In this episode, Steli and Hiten talk about how you can crush it on demo day. While Hiten thinks that demo day events need improvement, he also shares valuable tips on how you can make yourself stand out and land that next meeting with a potential investor. Steli also talks from the perspective of an investor during demo day and provides key tips that can help make your presentation memorable.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

  • 00:05 – Today’s episode is about how to crush it on demo day
  • 01:27 – Hiten has been to a half a dozen demo days, but prefers going to pitch prep
  • 02:46 – Steli shares how the best investors they’ve met have spent time with the start-ups in preparation for the demo day
  • 03:14 – The investors become the coaches who help create the pitch and they build those relationships with the start-up
  • 04:15 – Steli has been to 10 or 20 demo days and says it’s tiresome and not a productive way to spend a day
  • 05:10 – Steli has written a few blog posts about doing a demo day and he can share it with you through his email
  • 05:50 – Hiten shares his website that can help you with your pitch decks
  • 06:33 – You should understand the broader context of where your pitch lies
  • 07:07 – It is not just you doing the presentation during the entire event
  • 08:47 – This can have an impact on how successful your pitch is
  • 09:09 – Dave McCourt’s advice to help you stand out
  • 09:35 – This is just a pitch to help get you that next meeting with an investor
  • 10:10 – Hiten thinks the demo day process need improvement
  • 11:22 – “I’ve never seen a founder share too little”
  • 11:51 – Editing is an important part to get the audience’s attention
  • 12:30 – Incubators have tried to improve the process, including YC
  • 13:12 – Steli did a demo day and it allowed him to have an instant market
  • 14:12 – When you have a large audience, it’s not advantageous for you to try to target all of them
  • 14:40 – Divide the group by the people who liked what you said and the people who did not respond as well
  • 15:31 – You want the RIGHT investors
  • 16:11 – The goals for demo day is to get the NEXT meeting
  • 16:17 – The best pitches are those that timed themselves
  • 16:45 – Find out one key thing that will make an impact and that will help people remember you
  • 17:03 – That’s it for today

3 Key Points:

  1. The goal for demo day is to help you get that NEXT meeting with an investor.
  2. Know the schedule and where you stand during the whole event, so you can be prepared for your presentation.
  3. Time yourself while you practice and stick to the allotted time!

Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah, and on today’s episode we’re going to talk about something that I know Stelly deals with probably a little bit more than I so, if not a lot more than I do, just because of his evolvement around Y.C. and even five hundred, which I have evolvement in as well. Which is demo days and tips and art class on demo days. Stella, you want to kick it off, because I know you’ve been helping a bunch of people recently with that.


Steli Efti: Yeah, I’d love to. So this is all about how do you crush a demo day presentation, or your demo day pitch. I know that a lot of our listeners are not going an incubator, but I think that still a lot of the basic tips that we are going to share are going to apply to whenever they make presentations or pitches. I think this is going to be a good topic. But before I even jump into this, Heaton, how many demo days would you say you participated, not as somebody who presents it because I don’t think any? Right, you haven’t gone through an incubator yourself as a startup, more as an advisor and mentor and investor. But how many have you participated on demo day as potential investor advisor listening to all these stars pitch? What would you say?


Hiten Shah: That’s a great question, and you’re going to love my answer. So probably been to only about a half dozen, and the last one I went to I want to say was probably like 4 or 5 years ago.


Steli Efti: Wow.


Hiten Shah: One of the reasons is, I actually don’t like demo days as an investor and being in the room. What I like is pitch prep for the demo days and helping the actual startups get their demos right and get their pitches right. I love doing that. I’ve probably done that like 3 or 4 dozen times in terms of sessions where I’m in there for 3 to 4 hours, usually it’s for five hundred startups. I’ve probably done pretty much every single one I want to say around pitch prep in one way or another. I’ll do like a 3 or 4 hour session. Sometimes there’s someone else also giving feedback. These are people going through their 2 to 4 minute pitch depending on I think, what it is I think, it’s 2 minutes, 3 minutes, or something. We time them, they just do it straight, and then after that there’s probably ten to fifteen minutes each, maybe ten minutes, so it’s about a total of fifteen minutes, so it’s about 10 minutes of feedback. And then they go iterate it. And that’s how five hundred startups would do the pitch prep. So I really, really enjoy that. I don’t at all enjoy being in the room with all the other investors listening to the pitch.


