ihateit & The Founder Institute — Part IV: Getting Demolished

We mentioned in our first post (Part I: We’re In), that out of the 14 FI sessions, 2 of them are of special importance as we could be kicked out of the program if we don’t score high enough. Those 2 sessions are solely focused on pitching for 60 seconds followed by a 3 minute question and answer session with the mentors. Mentors assess 3 aspects of your pitch:

  1. Pitch presentation
  2. Idea
  3. Depth of research

After pitching and answering mentors’ questions, mentors release their scores. An average strictly greater than 2 is required to stay in the program. Only founders with a score strictly greater than 3 are exempt from a special assignment. The special assignment is on top of the next assignment, and is designed at being an order of magnitude harder than the normal assignment. The aim of this is to test the resolve of those who couldn’t be convincing enough, as well as fixing the biggest flaw in your business model as fast as possible. On that night, 6 weeks have already passed. It’s Tuesday 12th of March inside the Deloitte tower in Sydney, and I’m about to pitch. Because there are 6 mentors tonight, we will all pitch twice to 2 groups of 3 mentors. I’m not scared at all as I’m confident that everything is going to go smoothly. I’ve already pitched twice, and got the highest score of the group each time.

To Pitch Or Not To Pitch

We were the last one to pitch in our group, and we got the worst score: 2–1–2. If there wasn’t a second chance to pitch, at that point, ihateit would be out of the program. We moved from being one of the favourite, to one of the worse. Though I was not surprised with the negative feedback about our name (we knew that based on the average age of the mentors, a negative name is not well perceived at all, whereas our surveys with our main demographic, i.e. millennials and the snapchat generation showed a strong connection with ihateit), we hadn’t anticipated the super negative feedback from Ari Klinger about our revenue model. Our assumption was that our channels filled with users experiencing a specific problem would become a set of highly qualified leads for brands who could fix that problem. Is our name such a barrier to entry for brands to not acquire those leads? At this stage, there is only one way to find out: Ask the brands themselves. That being said, we haven’t launched our MVP yet, and our absolute priority is to test our stickiness engine first. Dear reader, we are interested in knowing your thoughts on that matter. Switching name now, or leveraging a name that we know our main demographic loves in order to focus on our sticky engine, and then later pivot the name if we realise that no brands want to spend money to acquire highly qualified leads because they don’t like our name?

Last Chance To Stay In FI

After digesting that defeat, as well as digesting some delicious pizza during our break, it is time to swap groups and do our last pitch. At this point, we need to score two 2s and one 4 minimum to stay in the program. At this stage, I’m definitely not as confident as I was before the first pitch :). Knowing how bad our revenue model might be perceived, and knowing that I’m pitching in 55 seconds, I decided to add data licensing as an extra source of revenue in our pitch.

What Have We Learnt?

What a night! This has been an emotional rollercoaster for most of us. What was really great was to witness some of my beloved team grey members be at their best and really killing it. Especially Hilary Cao from SecondTake. Hilary moved from being shy and quiet, to smiling and presenting with a clear confident voice that everybody could hear. As for us, at the end of the day we managed to scrape by and get the minimum score. We’re still in, but that means we have a special assignment. They still don’t like the name. However they ended up asking a lot more questions than in the first group of mentors, where the only question was “you make money through advertising, is that right?”. That allowed me to talk more about the problem and the solution. I feel that this relentlessness in hammering us on our name is starting to affect me. In the end, to cut things short, we need to release our MVP asap, and test the engagement with our early adopters. With no numbers, or proof that the name is working well with our segment, there is no point arguing, mentors will continue to challenge the validity of our name. Time to go for a drink with everyone, chill out, and congratulate all those great founders who did splendidly tonight. We will think about the special assignment tomorrow.

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Part III: First Pitch ← P R E V I O U S

N E X T → Part V: The Special Assignment