Pitching a Start-Up 102

The following is the story of how we pitched our start-up to a group of American Venture Capitalists at the IMMERSE Summit in Seattle, WA 2016. You can read here our account of pitching to a group of Asian investors from our VRVCA pitch in Beijing last August. 

We arrived at the Meydenbauer Center at 9am and the lobby was already packed with conference attendees. We made our way into the exhibit room to boot up the HTC Vives and computers. Mat and Lily went to hear the opening address and Keynote speaker. We learned that VR is in between a 1980s cellphone and today’s smartphone but obviously has a ways to go. Halfway through the keynote speech Mat and Lily left with James to practice the pitch for that afternoon’s Shark Tank. After making some final adjustments it was time to move back to the exhibit hall.

When they got down to the hall it was flowing with everyone from the lobby. The booth was already buzzing with people who wanted to experience the Doghead Simulations demo. Attendees watched a looped video on display of our team using rumii (our VR collaboration product) as we gave demos with two HTC Vives behind the booth table. We got a lot of comments like, "you mean I don't have to travel again?" and "I can use this for work today!". Interestingly a lot of educators and architects who were interested in how to use VR stopped by our demo. We had some great conversation on how best to use virtual reality for schools and showing buildings.

The day flew by and before we knew it was time for the official pitch run through. Elbert manned the booth so that Lily and Mat could go to the official practice pitch with the other Shark Tank teams. 30 startups applied for the Immerse Shark Tank this year but only five were accepted. Doghead was one of those five.

This pitch was completely different from VRVCA in Beijing. This pitch session was in a large event room with a stage and two large screens to display the presentations. The VCs (otherwise known as “the Sharks”) sat on the stage for the startups to present to them while in front of an audience of 500 attendees. On top of that, the Shark Tank session was recorded by professional camera men. Teams were given five minutes to pitch and had five minutes to answer questions from the Sharks, leaving enough time for about one question per VC. Doghead Simulations was slated to go up second. Todd Hooper announced our team and we walked up on the stage. Our pitch went off without a hitch.

CognitiveVR was selected as the winner and they had a solid product. Although we were disappointed to not have won the Shark Tank we were able to take the advice from the Sharks to make our pitch stronger and even more compelling. We also received positive feedback from attendees in the audience.

It was interesting to see the difference pitching to the Seattle VCs vs. the VCs in Beijing. The VCs in Beijing had more questions regarding the features we could implement while the Sharks at Immerse thought our product should be more focused on a specific pain point. We also faced some stiffer competition at Immerse since it was more of a business focused event where VRVCA Beijing was open to a variety of VR applications.

We want to thank Bellevue for hosting us in the startup arena. Also, many thanks to Todd Hooper, Gregory Paley, and Gail Rice too. It was great event! Even though we didn't win the Shark Tank we still felt like we did, because we had the opportunity to talk to many potential investors on the trade show floor as well as the Sharks on stage. It was a great experience to practice and refine our pitch, which only makes us more confident in our product. We enjoyed seeing the other VR startups’ ideas and demos because they show the real growth for the technology and prove our numbers for the VR market are a reality.

In Conclusion:

  • Don't assume that a successful pitch for one group will be successful for a different one.
  • Your pitch deck can morph and change over time.
  • Be open to feedback about your pitch even if it hurts.
  • At the end of the day it is your pitch and your company, you have to make the calls that make the most sense to you.