Steli Efti: So I love that because you know what’s funny? Some of the best investors that I’ve met when we went to Y.C. and we either went through the whole process all the way up to demo day, some of the best investors that we met, they did exactly what you just said. They made an effort to be there early in the batch, to meet some people, to find a few stars that the thought they were really interested in, and then to be part of the entire journey, helping with the demo day presentation, helping with some of the challenges. They become your coach and obviously by the time you do the demo day, all this huge room of investors sees is the 3 minutes of whatever you wanted to show them. But that other investor, he spent 3 months with you, and he knows he doesn’t have to be in the room because he knows what’s in the pitch day presentation. He helped you create it. If that person wants to invest they obviously able to do that way before everybody else because they go the information earlier, they have more information about it, and they develop a totally different type of relationship because they helped you, they created value with you, and even if they don’t want to invest, you will always appreciate them and you will always give them good deal flow and recommend them to other founders and show them what you’re doing in the future because they made an investment in you, even if it’s just a little bit of time here and there. So, love that tactic, and it makes perfect sense from an investor point of view. I can tell you that from my side, I attended, I don’t know, it’s a good question. I don’t know how many demo days I’ve attended? Probably, I want to say something between ten and twenty. I haven’t attended any last year, which is interesting as well. I can tell you from a listeners point of view, it’s an overwhelming affaire. It’s like a brain freeze, like after, I don’t know, twenty startups or so, the fifteenth pitch, after a certain amount of pitches, it becomes very tiresome and it becomes just this huge- At the end of the day it’s this huge blurb of- Your brain hurts and it’s this huge blurb of information and there’s only 1 or 2 stars that really stand out and everything else you will forget within a day. So it doesn’t seem like the most productive way to use your time. I agree with you on that, so this is the investor prospective, or the audience perspective. Which is super important to know if you present to that audience. There’s 2 things, I’ve written a few blog posts about how to do a good demo day, since I’ve seen myself repeat the same advice over and over again. If people after this episode want even more tips, they can just shoot me an email at stella@ and I’ll send you a few links to those articles. But also Heaton, you’ve just launched a product that helps people with the pitch deck, and I know that, that might not be optimized for a demo day per se, but I think it’s going to be useful and helpful to people raising money, which is what people on demo days have to do, right? Do you want to just quickly give people the URL so they can go there and use your tool to put together the pitch that if they’re currently in fund raising mode?


Hiten Shah: Yeah, absolutely, it’s called dogo and it’s and people are using it for doing their pitch preps for demo days as well because there’s a deck to it and stuff like that. It’s totally relevant. What it was originally designed for is making it easy to get feedback on your pitch deck, and then share it with investors, and understand what they’re looking at and who’s accessing it, etc.


