NJTechWeekly.com heard that the co-founder of one of N.J.’s own promising startups—Kirsten Bischoff of www.Hatchedit.com-- was planning to attend TechCrunch Disrupt NYC so we asked her for a contribution to our Opinion page. We wanted to know why she was crossing the Hudson to attend this event and what she hoped to accomplish. We also asked for lessons learned. Here is her take. We think she has a lot of great tips to share. As always, her opinions are her own.
I am co-Founder of www.Hatchedit.com, a free social network for families that officially launched in January 2012. Running a New Jersey-based tech startup with a bootstrapped budget often means facing difficult decisions regarding where and how to market our product. One such decision was whether or not to invest in an appearance at TechCrunch’s Disrupt NY Conference held earlier this month.
Because we are hoping to raise funding within the next 12 months TC Disrupt was one of the best options for announcing our existence to the tech and VC community. As a Startup Alley Exhibitor we pitched to attendees on Day 1 and were given passes to attend the panels and presentations on Day 2 and Day 3.
Overall, the experience was overwhelmingly positive, and we consider it an investment with an excellent return. We were lucky enough to be interviewed for TC tv, which has resulted in an uptick in subscriptions, and we also received positive feedback from attendees. In addition to making some (hopefully) valuable connections, we also gained some insights as to what works best for presenting to a crowd of peers and investors.
Lesson from the Battlefield
At this year’s event there were a number of companies that really shined during their on-stage presentations during the popular “Startup Battlefield” pitches. For my money, the best pitches and best firms on the Battlefield were: Snip Snap (coupon app), Kurb Karma, and Postwire.
My biggest takeaway from watching the Battlefield pitches?
Know how to answer this question: “What problem are you solving?”
Often, entrepreneurs may have thought they had answered this adequately – but in fact had only answered it halfway. For example – Spotless City – which is currently focused on the NYC market – and bringing dry cleaner delivery service to anyone by matching dry cleaners and customers - fell short by focusing on only one half of their service.
Their pitch focused on providing the service to clients, but left the team of judges wondering what problem they were solving for dry cleaners. When asked this directly, the answer did not seem to convince judges that dry cleaners would fall over themselves to adapt the service their current work process. I’m sure that Spotless City has a very important service that it is fulfilling for dry cleaners, or they would not have convinced any to participate. But including that in their presentation may have made a big difference as to how the judges received them.
Lessons from Startup Alley
What struck me most about being in Startup Alley were the vast differences between the products being pitched. Companies ran the gamut from bootstrapped startups (some officially launching that day) to established products that had already raised in excess of six figures. While there were quite a few tables that were staffed by marketing teams with impressive giveaways, there were just as many staffed by the founders themselves who were only handing out business cards.
Our table was just me(!) a laptop, and some printed invitations that we like to hand out. And while there were a few tables around us that had brought or rented large monitors, there were just as many people showing their sites and apps on laptops and ipads.
Somehow, I was lucky enough to be interviewed by TechCrunch for a video spot and write up on the site, so we are definitely proof that it is indeed possible to have a successful conference appearance with a bare bones budget!
10 Things I learned in Startup Alley
1. Make eye contact and smile
When I was a journalist I was struck by how many entrepreneurs did not make eye contact with many of the people passing by. Remembering this and watching the success of the friendly guys next to and across from me, I went out of my comfort zone, channeled my inner sorority girl and smiled sincerely at everyone passing by. The difference was immediate, and while not everyone stopped, I found myself walking people through our site at a very steady pace.
2. Tailor your pitch for your audience
I have 2 different starting points for describing our site. Because our target user base is women, and they seem to “get us” right away I have one pitch when speaking to women, and a slightly tweaked pitch to describe what we do to men.
3. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
This is a tough one. People were walking by and it can be second nature to checkout their appearance and then to look at their badges. You may explain things differently to a venture capitalist as opposed to another tech entrepreneur and even more differently if you are lucky enough to have a journalist stop by to see your product. But remember, every pitch has a potential value, and sometimes you have no idea who you are talking to – so it would be dangerous to give anything less than 100% all of the time.
4. Bring gum!
There is nothing worse than trying to listen to someone’s awesome pitch only to be distracted by their breath. You can brush your teeth in the morning, have a cup of coffee to re-energize, and not even realize that you are now breathing coffee on everyone. With people pitching their product on every side of you, and video being streamed into the space – it is noisy, and you generally have to stand close to someone in order for them to hear you. You do not want your personal hygiene to be the only thing they remember about you.
5. Never underestimate the other information you know.
You are not only a tech entrepreneur. Chances are there are many other facets of your life that make you an interesting person. I was lucky enough to talk to a few people about things other than my product and they all resulted in great exchanges of information that could very well be more valuable to us than simply securing another user.
6. If you’re going to use social media don’t be an echo chamber.
Most tweets using the conference hashtag seemed to be direct quotes from panelists and speakers with no added information. Sure, it is great to Tweet out something you hear that is brilliant or important – but when 25 other people are doing the same thing you aren’t adding much value to the social media conversation. It is much better to add some additional information to these tweets – your opinion, or maybe the link to an article you may have read touching on the same subject. Your perspective on things is the value you add to the information you pass on from the conference.
7. Ask questions.
Don’t forget to ask questions of the people to whom you are pitching. I try and ask everyone what company they are with, or what they are at the conference to do. I listened to many people describe their own products and businesses, and because of that was able to start conversations about things like possible partnerships or possible swaps on site advertisements.
Use the conference materials to determine which businesses are there that you might use or that might target the same audience as you and be a possible partner in the future. You aren’t there only to pitch your product, but to meet other people who you might help or who might help you in the future.
9. Don’t ignore body language.
Whether that is at your booth, at lunch or during panels. Don’t be the person people avoid. You may sit next to someone and find an instant rapport. Other people are there with a different agenda, and knowing when someone is not interested in chatting is just as important as recognizing who is there to network.
10. Leverage your attendance.
Attending a big conference gives you multiple ways to extend that exposure afterwards. For example, I am writing this post, and have also written a few posts about specific sites I discovered for our own blog and for my blog on Forbes.com. Your attendance gives you insights that many people would like to learn about. Find ways to do that either by blogging (as a guest on a blog, local news site, or even your own blog), or maybe volunteering to speak at networking events you may be attending in the near future.
Kirsten Bischoff is co-Founder of Hatchedit.com a social network for families. The site and its free Android and iPhone/iPad apps provide families with tools like a shareable color-coded calendar, photo sharing, and more. A focus on privacy allows members to stay in complete control and still share information with grandparents, babysitters, in-laws, etc. The site was the Winner of NAPO Organizer’s Choice Tech Product of 2012, and was picked by Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine as a “Site to Surf”.