The Demo

Several weeks ago, I brokered a meeting between two of my portfolio companies.  One of them is relatively mature, has a good sized customer base, and a great set of products.  The other one is very young, is a recent investment, has some great technology, but is just now bringing it to market.

The business synergy between the two companies is superb – they are both going after similar customers (they’ve already had a little overlap in their leads) and – for a segment of the market – have a comparable pricing and deployment model.

So – slam dunk, right?  Get everyone in a room, have them show each other their stuff, and figure out where to go together – especially if everyone in the room is smart, very clued in, and predisposed to partner.  I figured we’d walk out of there in 90 minutes with a clear plan of attack.  I made the introductions, sketched out an agenda (YoungCo demo for 15 minutes, MatureCo demo for 15 minutes, then let’s figure stuff out) and then let folks go at it.

YoungCo’s demo was lousy.  I’d seen the CEO pitch before and he usually does a great job, but for some reason he was off.  Rather than a top down demo that gave a clear view of the product, he gave a ponderous bottoms up demo (e.g. “now, I’ll create a new user account, log in, and show you a screen with no data on it.”)  It wandered, it rambled, and it took 45 minutes, and still didn’t get to show its stuff in a way that I thought MatureCo would light up on.

MatureCo’s demo wasn’t much better.  Same story – in this case, they have an awesome pitch, but for some reason the person giving it followed YoungCo’s lead and went bottoms up.  I was impatient at this point, so I jumped in more and tried to guide things around some, which probably didn’t help.

We finally got down to business 90 minutes into the meeting.  Since everyone in the room was smart, they were able to appropriately abstract what they were seeing and we finally got on a coherent track.  But – I wasn’t particularly proud of the first pass of either company.  We ended up in a happy place and they’ve got some stuff rolling together, but if I hadn’t been an investor in both companies, I can imagine a situation where neither would have had the patience to work through things to get to a partnering point with the other.

In hindsight, I realized this was ultimately my fault.  I assumed that both companies would be able to read my mind in advance of the meeting and I didn’t put the effort into framing things and setting the expectation in advance.  I usually do this – in this case I just punted because the fit between the two seemed so obvious to me.

However, if each company had started with a tight, top down demo, the entire tone would have been different.  I learned – early in my first company – that the first 15 minutes of a meeting will make it or break it.  I learned how to do a great demo – even if it was simply my sales pitch on a white board or flip chart.  This meeting reminded me how important it is for a young company (and a MatureCo) to be able to nail their demo and do it quickly.

  • Ah, I’ve seen this happen so many times, Brad. If I may say so, it was NOT in fact your fault. Just as all entrepreneurs need to have a tight elevator pitch all companies need to have a solid, exciting, engaging demo that they can pull out at the drop of the proverbial hat.

    Showing off brand new, untested code or similar is just a bad idea when you’re trying to get someone engaged. That kind of demonstration is one best talked through in detail (“Let me show you our rough template. Obviously there’s not much there yet, but just imagine if the links included A, B, C, D, E and even F. Sweet, eh?”) or skipped entirely.

  • I don’t know…. If these two companies are in almost the same space, it’s likely that they were both already aware of each other and didn’t need a top down “marketing” pitch. If they are as smart as you indicate, they would have already done their research on the other company, its management, the business model, etc. In fact, it’s possible that doing a 15 minute top down pitch would have just been a waste of time for both sides. From what you described, it looks like both sides basically just jumped right into the nitty gritty, in which case going bottom up makes more sense. You mentioned that you were impatient during the second pitch — the question is, were they? My feeling is that entrepreneurs don’t like hearing pitches and they don’t like giving them either if they don’t have to. In the situation you described, I don’t think it would have been appropriate or necessary to do so. Hard to say since I wasn’t there, but it’s another way of looking at the situation.

  • Patrick – I didn’t mean “pitch” – I explicitly meant “demo.” Both companies did their research in advance and knew what the other was about, so the value of a bullshit ppt overview would have been zero. However, even though I’ve used zillions of products, I always find that someone can show it to me in depth much more effectively / efficiently than I can. Plus – by watching how they present it, I usually learn a lot about how they think about their product.

  • I was confused because sometimes you used “demo” and sometimes you used “pitch”. Thanks for clarifying! What I was getting at was … perhaps they were speaking to each other on another wavelength from you. Sort of like the difference between having two marketing types talk to each other versus having two tech types do so. That the CEO of YoungCo decided to go bottom up and the MatureCo person did so as well (and everything ended up alright and they were able to work together) might be an indication of that. The main question I’d have is how MatureCo reacted while YoungCo was demoing and vice versa.