This week I'm starting a new category called "Lesson Learned" to catalogue some of the important and probably obvious lessons I've learned recently and throughout my life. While I hope that some people might benefit from these posts, their true intent is to create a mental backup for me in case I forget them!
Back in January I was taking a class called Entrepreneurship and Business Planning, where we worked in teams to create a business idea and build out the supporting documentation and research, from market analysis to presenting a fully developed business plan in front of successful entrepreneurs and investors. Once our teams had formed, we each had to come up with some business ideas, share them with the group, and pitch the best two to the class to decide which business we would develop throughout the semester. Having come up with a few ideas over the past few years, some ridiculous, others only slightly crazy, I was excited to pitch these ideas and hopefully build them out into something I could eventually turn into a business. I shared a few of my ideas with a group and one was chosen to be presented in class.
And then I messed up.
While the idea was clear to me, I didn't spend enough time thinking it over and making it simple for everyone else to understand. When I stood up in front of the class I blundered through a short, awkward presentation trying to unsuccessfully distill the business idea into a short pitch everyone would understand. I babbled something about a foursquare for living a green life, but most of the class had no idea what foursquare was and if they did they really weren't any better off. I think I received one, maybe two votes, with the professor initially forgetting to add mine to the list of possible ventures when polling the students.
My fatal flaw was assuming that it's easy to explain something you're familiar with in a short amount of time to people who have no idea what you're talking about. It seems obvious, but somehow I'd missed it until that day. Giving presentations and improvising talks have always been things I'm pretty good at, but when your time to talk is reduced to 60 seconds, every single word counts and should be chosen wisely. You cannot be over prepared for a presentation, particularly when you have under a minute to convince the audience that your idea is the best.
So what was my idea and how should I have approached the pitch? My basic idea was to create a social game around making environmentally friendly choices in the real world. Google Power-Meter and Microsoft Hohm had just launched and I felt that the general consumer was beginning to become more environmentally conscious. These tools for measuring power usage, combined with the inclusion of MPG measurements in current hybrids, could create a large amount of data around a user's energy consumption. I felt that this could create an opportunity where a social platform could tie in this data and create a game around being efficient. Beating the average Prius mileage could gain you points or badges to be used in purchasing sponsored green products for example. While the idea isn't horrible (at least in my mind) it wasn't necessarily complete nor was it the right time for something like this. As we've seen, foursquare usage has plateaued and both Google and Microsoft have shut down their energy monitoring products. In a world where social networks are a dime a dozen and systems that monitor energy use are still not well-integrated and expensive (business opportunity?), my idea may not have been the best one.
But I should've been able to convince the class anyway.
When preparing for the pitch, I should have detailed all the aspects of the idea on paper and sorted them into categories such as revenue opportunities, market needs they addressed, and features that would draw users. By breaking down the idea, I would have been able to understand what was and was not compelling about it. The non-compelling aspects could be pushed aside and left to deal with later, while the best aspects of the business would be featured in my one minute pitch. Presenting the problem (concern for the environment without direct positive reinforcement) and then the solution (a social game that rewards you for being green) would have been a great way to pitch to the class in just 30 seconds, well below the one minute marker.
Think carefully about your idea, reduce it until every single word has importance, rehearse your delivery, and you will amaze the audience. Every. Single. Time.