Won Best Startup Presentation at the CINACON Competition – Twice!

Startup Presentation

 Won Best Startup Presentation

OK, the second one was second place, but I’m still quite ecstatic about this surprising award. Here’s the story: (skim as you need)

How I got the Startup Presentation

So I happened to become good friends with the President of this entrepreneurship organization called CINA in the Bay Area. CINA was hosting their annual conference (The Cinacon), where a bunch of entrepreneurs set up booths and showcase their companies and pitch to VCs. I first got the newsletter from CINA regarding the event, but since I have a busy schedule and it costs money to join (yea, we’re leanest of the leanest right now), I did not respond to it. Weeks later, she called me and urged me to sign up and join. After two times of her calling just to encourage me to join, I OKed it.

The Set Up of the Startup Presentation

The set up goes like this. All the startups will have their tables, where they can set up all their fancy equipment, brochures, booklets and little snacks to look cool like a company. There are then companies who are doing the “Showcase,” which means they’re at the farend wall, making a 10-min presentation. People can sit down and listen, or they can just wander around the booths and not care. Over a dozen of them are showcasing their companies. Finally, there is a session where entrepreneurs have close to 10 minute to present their companies to a group of 20-25 Venture Capitalists in a closed room.

My Preparation for the Startup Presentation

Honestly, for the past few days I have been pretty busy. I have been doing a few projects and doing some consulting work, especially regarding a Twitter project with a client. I thought I would take the entire day before the Cinacon to create the perfect pitch. Unfortunately at the time, I happened to get into a huge fight with my girlfriend (who is the most wonderful girl in the world), extending from the day before. Some discouraging words from my co-founder earlier that day didn’t help either. After some issues and handling some other work, it was already 5PM. Oh no! Time for meeting with this friend/client and discuss this project. It will probably last 1 hour, and I can get back to work.

The meeting was very productive and fulfilling, except when I was done, it was 9PM already. Gosh, I haven’t started making my presentation yet, and I need to 1. turn in my slides by tonight, and 2. be there at the conference at 11AM the next day. At 9PM, I started working on my presentation, while talking to my girlfriend on the phone (a closure conversation that made both of us feel good and just want to talk longer with that after-surviving-the-storm feeling). At that time, I was trying to go along with the presentation guidelines that the organization gave me, which was 7 slides, just briefing over the necessary information. I thought it was a requirement and every company will use this “template” and felt I needed to conform.

However, after trying to put in the right information that wasn’t interesting or engaging, I suddenly thought I should make my presentations in pictures and icons to make it fun (after all, FD is about being fun AND productive). Yea, my presentation might be different to everyone elses’, AND I might go over the 12-page limit, but I’m an entrepreneur and I can be different. Its not like I can get laid off for this. Plus, its nice that I’m young, because people will just think I’m “of a different generation” and maybe rebellious, whereas if I were old, people would think I’m weird or eccentric. They might shake their heads at me, but I at least want to present something I can be proud of.

Wii Fit is awesome

So by this time I was still at my friend/client’s house, and it was about 11PM. I suddenly felt extremely tired. I was sure that its because I was drained by my sadness from the fight with my girlfriend that afternoon. For some reason, being sad takes a lot of energy and exhausts you. At that time, I decided to play the Wii Fit game that my friend had, while talking to my girlfriend on the phone (gotta use that time efficiently, no?). The Wii Fit was quite kind and reminded me that it was late and sleeping too late would be bad for my health. I appreciated it, but I needed something casual to wake me up and reboost my energy. I played some balancing games, yoga, aerobics and what not. Btw, I got up to 361 spins with the hulahoop game (try to beat that). Even though I was exercising, by the time I was done, I no longer felt tired and was recharged again. The Wii Fit kindly reminded me it was late again and I should sleep. For me it was time for good work again! I worked up till 3:30AM in the morning, sent the file to CINA, and fell asleep at my friend’s place.

Before the Startup Presentation

The next morning I woke up at around 8AM. I got my stuff, and drove home. This is when I was thinking, “Hmmm….I don’t have any company material or brochure I can show people. It would be weird if it was just me sitting there.” When I got home, I quickly typed up some information about the company and Viralogy, pasted on some images that we have, and started printing over a few hundred copies while I took a shower. I also realized that I had not had the chance to practice through my presentation once, so I don’t even know if it fits in the 10 minute time frame. I decided to practice while I am tabling it at the booth. There was actually some solo-drama here, but lets just say I left on time but got to the event an hour late.

At the Event

When I got there, I realized that everyone else had 5 monitors set up, fancy webcams and hardware, large billboards, and a few folks at each table. Boy, I’d look pretty bad. However, I remember my own lesson: “Confidence is everything minus one.” As long as I sit there and presented myself as if we were a cool company (which is true), other people will look past the lack of set up and feel the same way. I put my printed documents in a stack on the table, and then put another stack of my business cards next to it. I then would just be using my laptop and doing other work until someone comes close and asks a question. Pretty ghetto.

The Startup Presentation

When people started doing the showcase, I realized that no one else followed the exact guideline that was given to me. Whew, at least I’m not the odd ball. I also noticed that people who were presenting were like twice my age. Some of them have PhDs, and some of them have companies with good revenue already. I also realized that my presentation for both the casual showcase AND the formal VC presentation was last, which is about time peoples’ brains get drained and start to drool. I figured I needed to do something for me to get a chance at anything.

When it was my time to present, I got up to the microphone (why is it called “micro”-phone again? It makes your voice louder), and started to yell, “HELLO EVERYONE! I’M YU-KAI CHOU FROM REWARDME, AND I’M HERE TO PRESENT YOU OUR PRODUCT TODAY. I know everyone’s pretty tired by now, so my goal is to energize all of you so you’ll all be excited about an extraordinary evening after this.” My first job was to just wake them up. I’m not sure if this was a great thing to do, but I won some awards so I must be doing something right. I must say I learned this from my co-founder and best friend Jun Loayza as he was filming his Future Delivery TV. He taught me the way of the yell.