Steli Efti: Dope. All right, so let’s dive into some of the tips on demo day. For me, the first tip I’ll give is, one of the first things that I’ll give is very related to what you said Heaton, and what we just talked about. Which is, understanding the broader context of where your pitch sits. So on demo day, what typically happens is your entire bench of startups will present 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 4 minutes, depending on the incubator, in front of a large room of investors. Of course, step one is to focus on telling your story. Putting together your pitch, and making sure that you make good use of your 2 or 3 minutes, of course that’s what you’re going to focus the majority of your time on. But, the thing that a lot of startups totally miss, is the greater context of the event. It’s not just your presentation, this room is not going to fill with people, you step on the stage, you do your 3 minute thing, and that’s the end of it, that’s the entire experience for the audience. You have to understand that the audience is going to listen to forty pitches. Knowing that, you need to know that they’re going to have brain freeze trauma, knowing that you need to know, where does our pitch sit in the entire event? Are we at the very beginning? At the middle, or at the very end? Are we before lunch or after lunch? That stuff matters to how the audience will feel, and how the audience feels will matter to how they listen to you and what they take away from it. Knowing where you place is in the entire day is very crucial. If you know that you’re the last pitch for instance, you might want to keep it very light, you might want to understand that people are going to be really exhausted, so you can’t just have 5 slides full of metrics and numbers in there and stuff of that nature. And if you’re at the beginning you might want to take great advantage of kicking things off with lots of energy because people are excited. No matter where you are you should know what the presentation before you and after you looks like, so you don’t start your pitch the way the other people ended it or you don’t use the same kind of catch phrases that the 3 star before you used that will in some way make you sound repetitive or make you become a joke even if you didn’t intend to. So, knowing where you sit in the broader context of the day, and understanding that and playing that, taking that context into consideration, I think is something a lot of startups don’t do and it can have a real impact on how successful your pitch is on demo day.


Hiten Shah: I love that. I mean, just riffing on that, what I find interesting on demo day pitches, founders don’t really realize what you just said. Which is, there’s forty pitches. Well, how are you going to make yours stand out? There’s a lot of ways, I’ve heard Dave McClur give really crazy advice like, wear a costume, and all kinds of stuff like that. He’s a little insane when it comes down to it, because I think he would do that, and he has recently even wore some suits or costumes, or whatever you want to call them on stage, kind of crazy. But, the fact is you have to make it stand out. The other thing I think founders forget too in relation to that is this is just a pitch to get the next meeting. There’s nothing like this that exists, today, right? There’s no other place where you just got to give a pitch, and all you’re trying to do is, out of that room full of people, 10 of them need to come talk to you. You’ve got to get in the heads of 10 of them. Or some number like that, not all of them, just 10 of them, and all you’re trying to do is get the next meeting. Get them to come to your booth after. Get them to contact you after and what to talk to you. I don’t think this whole process has actually been sorted out very well, to be honest with you Stelly, and everyone who’s listening. This is a shit process. This is why founders have such a hard time with it. It’s not because I think the people who are doing demo days are bad and don’t know how to do it, it’s just because it’s like, to be crewed about it, it’s like a meat market. And its both sides. There’s like forty startups at least, usually. And then there’s like, I don’t know Stelly, how many? Hundred investors, 2 hundred?


Steli Efti: It depends on which incubator, but I would say that between a hundred 2 hundred these days. Even in small incubators, they’ll fill the room with somebody. It might not be top tier investors if you’re in a less known incubator, but it’s going to be people. There’s going to be a lot of people in there.


Hiten Shah: Right! But there’s at least fifty people, more like a hundred or 2 hundred people, and if it’s Y combinator there’s definitely like 2 hundred people in the room because everyone’s up on that. And now there’s a lot more startups, if I’m not mistaken, they split it up and stuff, right?


Steli Efti: Yep.


Hiten Shah: This is crazy. It’s just crazy. I mean, in some ways it’s intimidating for the founder because they’re only up there for 2 or 3 minutes, right?


Steli Efti: Yeah, typically 3 minutes or something like that.


Hiten Shah: So to me, there’s common themes. I’ve never seen a founder in the first path of their demo day deck, share too little. I’ve always seen them try to share too much. I’ve always seen them go over Stelly. Over the 8 minutes, not 3 minutes, 8 minutes! Like, dude! You were done 5 minutes ago.


