using demos for pitches

Using Props and Demos: always, but prepare carefully!

You have been working 80-hour weeks for the past months and now it’s time to pitch your idea/ business. The end product isn’t completely finished up yet. Should you show a demo anyways? YESSSS!

Using props (physical elements), demos or prototypes is one crucial aspect of a successful pitch. Not only it allows people to see and feel where your solution is headed to, but also it shows everyone that you have more than a nice slide or a promising idea.

For physical products it’s a must

pitch Preemadona Techcrunch Disrupt 2015

Preemadona Pitch Techcrunch Disrupt SF 2015

If you are pitching a product is absolutely necessary that you show it to the audience. On the video above from Preemadona, a TechCrunch Disrupt SF 20015 finalist you can notice the impact it causes when the presenter shows the product working, live.

But that’s not always the case. Sometimes you don’t have a finished product or prototype; what do you do? You trick the audience with a dummy! I’ll mention 2 real life cases I advised in my pitch courses:

  1. Sensor for diapers: this startup was developing a sensor for diapers that would connect wirelessly to an NFC-enabled hardware  and let now parents when was time to change diapers (based on humidity). They didn’t have a working prototype yet (it was expensive to build one), so I advised them to use a dummy tape (as a band-aid) with same size and similar material so audience could get a grasp on how comfortable to babies it would be.
  2. Chemical enhancer for industrial fats: it sounds complex, and it was! This startup was developing a chemical component used to enhance the usage of some types of fats in the food industry. They didn’t have the product ready, so we just took a small glass filled with salt! It would look like the real chemical and would allow them to make comparisons with existing solutions (how much less volume was needed, how many small bottles you could buy with one of the existing product etc…).

The point here is to close the gap between theory and reality and using props, or prototypes are perfect in that sense.

How do I demonstrate an algorithm?

matrix screen

This real life case happened in the first startup competition I participated. One startup was developing a system that used web crawlers and artificial intelligence to map social media posts, categorize and understand whether it was a positive/ negative comment about a product. The applications could stretch far beyond this example, but it wasn’t finished yet.

In cases like this it’s important to show (even if it’s a simplified version) examples of the algorithm results. But more than showing original social media posts and results in an excel sheet, this group did something really cool: they opened the computer, with the raw code and hit play. A really cool (for nerds) matrix-like screen started to show the algorithm in action, interpreting the results. Boom, audience got hooked!

Software Demos: watch for bugs… they’ll happen when you least expect!

The classic “Blue Screen of Death” during Microsoft’s presentation is just one of many fails in software demos. Systems, specially those under development, do crash… a lot! Several things can happen: you’re using a different machine/ device, last minute updated not properly tested, unstable internet connections and even instability on the servers. Still, demos are crucial!

Keywords here are prevention and redundancy:

  1. Prevention: you can prevent most of those potential issues but using a locally hosted demo, exhaustedly tested.
  2. Redundancy: have a more static version (a PDF file) of the screens you intend to navigate. In case something goes wrong, you can alternate windows and move on with your pitch.

A demo is not a full system presentation, though. It must show actions/ results related to the problems you’re trying to solve. You focus on the main features, mimicking a real user. The video below, from Agrylist, 2015 TechCrunch Disrupt SF Winner, is a good example of software demo:

Agrilyst pitch - Demo

Agrilyst pitch at TechCrunch Disrupt 2015 SF

What if I don’t have the software yet?

You can still make a demo. In this case, though, you could use a wireframe (the draft screens of your system) same way we mentioned about the dummy prototypes. Making a fake navigation through wireframe will give put the audience on the same page in terms of the desired solution and show you know what you’re doing… in details.

example of wireframe

example of wireframe – source: http://www.balsamiq.com

There are many online tools to make wireframes. I use Moqups: it’s simple, web-based, and cheap.

If you don’t have a designer to give the wireframe a more professional look, I’d recommend spending a few bucks on Fiverr and hiring a freelance designer to make your screens look less like a high school home project. High quality design is crucial.

Doing demos is one of the most (if not the most)important things you must do in a pitch. I learned this the hard way: on the first startup competition I participated, AgendaPet was not ready yet. I had even hired a second tech team to make an MVP for that competition, but I was insecure with the unfinished product, so I chose to go with static screens on a Prezi. The feedback I got from judges was that the lack of an MVP brought doubts about whether I was capable of delivering my vision. Tough lesson!

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