Reflections, advice to this year's finalists, and some shameless gloating.
By Colin McIntosh, Founder & CEO and soon-to-be pretentious judge
In September 2017, after years of hard work and emotional investment, I was laid off from the startup I moved to Denver for. Three weeks later, I founded Sheets & Giggles™, because apparently I'm a glutton for punishment.
In September 2018, after a year of 16-hour days and very little sleep (ironic), I took home first place for S&G at Denver Startup Week's $95,000 pitch competition. I remember feeling incredibly validated in my choice to start our little pun-based company, and the cash and investment portions of the award were put to good use (read: went right into my pocket).
One year later, I'm proud to announce that this Thursday, September 19, I'm now a judge at the very same pitch competition (RSVP to watch the finals!)! Oh the turntables.
This year's grand prize is again valued at close to $100,000, and I'll join 4 other judges to decide which startup gets a much-needed boost, and which startups get fed to the lions.
Super excited to see him play the Joker.
I've been asked by Denver Startup Week to write some quick advice to share with this year's semifinalists, so I put together this stream of consciousness:
- Demonstrate traction, wins, and market validation above all else.
- Remove as many words from your slides as possible, and please for God's sake no bullet points. People can either listen to you or read; they can't do both.
- Don't hone in too much on "team team team" – I find that this is often a way for companies to gloss over little traction / other things to brag about during the pitch. Talk about the company's wins as much as possible, and maybe talk about the core founding team for 20 seconds tops.
- Show readiness – how will you use the prize money tomorrow?
- Win over the crowd. The judges will 100% be influenced by how the crowd reacts, so go for the big applause / laughter / "woooo!" moments to make them remember your pitch's high notes.
- Don't focus too much on the nitty gritty of your product unless it's truly revolutionary / life-saving / industry game-changing. Spend more time on the business model, traction, wins, and outlook.
- If you're confident about the model, literally just tell us / show your unit economics. Some of the most impressive decks I've ever seen have a slide that's devoted to margin breakdown, including acquisition cost, so the listeners can visualize how quickly you can grow given an influx of $X marketing spend.
- Like a job interview, understand the common questions you'll get asked by the judges after we hear your pitch, and be ready to absolutely crush those. Being succinct and confident during the Q&A is key, and you don't want to stumble over an answer or be long-winded in your response.
- If it's helpful, here's my 5-min pitch from Techstars demo night in April so you can see my pitch cadence.
Hope this helps! I cannot wait to hear all the finalists' pitches, and it should be a blast.
Also, new rule this year: the winner has to best me in hand-to-hand combat to claim the giant check. I've grown quite fond of the check this past year, so I hope the eventual winner brings their A-game and melee weapon of choice.
Hope to see you at Denver Startup Week this year! If you attend the pitch competition on Thursday or my panel on Wednesday about consumer marketing with Shinesty, Pepper, and Epic Water, please say hi!