Last night, I attended a Founder Institute session for the first time. I was invited to tell members about the BizSpark program, but I stuck around after my presentation was done.

Founder Institute is an organization designed to assist people start a new company - helping them through every aspect of the startup process. At last night's meeting, members practiced pitching their startup idea to potential investors. Three experienced entrepreneurs listened to each 3-minute pitch and provided feedback on the presentation. It was good practice for the startup and it was educational for me.

Here are a few of the things I learned last night

What problem are you solving?

Identify this early in your presentation. Why do customers need your product or service? Who will potentially buy it?

Compare to something they know

Investors are unlikely to have heard your idea before. Make it easy for them by comparing it to things with which they are familiar. If your sales model uses contract salespeople who reach out to individual consumers, compare it to Avon. One startup proposed providing practical tests for companies hiring electrical engineers. Remind the audience that similar tests are now used successfully by companies hiring software engineers.

Identify your market

Not everyone is a potential customer. Identify what you are selling and who will buy it. If this is an established market, what are the current revenues - both worldwide and in your local area. One startup mentioned that the current market was in the trillions, but provided no context for that number, making it difficult to digest such a large number. Filter those customers to those who might reasonably consider your product and define who those customers are and how much they spend.

Stress your credibility

One hopeful startup was planning to sell wedding dresses online. At the end of his presentation, he casually mentioned that he owned a store that sells wedding dresses. Each of the panelists told him to lead with that information as it established his credibility. He was already familiar with the marketplace and the potential customers. In his case, it was even more important to establish this credibility because he is a man and his target audience is mostly female.


Startup pitches tend to be short (each pitch last night was limited to 3 minutes), so focus on the things that will make your startup successful. It doesn't help to list dozens of features your product will eventually have. It does help to list those features you plan to include in the first release of your product and why those features will resonate with potential users.

In my job as a Technical Evangelist, I work with many startups, often providing mentoring to them. Listening to experienced entrepreneurs last night will help me to serve as a better mentor in the future.