Steli Efti: The money quote here is “I’ve never seen a founder share too little”, like on stage, that is the money quote! It’s so true. Editing is such an important part and I know it’s really painful for people because they feel like, “All these things are so crucial, we can’t take them away!” You can, there’s like 2 or 3 things you can really get the audience to take away from, maybe even just 1. There’s not that much to say that’s really worth saying in a day with forty pitches where an investor will sit in that chair for like, I don’t know, 5 hours. They won’t be able to pay attention to all this stuff, so I love what you said there. I will disagree with you with 1 thing, I think that recently a lot of incubators have started making some improvements. Making this a little less chaotic, and more high value. What I see for instance is getting more, more selective on who is invited to demo day and who is not re-invited to it, and things of that nature. Although, incubators that struggle a little bit more with filling out their demo days are more inclusive, which is bad for the founders because it’s not about the quantity of people. You’ll have a hundred people, that might feel cool because it’s a full room of people, but if seventy of them are like quote on quote joker investors, people who haven’t made an investment in 3 years but like to play investor, then you’re destroying value, you’re going to create a lot of meetings that will go to nowhere, I’m really afraid of that. But there’s a benefit to it. Even when we did Y.C. demo day in 2011, which is a long time ago, it was somewhat chaotic. The value of it from my side, or 1 thing that I thought was really beautiful about it, although it’s a meat market and your right about that, is that for people who don’t already have a network, which I didn’t really have a strong network of investors back in the day. It allowed you to create an instant market, Angel list didn’t exist back then, so you had like an instant market and it just saved some amount of time, if you were smart it saved you a lot of time as a founder, right? So there was a benefit to it. But there were also downsides. 1 way, and this is another tip I’ll share to this, and it speaks to something that you said Heaton, 1 thing that’s really, really important, again, I think this is such a basic thing, but I find it to be 1 of the top mistakes founders make when it comes to raising money. One of the most important things, again, when you have a large audience, your psychology is most likely going to be to try to say things that will make everybody love you. How can I be the most popular pitch in the room? That is the wrong instinct in my point of view. You should not want to make everybody interested in what you say. You need to make your pitch speak to the right people. A way to gauge this is, if we make this pitch, will this divide the audience? Will this make some people love it with a passion and some people think this is the worst idea ever. If you can get that kind of a reaction, you’re most likely on the right track. If you make a pitch where, I’d rather have 7 out of those 10 investors hate what you just said, and 3 love it with a passion, than have 10 investors that are equally different, or equally just slightly positive on it. You want to get the right people to be interested in you, not all people. I think that too many times, when there is an audience, just form a psychological point of view, we want that audience to like us. We want them to love us. So we want to say something, we are thinking, how can I make this something that everybody will love? And that’s the wrong instinct. You don’t want everybody to love you. You want the right investors. You want to make sure that you’re really authentic, and you want to make sure that you’re not watering down your message so it’s something that is palatable to everybody. You want to make sure that you’re intensified and making a more potent and a more distinct who you are, what you stand for, what you’re doing, what your strategy is. So that some people that are aligned with that, will be incredibly attractive, attracted to it, and most people who aren’t aligned with it will be turned off by it.


Hiten Shah: Stelly can you hear me?


Steli Efti: Now I can hear you again. Were you muted?


Hiten Shah: Weird, no I wasn’t muted at all.


Steli Efti: It’s a dramatic pause, I like it.


Hiten Shah: No, it wasn’t on purpose, something just cut off on the call. Yeah, that was a lot and that was super loaded. I don’t have anything to add dude. Not in a bad way, I’m good. I think you dropped a few bombs there. I’m assuming people will have a better perspective on what the goals of demo day are, right? Get the next meeting, don’t share too much, and make the best of it. But be really smart, the best pitches I’ve seen are the ones that actually time themselves even on the first draft and keep it at 3 minutes. It almost feels like founders don’t understand, it’s 3 minutes. That’s it. Just stay in the rules of the time, that way you’re practicing for that time. Otherwise, you’re just spending a lot of effort creating this pitch deck, or demo day deck, and pitching it, and wasting all your time on something longer when it should be really short. And just find that 1 key thing, that’s what I would say. Find that 1 key thing that you think is most impactful about your business today, that you can keep repeating in the 3 minute talk that the people that listen to you are going to remember. And use as a way to come talk to you or be compelled enough to come talk to you if they’re the right type of investor for you.


Steli Efti: Cool, all right, that’s it from us.


Hiten Shah: See ya.