Launching at Startup Riot

I’ve launched several new businesses before, but not like this. “This” is new, good, and very exciting.  When I  made deductmor official in December, I had my ideas for launching. Then the folks at ATDC told me about Startup Riot. My ideas suck.  Sanjay‘s idea is better.  Simple as that.

Knowing virtually nothing about Startup Riot, I hit the site and applied, not knowing what to expect and certainly not knowing if I’d be in the 30 to be picked.  Couple days later I get an email from Sanjay saying I’m in, but that my slides, and hence my pitch, needed “major work.”  OK, so happy to be in, but I thought my slides were pretty good, no?  No. Compared to what I ended up with, they sucked. Simple as that.

Then comes honing the pitch.  I changed it at least 30 times, each time thinking to myself and actually saying out loud, “this is it. I got this.”  Every time I was in my car alone, I’d set the timer on my iPhone and practice, practice, practice.  Even the morning of the event, riding down GA 400 practicing, practicing, practicing.  I was SO ready.

But first I have to digress and describe what came before Startup Riot.  Founder Fables is Sanjay’s newest event, and a brilliant one.  Only thing is, I can’t talk about what was said.  I can say that Sanjay has to know everyone everywhere.  Sanjay got 11 very inspiring entrepreneurs to spend at least an hour talking – totally off the record – about the good, bad, and ugly of starting and running new businesses.  I was at Founder Fables from 8am to 7pm. I never even thought of leaving.  The food was good. The coffee was good. The Founders were inspiring.

When Sanjay announces the where and when of the next Founder Fables, you must go. Simple as that.

That was Tuesday.  Startup Riot was Wednesday.  Here’s what happens: 450 people gather at The Tabernacle at 830am to hear the 30 startups that Sanjay & Co. have chosen to “pitch” our new startups. We get 4 slides, 3 minutes to present, and 3 minutes of questions from tech startup gurus Adam Rich, TA McCann, and Hiten Shah.  Follow these guys on Twitter. You’ll learn much.  Some of the fun came from Sanjay’s expertise at keeping secrets. Just like Founder Fables, we did not know everything that was going to happen this day.  We all gathered and setup our 6′ black tables to show our wares, and waited. Shortly after arrival, we got the schedule of who’s going to present and when.

So I’m #2 in line in the first group.  If you’re applying to pitch at the next Startup Riot, know this: you gotta wait behind the stage for 20 minutes or so, and it’s really, really cold. And you’re probably a little nervous. Ever pitched anything to 450 people before?  It can be a little intimidating. You should practice. A lot.

I did not nail my pitch.  I hit the slide-forward button twice the first time I touched it, so it went to far, and you can ask “them” to go back one time and one time only, then you gotta deal with it. That was my time. Then I jumped ahead of myself.  See, turns out all my in-car practicing was great, but that was not practice with the slides. Doh!

A little insight into some of what I think makes Startup Riot pretty freaking great.  First, it’s a competition. Not everybody likes competition, but if you’re starting a small business, especially a tech business, you had better get on board with the fact that it’s uber competitive.  I love competition. Competition makes everyone better, brings the cream to the top and exposes the pretender. Startup Riot is at its heart a competition, and that alone is exciting.

Second, Startup Riot is big. Where else can you launch your new business to 450 people who love new businesses?!?  You can’t. Simple as that.  I pitched again the very next day at a great event, but there were less than 100 people there.  Great event, yes, but 1/4 the size of Startup Riot. No comparison.  I met more investors at Startup Riot than I’ve ever met in one place.

Third, part of the DNA that Sanjay and folks like him bring to events like Startup Riot is pay it forward. Every one of the speakers at Founder Fables at one time or another was helped along when the needed it. Everyone there was competitive, but over and over I heard the same theme preached that we are all in a position to help someone else.  We all know someone who needs help. We all need help ourselves at some point.  Proof of that meme was put into a superb post by @bubs. Brilliant and inspiring.

Back to the competition.  I was nervous, and as I said, did not nail my pitch. But that’s ok. Nobody’s perfect, right? Well, this young lady was.  Excelegrade‘s Lauren Miller killed it.  Seriously, I don’t think she said “um” or “uh” or hesitated once. It was perfect. They won, and they deserved it. She killed it.  I did not get to hear the 2nd place pitch by Spensa Technologies, but they’ve created a way to automate agricultural pest control. Who knew that was even a problem?!? They did. And they’ve fixed it.  I did see the 3rd place pitch by Ten Eight. Turns out I went to college with the older brother of they guy giving their pitch. Small world indeed, but you never know who you’re going to meet. Dress appropriately.  Ten Eight is going to do away with the commercial real estate binder, because it’s a waste of time and money.  Are you in commercial real estate? Wouldn’t you rather carry an iPad than 72 tour booklets?

After seeing 2 of these 3, I was shocked to see deductmor make the top 5, as picked by the aforementioned judges. That is encouragement as this guy tries to build a new small business.  Sometimes, a word of encouragement is all you need, especially when it comes from the likes of these judges.  I left Startup Riot exhausted, talked out, very encouraged, and far more connected than I was when I arrived.  I had never participated in any such event before, and now I have to wonder why!  What a superb event. Sanjay Parekh is a startup visionary, who is giving and giving and giving to the Atlanta startup community to push us into the Top 10 in the nation.  We have a ways to go, but Startup Riot is helping put Atlanta on the map.

Well done Sanjay & Co., and congratulations to Excelegrade.

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