Pitching the Pitchers: Observations from VC Demo Day

I and a couple other ad agency people attended the AOL Ventures and Betaworks-sponsored VC Demo Day last night, where prominent VCs had four minutes to communicate/market their respective companies.

It was intriguing to benchmark another industry and experience VC community interaction. None of the agency people could imagine an advertiser coalition coming together to pitch advertising agencies to potentially work with one another. But that’s exactly what the spirit of this event intended and succeeded in doing.

What struck us is that no matter what the industry, there tend to be core fundamentals that yield more engaging, positive presentations that go a long way in winning over a target audience:

BE HUMAN
I am a firm believer that at the end of the day, Firm X doesn’t hire Resource Y as much as the people select the team they ultimately feel the strongest chemistry with. Chemistry is built upon confidence in the ability to execute, sense of team dynamics and, yes, assessing the answer to “Would I mind being stuck in an elevator for an hour with this person (or them)?”

The majority of firms last night did a great job of providing the basic rational elements of their firms, but many were exceptional in coming across as genuine human beings, providing a transparency that is ultimately more important than a cool web site. I would love to have seen a pre- and post-presentation brand perception poll of what entrepreneurs thoughts of Greenhill and RRE in particular.

SPEAK TO, NOT AT, YOUR AUDIENCE
Another page out of the “be human” point perhaps, but it was invigorating to witness the empathy the VCs demonstrated to last night’s entrepreneur audience.

From True Ventures’ desire to make the world a better place for entrepreneurs, Metamorphic rooting for higher T&E numbers and First Round Capital showing pictures of summits and holding company bus tours for its portfolio companies, it was quite impressive to see VCs prove their sincerity in selling “we’ll do right by you.”

Sincerity is not easily feigned; I truly sense they were being truthful. If you’re an entrepreneur, how can one not seek advice/capital from Lerer Ventures, who passionately decried how they want entrepreneurs to chase down their big fucking dream? For the VCs on stage, it seemed their livelihoods were more of a calling than a job.

BUT DON’T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT…
In anything sales related, I am big believer that people do not prioritize what someone does, but more what one’s firm can do for theirs. A great way to demonstrate this is by using testimonials of other entrepreneurs to market their cause. Venrock, Greenhill and a few others played to this last night and it came across well.

True, one can argue that a funded entrepreneur will of course say good things about his/her VC, but in today’s voyeuristic world of blogs, TheFunded, etc., the truth usually comes out. Fast.

SCOREBOARD!
You may have played competitive sports and been on the receiving end of some taunts. The best way to quiet the opponent? Winning and pointing to the scoreboard.

At the end of the day, the product or service – no matter what sector – must perform. If it doesn’t, I can guarantee you that great marketing will only kill a poor performer quicker. So though Union Square Ventures did not bring out any visual aids, all the presenter needed to do (to a degree) is say: “We’ve done over 200 deals, including Twitter, Zygna, Foursquare and Etsy.”

That track record speaks for itself and given the USV brand, its aura creates entrepreneur aspiration.

ACTIONS OVER WORDS
We live in the age of reality television where seemingly anyone can grab some attention for some period of time. And without much a reason either (see Paris Hilton Wikipedia page.)

So when a company takes steps to minimize its role and respectfully pass on shilling itself, to me, it’s a sign of true leadership that people take note. For Aol Ventures and betaworks to brainstorm yesterday’s get together for the good of the overall community and show restraint, is to be applauded. Being quiet can positively build one’s brand as well…and supplying attendees with keg of Yuengling doesn’t hurt either.

Kudos for the organizers and presenters last night. I hope it’s just the beginning of a recurring series and an idea that seeps into other industries.

Michael Duda is a Partner at Deutsch Inc. based in New York City. Read his blog here.