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Never tire of telling your story

The Boulder TechStars program is in week four and the intensity level is high. The TechStars office is across the hall from ours at Foundry Group, and it’s wild to see the level of activity ramp up during the three months that TechStars Boulder is in session.

I’m trying a new thing this program and doing a weekly CEO-only meeting. I’ve been trying to figure out a new way to engage with each program other than mentoring a team or two and have been looking for a high leverage activity that I could do remotely for all of the other programs. My current experiment is an hour a week with all of the CEOs in a completely confidential meeting, but a peer meeting so each of them gets to talk about what they are struggling with to help solve each other’s problems as well as learn from each other.

We’ve done two of these meetings in Boulder, and I love it so far. I’ll run this experiment for the whole program, learn from it and iterate. If it works, I’ll scale it across all the programs.

I also finished up my first set of 1:1 meetings with all of the teams. I try to keep them very short – 15 minutes – and focus on what is “top of mind“. I learn more from this and can help more precisely than if I spent 30 minutes getting a generic pitch, which will likely change dramatically anyway through the course of TechStars. So each of these top of mind drills is “up to 5 minutes telling me about your company” and “10 minutes talking about whatever is top of mind.”

By the third week, I notice what I call “pitch fatigue” setting in. I think every entrepreneur should have several short pitches that they can give anytime, in any context, on demand.

  •     15 seconds: Three sentences – very tight “get me interested in you” overview.
  •     60 seconds: What do you you, who do you do it to, why do I care?
  •     5 minutes: Lead with the 60 seconds, then go deeper.
  •     15 minutes: Full high level pitch
  •     30 minutes: Extended presentation that has more details

Bt week three, the teams are still fighting through getting the 15-second and 60-second pitch nailed. That’s fine, but there’s emotional exhaustion in even trying for some of them. The founders have said some set of words so many times that they are tired. The emotion of what they are doing is out of the pitch. Their enthusiasm is muted – not for the business, but for describing it.

Recently, I was on the receiving end of a description of a great idea that had all the emotional impact of an airport TSA inspection. The entrepreneur was going through the motions with almost zero emotional content. At the end of it, I said, ”Don’t get sick of telling your story.” I then went deeper on what I meant.

He responded by email later that day:

Thanks for articulating what was going on in my head. I think I was getting burnt out from telling the same story to so many mentors. I need to stay focused and stick with the story that worked well the first 40 meetings. I also need to be careful that the lack of “freshness” doesn’t affect how passionate and energetic I come across. Timing for this realization couldn’t be better given our upcoming fundraising trip.

I’ve done an enormous amount of pitching and fundraising over the years. When we raised our first Foundry Group fund in 2007, I did 90 meetings in three months before we got our first investor commitment. By meeting 87, after hearing "no" a lot (we got about 30 no’s out of the first 90 meetings before we got a yes) I definitely had pitch fatigue. But every time I told it, I brought the same level of intensity, emotion, optimism and belief that I did the first time I told it. Today, six years later, when I describe what we are doing, why we are doing it and why you should care, I’m just as focused on getting the message across as I ever have been. And I never get tired of telling our story.

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Brad Feld

Brad has been an early stage investor and entrepreneur for more than 20 years. Prior to co-founding the Boulder-based Foundry Group, he co-founded Mobius Venture Capital and Intensity Ventures, a company that helped launch and operate software companies. Brad is a nationally recognized speaker on the topics of venture capital investing and entrepreneurship and writes widely read and well respected blogs at www.feld.com and www.askthevc.com. He holds bachelor's and master's of science degrees from from MIT. Contact him at brad@feld.com

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