What It’s Like to Launch at Launch Festival
Last week, I had the opportunity to announce the public launch of Fiskkit on stage at Launch Festival, the world’s largest startup conference. The format for each of the 40 companies launching at the event is a five minute product pitch followed by another five minutes of Q&A.
Ten whole minutes to capture the attention of thousands of attendees — including press and potential investors — and to win over a panel of critical judges. Ten wholly inadequate minutes to describe something our team has devoted countless late nights and long weekends to make a reality.
Somehow, despite the site crashing as we were walking on stage to present, we did it. Our pitch even landed us the 2015 Launch Fest Social Impact award.
It was an amazing experience that started long before the conference opened, and I wanted to share it with anyone who wants to participate in future Launch Festivals or who just needs to figure out how to better sell their company.
How We Got There
I emailed Jason.
I was watching his podcast, This Week in Startups, and I heard him talking about truth in media. All of the issues that he was talking about were exactly what I wanted to address by building Fiskkit. From what he said I could tell he would “get” our product, and decided to roll the dice by cold-pitching him over email.
I felt that he would “get” our product, and decided to roll the dice by cold-pitching him over email.
He responded right back. Jason loved the idea and wanted to get us in touch with his organizing team for Launch Festival.
A few days later, I demoed Fiskkit for his guys over Skype, and shortly thereafter we were in.
Wednesday Is Pitch Bootcamp
Approximately three weeks before the conference, we started the first of three half-day prep sessions to get us ready to deliver our pitch on stage. If you’re considering Launch Festival as a place for your company, these sessions are a critical hidden benefit for participants.
First, there’s the coaching. Jason and pitch doctor Tyler Crowley provide invaluable advice from years of listening to company pitches. They force everyone into a simple, yet powerful presentation approach that requires each company to tell their product story from the perspective of a user.
No wasting time with industry trends or competitive analyses. Just tell us how someone would use your product, and why.
They had one hard rule — fifteen seconds “time to product.” Fifteen seconds or the audience is lost and the pitch is dead.
This is tremendously powerful advice for anyone demoing a new product and almost everyone struggled with it that first week.
This brings me to my second invaluable part of participating in Launch Festival: learning from a community of other founders who are all in the same situation.
While Launch Festival is a competition, in reality, all of the companies are rooting for each other and everyone cared deeply about helping others improve their pitch. The formal peer review sessions, the informal time spent chatting with founders from companies like Unoceros or Rally, and the time spent scrutinizing improvements in other presentations were all instrumental to helping us cut out noise, clarify our problem statements and focus on what’s important in our presentations.
We Weren’t Ready For Monday.
So it’s a good thing we launched on Tuesday.
The week before Launch Festival, our team was working around the clock to get the platform ready for the public. Cheap advice for all other founders out there: nothing focuses a team like a deadline.
Functionality that we once thought critical was quickly demoted from “must have” to “nice to have”. Debugging became a rallying cry. Trivial things, such as inconsistent log in bugs, became all-hands-on-deck Goliaths that had to be addressed immediately. You can’t, after all, launch a website that no one can get in to.
“The DNS Server Isn’t Switching”
You also can’t launch a company that doesn’t have a public web address. Approximately 90 minutes before we were to take the stage, the team started the process of coming out of stealth and opening fiskkit.com up to the public.
Only it wasn’t working. Back stage we started getting cryptic messages like, “The DNS server switch is taking too long,” from our CTO.
Whaaa..what does that mean?
“You might have to use beta for the demo.”
At which point, I looked over and noticed that Casey, our designer who would be driving the presentation while I was talking, had the Chrome sad emoticon page icon on her screen.
Around us, other teams were high-fiving and getting each other pumped up for their presentations.
Our CTO texts “Don’t refresh the page.” Casey is furiously refreshing the page.
Fortunately, we were 8th up on the list and there were still 4 presentations and 45 minutes in front of us to get us back online.
That is when the Launch Festival crew asks us to move up from 8th to 5th because of technical challenges.
“Yeah. Sure. Let’s do it.” I startled Casey with the news that we were going up next. It was either going to work or not. If not, we had a video of us using the site and even still shots in PowerPoint if we needed to go there.
Fiskkit! Now available on Quicktime.
It Went Well. We Even Won an Award.
But you know what? Everything worked as planned when we took the stage.
I remembered my lines. Casey did a masterful job driving the presentation in perfect synchronicity with the story.
The following afternoon, we were presented with the Social Impact award from two judges that we never would have met had we not jumped up to the 5th spot instead of the 8th spot. (A new panel of judges are brought in after each of the 5 presentations.)
In the demo pit the next day, we were flooded with interest. Investors, journalists, interested engineers and folks who care deeply about what they read in the news exhausted the team with questions and delighted us with their enthusiasm.
I’ll give credit to Casey for providing the best summary of our experience at the event.
“We knew what the problem was that we wanted to solve, and everyone — Jason, Tyler, the other the other teams — they all helped us bring it to life.”
I couldn’t be more grateful to have had this opportunity.