The Official Startup Presentation

Now it was time to do the official presentation to the two dozen VCs. They’ll also have 2 minutes to grill me on questions. After 2 years of being in this high-tech field, I already know that VCs always ask pretty similar questions, so I wasn’t particularly worried. I made the same presentation with the same intro (yes I yelled at the VCs. I actually interrupted one lady VC who was talking to another and forced her to stop just because my voice came in as a blast), and waited for their question.

They asked me, again, the usual bunch: revenue model, and sustainable advantage. To be honest, we have competitive advantages, but I’m not sure that we have clear-cut sustainable advantages. We target a niche that no one else is targeting (the bottom 95% of all bloggers – those who need the most help. Blog Hubs just focus on the top 5%), but someone else can target that niche too after us. We have some nice technology and layouts, but people can duplicate it too. The only thing that people can’t steal, is the name (which I think makes us sound legit), and the loyalty/reputation we have already built as the dominant personal blogger ranking site. However, the market is big enough that I think we’ll be fine without destroying other companies (400 Million and growing market is already larger than the US population).

The tough thing to explain to them was our revenue model. It was complicated. Lets just say its kinda like eBay plus the reverse of Google Adsense. Confused? I don’t blame you. I actually feel that the revenue model is our most innovative feature in our new product. I don’t think anyone has done this before, but all the smartest people I explained it to said it was smart/ingenious. I know Guy Kawasaki said that VCs are ultra-scared of innovative revenue models. They like innovative technologies and products, but how they make money should be simple like selling dog food. However, I’ll disagree a little (don’t all entrepreneurs do that when the pundit disagrees with what they’re doing?). Look at Google. When Google created Google Adsense (which is what made them truly successful), I’m sure people would feel that Adsense was a very complicated model. What? People first bid for a price per word, and then others search, and then the engine detects the keywords and display your ads if you are a high bidder, and they charge you for the click*bid you gave. Oh, and you can set what’s the maximum amount of money you are willing to spend in that period. I think that was an innovative/complicated model during its time. Now try to explain that to the VCs in 30 seconds.

At the end of my pitch, I simply informed that the VCs that since we make some contracted income, we are sustainable and not looking for funding. However, we would consider $100,000 to fulfill our 2009 plans. I threw out a modest valuation of $2M, considering our company has a few live products, a TV show, and a good reputation in our field already.

The Gala Dinner after the Startup Presentation

After the pitches, we had a REALLY good dinner. We listened to some incredibly successful and impactful VCs talk about the economy and how the money is still out there, but VCs are just concerned so they’re just not rushing to invest. Amonst them are Scott Chou of Gabriel Venture Partners (for some mysterious reason I particularly like “Chou”s….), Vince Occhipinti of Woodside Fund, Wu-Fu Chen of Acorn Campus Ventures, Prashant Shah of Hummer Winblad, and Eghosa Omoigui, the Investment Director of Intel Capital. They talked about how Early Stage money has not decreased by that much based on the stats, but raising VC funds are hard to begin with and people just blame the economy when they don’t get the funding.

Awards after the Startup Presentation

So here comes the awards. They first started off with Official Presentation awards. I didn’t expect to win anything (considering my preparedness), so I was just typing at my laptop and doing some work. Suddenly I heard them call out “Future Delivery.” Gosh, it feels so good when you hear people use words/names that you invented as if it was legit and almost a matter of fact. I walked up stage and realized that it was first place for my VC official presentation. Wow, the 2 dozen VCs considered my presentation to be better than all the others. That was pretty sweet. I had 19 seconds to sum up what Viralogy does. Eghosa Omoigui of Intel Capital then said that he invested in the blog company Six Apart, so he is quite keen of this space. He wanted to talk to me more about how can I monetize on the long tail of the blogosphere. That’s pretty awesome. As a prize, I got a golden boat model that says “The Hong Kong Science Park.” Supposedly it has some historical value, and people around me mentioned it was worth over $1000. I guess whatever floats my boat.

When I got back to my seat, I was quite excited, so, uh hum, the first thing I wanted to do was to tweet this to my dear friends on Twitter. However, my Twitterfon wasn’t working. While I was calming down and being frustrated for Twitterfon, I heard my company named being called out again. I heard the organization say “Hehe, I know the results. Its pretty surprising….Future Delivery!” Haha, what a surprise! I realized I got second place for the Show Case presentation that I did earlier. I guess the yelling DID work!

After the Presentation Awards

So after winning two of the I think six awards in total, then comes the friendly people. Don’t get me wrong, I have been networking and building relationships with all types of entrepreneurs and VCs before this, but this is totally different. Now people WANT to meet me before they decide if I’m a cool guy or not. Folks just appeared and asked if we could exchange business cards. When I walked up to the keynote speakers, they instantly talked to me in a welcoming way. It was a little hard not to think of myself as important when people are treating you that way, but made sure I had a grateful mentality and a new hope to work even harder in the future.

Something I learned from this Startup Presentation

Getting 1st place is an interesting experience. I have not gotten that many 1st places in my life. I have been top before, or I have been “different”/unique before, but rarely 1st. That’s almost by definition understandable. Its a good feel, but it could also build up into a very negative character growth. Being the one who is constantly moving and catching up with people when I grew up, I felt that the humility and tenacity is much better for character growth. Struggling, failing, and suffering and then getting 1st place is an awesome and fulfilling experience, but I think being 1st place continuously is not healthy for an individual.

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