of everyone within a two mile radius. With tears streaming, she sprinted for the door and disappeared to the hidden realm of the lady’s room.
The best line of the day belonged to the professor. After a couple of long moments of awkwardness. He calmly looked down at his list and said, “OK…next up we have…”.
Lesson: Figure out how to stand up in front of people… I know, easy for me to say but if you’re going to be the next great American Entrepreneur, you should probably figure that out. If you simply are not “that” person, hire one. The world is full of wanna be pitch men. Go to any corporate training department and you’ll find bushels of them.
The Geek Fight-
There are two camps of entrepreneur mentors that I have found. The first, let’s call them Jobsians, will be honest. When I say honest I mean they’re assholes. This group tends to take delight in telling you that your company is stupid, your idea is dumb and your shirt is ugly. Their thesis is that most people will tell you only what you want to hear so it is up to them to tell you what you need to hear. I do not, in theory, disagree but I’m from the South and in the South we’re not assholes we’re passive aggressive…which is way better!
The second (I fall in to this camp) will give you their opinion but do it in a way that does not kick the shit out of your hopes and dreams, throw them on the ground and urinate on them. I call these people Nordmarkians named after one of the nicest entrepreneurs you’ll ever meet Jon Nordmark.
As a proud Nordmarkian I was listening to a young energetic guy pitch an idea around group dating. He wanted to do something around location based technologies and meeting like minded singles. I’ve probably heard this idea pitched about 40 times and while the presenter had a ton of excitement, there was nothing in his idea that distinguished it from the other 40. At the end of the pitch, I was asked to give my feedback and as a good Nordmarkian, I complimented him on his pitch, his energy, his enthusiasm. In my last sentence I gently mentioned that he may want to look in to the competition in the space and try to find an angle that made him unique.
The young guy looked as if I had stolen his Birthday. I sensed tears forming under his eyelids and that’s when it happened…The kid got pissed.
He lowered his sites on me and let a round fly. “Oh really, what have you ever done that was so great?” It went on from there. I sat quietly and let him finish and was about to respond when the Jobsian next to me, tired of being left out of the fun, jumped in to the fight with a few well timed insults about the stupidity of the company and the color of the guy’s shirt. Pretty soon the young guys business partner had waded in to the fray and what followed was an out and out Pitch Fest Riot (all rights reserved…working on the movie script).
There is nothing quite as entertaining and yet sad as being in the middle of a geek fight. The insults fly fast but generally revolve around the opponents intelligence or lack there of. After a few minutes, us geeks had tuckered ourselves out and the young guy, now with tears running down his cheeks, ran out of the room like a girl at prom who discovered that her friend is wearing the same dress.
Lesson: Smile and take it… No matter the feedback, arguing with the person giving it will get you nowhere. The Jobsians of the world can be brutal but they are (in their own way) trying to help. If you plan on standing up at a pitch competition plan on being shredded, it’s just the way it works. Smile and thank the judges for their feedback….unless of course, you want to cause a…. GEEK FIGHT!