Atlanta's first SwitchPitch

SwitchPitch brought its reverse pitch session to Atlanta today at Terminal West, which is a great facility, and the future home of Startup Riot in March 2015.  The Metro Area Chamber of Commerce and Invest Atlanta were the primary sponsors of SwitchPitch, whose beginnings are a great startup story.

 

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Michael Goldstein, founder of SwitchPitch, has started 4 companies and exited 3.  Having done lots of bizdev in big and small companies, he found it frustrating on both sides. Goldstein has a VC fund, and in trying to get deals for these startups at big companies, he always got the same response: “We’re not interested in your portfolio companies, but here’s what we need….” It was in a discussion with the CFO of Motley Fool that the idea came to life: give big companies a forum to present their biggest problems to an audience of startups and see who can solve the problem.  According to Goldstein, it was “just crazy enough to succeed.”  The mantra behind each event is “Get deals done.”  At the first SwitchPitch event in Washington DC,  4 deals were signed.  Based on feedback from subsequent events, they have moved towards 1-on-1 interactions (speed meetings) for one purpose: engage, learn what these startups do, and build a relationship.

 

Today’s event went as follows:

  • Intro from Goldstein
  • Panel Discusion on best practices for getting deals with big companies, featuring these three successful entrepreneurs, each of whom shared some serious wisdom on how startups can approach big companies to get deals:

    • Dr. Paul Judge – How do I know you’ll be around tomorrow?  You’re going to pay me to stay around.  Do we have to share our burn rate?  No. Don’t tie the price of the product to the expenses of the company!  Startups pitch their feature list without really digging into “how does it really help you?” Engage in a small professional services engagement first, kind of a needs survey. Help BigCo understand the size of their problem. “Thought Leadership” requires a lot of work to understanding what is the current art and how you contribute to the current art.  Expertise is not measured in twitter followers.
    • Genevieve Bos –  Instead of calling on BigCo, call their biggest distributors/reseller network, which is usually a lot easier to get in the door. Also, try and determine their strategy, and see who in your space is a little behind the market so they need you to win.  How do I know you’ll be around tomorrow? You don’t, but you have little risk bc you don’t pay if I don’t deliver.
    • Eli Phetteplace – At The Weather Company, they  look for an internal looking partner, rather than a billing machine or just another agency.  Who will listen to my problem?  That’s who gets the business.  Who will get the job done, not who will turn my company upside down.  If I ask for further engagement, provide me your value prop, straight up, because that means there’s a fit.  “If you’re not the expert, you may be the recognized expert.”

  • Presentation 1: Eli Phetteplace of The Weather Company – The Weather Company (fka The Weather Channel) ingests hundreds of thousands of user generated video content everyday, but it’s too much content to moderate and use. They are looking for a creative solution to moderate, tag, and utilize every piece of user generated video they receive.
  • Presentation 2: Jeff Goldberg of Global Payments – There are no network loyalty solutions. The average person is a member of 18-20 loyalty programs, either on their key chain or their phone. The problem is these loyalty programs were built with the merchant in mind, not the consumer. Merchants want the consumer data. Global Payments is looking for a better loyalty program, built around the consumer’s needs.
  • Presentation 3: Assurant (unable to attend/present)
  • Speedmeeting sessions (15 minutes per session)

 

I spoke to 8 attendees at the event, and came up with a list of pros and cons about this first SwitchPitch event in Atlanta.

 

Pros:

  • A well attended first run at what can really be called a “reverse Startup Riot”
  • Great concept to get more startups in front of BigCos who have real problems that need creative solutions.
  • The Panel members were outstanding.
  • The problems presented by The Weather Company and Global Payments were real, solvable problems that startups can dig into.
  • Great facility at Terminal West.

Cons:

  • The panel discussion lasted more than an hour. The content was great, but this session was far too long, and lost the crowd’s attention.
  • Only two pitches from BigCos. The pitches were good, but there were only two. I was expecting 10-12.
  • The attendees I spoke to were under the impression that all the BigCos in attendance would be pitching.
  • Several of the BigCos who were supposed to be at SwitchPitch did not show up, including one presenter.
  • As a result of the above, more than a few startups were scheduled to have SpeedMeetings, but were met with empty tables.
  • Several startup attendees remarked that the speedmeetings were just more pitch sessions.

 

Generally, as with many new concepts, the idea is great, but the execution will take some time to get just right.  I think SwitchPitch should do future events in Atlanta, for no other reason than the fact that we have 28 Fortune 1000 companies in our great city.  Then, the focus should be on getting at least 10, perhaps 20 big companies to present their big, real problems and then let startups in attendance sign up to pitch how they can solve those very real problems.  Also, it would be helpful to hear from each BigCo presenter how they have tried to solve the problem(s) and failed.  In other words, what hasn’t worked and why?

 

I think a few deals, or at least relationships, will be created from today’s meeting, and I look forward to the next SwitchPitch event.

 

What do you think?