Guest Post: Kela Ivonye is the CEO and co-founder of MailHaven, a smart mailbox that tracks and protects your packages.
Demo Day is an invite-only event hosted by 500 Startups for investors to get a first look at the startups from the accelerator program, meet the founders, and network with other attendees.
For founders, it’s the culmination of four months of hard work. As a batch company at 500 Startups, you start preparing for your last day on Day 1. That two-minute pitch on stage at Demo Day is our opportunity to show hundreds of top-tier investors what we’ve been working on.
The first thing Batch 22 learned about Demo Day was to have fun, be genuine, and to own and tell your story. The message from 500 was clear: You belong here. And you deserve to show your hard work to a crowd of great investors.
But that doesn’t mean the road to Demo Day was without its bumps.
“Is This Useful?”
Our cohort had all types of personalities: Outgoing, reserved, critical and optimistic.
So, some activities were met with skepticism. For example, acting coaching. Not everyone immediately saw the value in meeting with an acting coach. For me, it came in handy right before I presented. For an engineer, a storytelling session might seem like a waste of time, but it proved to be critical to learning how to make your passion resonate with others.
We were also taught techniques to ease our nerves. Nervousness is natural, but preparation can help minimize it.
We practiced, practiced and practiced some more. Practice is the key to a successful presentation. It’s the ultimate equalizer. Whether you’re a veteran presenter or a novice, with enough practice there is no difference. This was a calming factor for my cohort. There’s no need to fear presenting, as long as you practice enough. Shoot for more than 100 renditions. After that, it will come naturally. You won’t have to rely on memorized words because your mind will readily offer up a synonym for any word you forget.
And the 500 mentors were there for us each and every time. “We are here and will be available at your request to practice morning, afternoon and evening. Those who take advantage of this are proven to do the best job,” they said.
We were encouraged to have fun while we worked and to take breaks to enjoy the company of our cohort. Every Friday, a different startup hosted a happy hour. The two happy hours leading up to Demo Day were the best. In the penultimate week, I saw our cohort grow even closer.
One of the antidotes for our Demo Day anxiety was the time we spent together. I’d like to talk more about it, but what happens in Batch 22, stays in Batch 22. 😉
“Building a startup is hard, but building one alone is even harder,” is a quote founders hear a lot.
Demo Day was a team effort, and the work the MailHaven team performed behind the scenes was the most important. Leading up to Demo Day, they allowed me to focus solely on my pitch for a week, while they took on running our startup. And on Demo Day, my one job as presenter was to be high energy and trust that my practice and repetition would get me through.
At 9am, we started setting up, my energy was high and the rest of the cohort were giving each other motivational high fives and taking photos while we worked. In the fleeting moments of our time together physically, the need to capture the excitement was irresistible.
By time the pitches started, I was so excited to help my cohort and Mailhaven make sure the audience would not forget our stories. And while Demo Day was the grand finale to our program, it’s really only the beginning in building our companies.
Demo Day in the Words of Batch 22 Founders
Tomi – Mobile Forms
“Preparing for Demo Day was filled with a lot of ups and down. I had a unique challenge, how do I describe an African problem to an audience based several thousand miles away and who have probably never been to Africa before? I started by putting my story on a word document and sharing with colleagues and batch mates to get feedback. The feedback was mixed. Some got the problem, others struggled to understand. This gave me nightmares. I spent days locked up in my room until I got something that spoke to 90% of the crowd – and Boom! I rewrote my story. Kept working on my pitch.
By Demo Day, my pitch story and I had become one. So, when I took the stage I spoke with my heart and the rest was for the audience to decide. I was super happy to hear we were featured No. 2 standout pitch on the day. I nailed it!!!!!! :)”
Shuo – Mira Financial
“It was fun seeing everything come together on Demo Day and every company sharing their vision.”
Charu – NextPlay
“It was a unique opportunity to share our progress in front of 300+ investors and media. We got featured on TechCrunch, built a pipeline for fundraising and, more than anything else, it was a Once-in-a-Lifetime experience that we shared with our batch mates who have become lifelong friends.”
Vittorio – BotSociety
“Demo Day was an incredible experience. Think about the day you graduated mixed with investor-speed-dating mixed with the adrenaline of stepping on a stage in front of 400 people. It has changed how we communicate company goals and achievements. Being a chatbot design company means that we are used to designing long conversations. We tended to do that as well when talking about the company itself. We are now able to condense to two sharp minutes. That would have never happened without DemoDay.”
Srikant – Curio.io
“Preparing for Demo Day actually helped us really make our pitch razor sharp and tell our story as efficiently as possible. The day itself was quite exhilarating and it was great to have Curio.io be shown off to so many investors and people in the media.”