Preparing for Demo Day


Virtually every incubator or accelerator program culminates in a “Demo Day”, where the ventures who have graduated from the program get a few minutes to present their ventures to an audience of potential investors. Programs like Y-Combinator have had great success getting their ventures funded from these Demo Day events.

The key to success at Demo Day is being investor-ready. In fact, organizations like MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service are very selective about which ventures get a slot. They carefully poll the venture’s mentors and others to narrow down a list of ventures they believe are ready to present to investors.

The penultimate event to Demo Day is the Pitch Scrub. The basics of a pitch scrub are simple but highly execution sensitive.

  1. Pitch examples – providing ventures with examples of winning decks can b e helpful. But a deck is NOT a presentation, it’s support for a presenter. Better yet is a video of a previous year’s set of winning (that is ventures that gained investments) presentations.
  2. Pitch elements – providing a standard outline can help ventures ensure that their presentation touches all the bases of interest to investors. But ventures should be encouraged to be creative. Keep in mind investors are going to be sitting through a lot of pitches and their eyes will glaze over if every one of them follows the same format. So providing the key elements and leaving it up to the venture as to how they are presented should result in much more creative and differentiated presentations.
  3. Presenter – while it is ideal to have the CEO/founder present, he or she may not be the best presenter on the team, perhaps because they aren’t a native English speaker. Mentors should help the team select the most effective presenter, usually based on experience in public speaking and/or pitching.
  4. Tech support – nothing can derail a presentation faster than a technical glitch. Presentations should all be done from the same computer and in a standard format – PowerPoint or pdf. Support for non-text elements has to be not just tolerated but encouraged, particularly video and animations.
  5. Timing – virtually every day demo has strict time limits on presentations, ranging from about 3 minutes to about 10 minutes. Mentors need to help their team fit the time slot, with a little slack time as a buffer. The temptation with ventures is to try to say too much. In time-constricted pitches less is more. Teams have to be ruthless about cutting the presentations down to fit the time slot.
  6. Product demos – while demoing an actual product is very effective, Demo Day producers generally either don’t allow this or discourage it for two reasons: one, it is hard to fit a demo of a product plus a presentation about the company in 3 to 5 minutes; and two, the risk of a technical flub outweigh the benefits of showing the actual product. A short video is far safer and can be almost as effective.
  7. Focus – in general investors prioritize the team above all else, followed by the market opportunity (size and growth rate) and the product’s value proposition and differentiation. Iv’e seen too many ventures rely on founder photos and brief  bios rather than show investors why each team member is a great fit for the company and how they will contribute to its future success.
  8. Pitch scrubs – presentations need to be critiqued. The team and friends and family are far too close to the venture to be good critics. Even a team’s mentor or mentor team may be biased. That’s why the best preparation for a Demo Day is to have experts who are totally unfamiliar with the venture provide the feedback. A team of 2 to 4 experts is ideal – too few and there won’t be enough feedback, too many and there may well be feedback overload.
  9. Rehearsal – ideally ventures should incorporate feedback from the pitch scrub and then perform a dress rehearsal for another team of critics.
  10. Talk to veterans – speaking with founders who have presented at precious Demo Days can be very helpful. Even better if they can be enlisted as reviewers.
  11. Attend a Demo Day – while most Demo Days are restricted to investors try to find one you can get into. Nothing like watching another founder present to get a good idea of what you are in store for.
  12. Practice, practice practice – during the period between the dress rehearsal and Demo Day the presenter needs to get their presentation down cold. In some ways a Demo Day presentation is a lot easier than pitching to investors, as investors are notorious for interrupting presentations. Most Demo Day’s only allow questions after the presentation, if at all. But if questions are allowed, the team needs to work on what questions are most likely to be asked and to have short, concise answers ready for each question.
  13. Followup – most Demo Days allow time for investors to network with presenters, so ventures should be prepared to follow up with investors, especially those who showed interest by asking a question during the Q & A period. If the CEO did not do the presentation, then he or she must be out there buttonholing investors. The goal of followup is simple: Get the meeting! No investor is going to get into an in depth discussion with you at a public event, your goal is to get a private meeting with them at their offices.

Keep in mind, that Demo Days are group presentations. Don’t plan to use the same presentation once you succeed in “getting the meeting.” For one thing you will have much more time – though you should keep the presentation short, and for another, if your prototype or product is demo-ready you should show it – perhaps even lead with it. Meetings with investors need to be conversations, not presentations. But get those meetings!


Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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