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Getting time and attention from experienced advisors is a rite of passage for the first-time entrepreneur.
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Entrepreneurial advisors provide everything from informed feedback, market validation and technical direction, to introductions that can lead to partnerships, investors and customers.

Advisors are often former serial entrepreneurs themselves with well-earned battle scars from risking, failing and succeeding enough times to have sharp
insights into the venture building process. They have a special empathy for the struggling entrepreneur. There’s satisfaction in helping an up-and-coming entrepreneur avoid the same mistakes, and giving them insights that will help accelerate their progress.

Not all advisors have the right experience, and it is very hard for the entrepreneur to know which advisors can truly help their company.  It takes many first dates to find those perfect matches. But advisors kiss a lot of frogs too: Frogs, hunchbacks, maniacs, dreamers, neurotics – and I suspect a few psychotics. Entrepreneurs come in all sizes and for advisors it can be exhausting to try to help them all – particularly those entrepreneurs who don’t really want to be helped, or who are not ready for outside advice.

So, for the entrepreneur about to go seeking advice from advisors, here’s some blunt, very blunt, advice:

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As an investor, advisor and mentor to entrepreneurs and new ventures, I get to hear a lot of pitches – whether as a judge in a competition, in a boardroom, classroom or a face-to-face pitch. After a while, they all start to sound alike. In fact, when investors get together, they lament (or even parody) how all the pitches sound alike. To be fair, as an entrepreneur, I used to lament with other entrepreneurs on how predictable venture capitalists can be in their responses.

Today, giving more evidence that I apparently have way too much time on my hands – I created this “Pitch Bingo” game for investors and advisors.   The next time you are listening to entrepreneur pitches at an event, click on the Entrepreneur-BS Bingo Game link, and you will get a BS-Bingo card (everyone’s card has a different random combination of entrepreneurship buzzwords).   Cross off the word when you hear it.

 

Entrepreneur-BS Bingo Game CJs Entrepreneur-BS-Bingo

CJ’s Entrepreneur Pitch Bingo

 

The first person who completes a BINGO with a row or column must shout out Zuckerberg!
And Tweet to #CJ-BS-BINGO.

And just to be fair, I’ve also created one called Investor-BS Bingo!   Now entrepreneurs can keep track of the predictable jargon investors mindlessly toss out during pitch meetings.   (notice the phrases “Term Sheet”  or “Yes” don’t appear – since they say it so rarely).

CJ’s Investor-BS Bingo

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Professor_Lucifer_Butts
Entrepreneurial and Venture Capital thought leader Brad Feld offered the following pearl of wisdom:

“I don’t want to see a powerpoint deck – I want to play with something. I don’t want to hear a description of what you do – I want to see a demo. I don’t want you to tell me your background, where you went to school, or where your grew up. I want to see what you are working on.”

via Getting Your Demos Right – Feld Thoughts.

While this was written in the context of wanting to see demos, the overall sentiment is equally valuable for entrepreneurs – particularly about investors not wanting to hear about your background, credentials and life story.

Personally, I don’t agree as strongly with the sentiment that the demo is the most important aspect of the pitch.   This all depends on the investor.

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I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. Sure, it’s a parody, but this is as close to the typical entrepreneur-pitch experience as it gets – particularly the comments of the VCs responding to a pitch by one of the greatest innovators that ever lived. And, sadly, I’ve been on the other side of the table too and it is just as frustrating to see one’s investor-peers behave this way. It’s as surreal as it is predictable.

 

In earlier post, I was writing about the sometimes-effective-but-overused “High-Concept Pitch“, and showcased a satirical website that generated automatic versions of the It’s an “X” for “Y” styled pitches.

I stumbled across a Quora discussion about the topic, with a few insightful answers. Somewhere down the list, a member posted this wonderful little comic:

 

 

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After a few years of working in the television industry, particularly on the planet they call Hollywood, I was immersed in the “high concept pitch” language of the entertainment industry. The practice is meant to impart your idea to studio executives with nano-attention spans by equating the idea with another more familiar, popular and successful movie or TV show:

It’s Die-Hard on a Submarine
It’s Big Brother with Obese People
It’s Jaws in Space

 

One of my favorite movies, Robert Altman’s The Player, nails this culture perfectly (though many think the movie is a parody – the depictions are really spot-on). In one scene, a pair of writers start their pitch with “it’s Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman.”

Silicon Valley has also adopted the practice:

It’s MySpace for College Students
It’s Facebook for Professionals
It’s Google for Humming Songs

 
In fact, the practice has nearly replaced the standard elevator pitch for startups.

While I will cover the more serious and practical aspects of this technique in a future post, I wanted to showcase a site that takes this concept to an absurd extreme:

Go to the site “Wait what does your startup do” (with the equally appropriate URL): itsthisforthat.com – and start clicking as it produces a random “high concept pitch” for the typical high tech startup.
 
 
 
 

 

This is gem of a video:

In front of a roomful of the best and the brightest investors (the Venture Capital Fundraising Club of Silicon Valley), here’s a vivid example of an investor pitch that seems to have all the right elements: Big vision. An energetic, articulate and likable young entrepreneur. Now, add to this, a huge market, and a unique solution approach to a problem affecting billions of people. Combine with an investor presentation that does not use powerpoint, prezi or video, and investors should be salivating and climbing all over themselves to invest.

This example is downright comedic. Almost out of an SNL sketch. **

Sadly, this is how most new ventures from first-time entrepreneurs sound to investors.

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