How do you run an Early Stage Pitch event?

Pitch-In is an event designed to help founders of early stage companies. Early Stage Founders present their business idea and receive kind-but-critical feedback.

What’s the Format of a Pitch Event?

The format is fast-moving and straight forward:

  1. The host introduces the companies. They also set the expectation that audience members provide kind-but-critical feedback.
  2. Three companies run the gauntlet
    • The Founder pitches for 5 minutes
    • The Host moderates 5 minutes of Question & Answer
    • The Audience fills out a feedback form
  3. Host thanks the attendees and Founders for participating
  4. Host provides aggregated feedback to Founders

Benefits of Seed Stage Pitch Events

The event lasts an hour and provides a tremendous amount of value to the community.

  • Pitching creates initial momentum. Folks with ideas become publicly accountable as the Founder of a startup.
  • The community begin’s to understand what good startups look like. Community pattern recognition improves through exposure to more startup ideas and more founders.
  • Community-wide analytical skills develop as group members ask questions based on their specialized knowledge.
  • The event reinforces the “Give First” and “Everyone is Welcome” social mores.
  • By audience members sharing their wisdom and network with the founders, the community gains a sense of pride and ownership.

Need to see an example of a Pitch-In?

Want to see what an event feels like? Check out this edited video of our May 22nd Event featuring 3 great startups.

How should presenter’s prepare for their first pitch?

I’ve previously written about pitching your company as a first step in founding your startup. Here’s the cliff-notes to help your presenters.

  1. Recommend that they build a Lean Canvas (?) for each one of their business ideas or customer segments. This will help them to build a more insightful deck and prepare for most questions they’ll receive during the Q&A portion.
  2. Build a deck based on Guy Kawasaki’s pitch deck template. If they’ve never built a venture deck before, this will provide 80% of what they need to be successful.
  3. What about the other 20%? Practice, Practice, Practice – Schedule zoom meetings with friends in advance to knock out any technical glitches, they should run through the deck until they know it inside and out.

Where’s the feedback form for event?

A template version of the feedback form is available here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeBUklEbZJW0DdXb68arJNkvGxu-eGF1aREde630aotsOdHjg/viewform

Please feel free to copy it or share your feedback on the questions we ask in the comments of this post.

Why is the Western New York Startup Community growing?

I spent today compiling a retrospective report that summarizes the past six months. I’m left in awe of all that you have done as a startup community.

We have grown and supported each through a pandemic, the beginning of a recession, and the current social unrest. Our community has been galvanized by these stressors. We will emerge even more robust than we entered due to your contributions.

I’m unable to thank you all personally. Nor, even begin to account the ways you have individually helped one another. However, I can share some growth and activity number that represent the tip of the iceberg.

Startup Community Growth

Since January 1st, 2020 — the WNY Startup Community Slack has grown from 306 members to 1,180. That’s 386% growth! That’s 100% due to the value that you all add through your original content and replies. Combined with your invitations to join and your openhearted welcoming of new members.

Buffalo Bridge has grown from 0 to 5,991 readers, again — all because of you. Jack does Jack things, Andy curates the content that you post to the slack, we package it up and send it out. If we’re being honest — 95% of the value comes from you.

Together, we’ve organized and attended over 58 Techstars supported events. These events wouldn’t exist if community members did not volunteer their time and expertise. Additionally, fewer people would offer up their time if it wasn’t for the hundreds of you who attend. Most importantly, this number completely ignores the dozens of other events that were organized, promoted, and executed by members of this community without Techstars direct support.

Why Should We Keep Growing?

All of this activity is leading to more Startups. Convincing first time founders to move from Idea Stage to building their startup. You’re making the difference, by proving that it’s possible and connecting the support networks that enable them.

When you read this, acknowledge the work that you’ve done to build a brighter economic future for our city. The work you’ve done to strengthen our community and develop genuine friendships.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the rapid and relentless change and disruption that we’ve seen in these past six months. But I know with certainty that we will emerge a stronger and more vibrant startup community. Because of you.

Black Lives Matter

I originally posted this message on the WNYStartupCommunity.com slack. I’m reposting it here for long term visibility.

Dear Startup Community,

I’ve rewritten this message several times, it is imperfect – but at this point to say nothing is wrong.

I’ve had trouble finding the words to react to the events of the last week. From the horrible actions of Amy Cooper, to the disgusting murder of George Floyd, along with the escalation of violence by the state and its citizens, this has been a traumatic week. The fact that it has been “Business as usual” on this slack has shown a failure of leadership on my part as a community collaborator. I apologize for not addressing the realities of the world sooner.

I want to acknowledge the pain that many of us are feeling. To the African American and PoC members of our startup community: I offer my ears to listen, my heart to empathize, and my megaphone to amplify the message you need others to hear. I want to be your ally and I stand in solidarity with you.

If you believe in the fundamental principals of justice and equality as a human right. Take some time today and reach out to your African American friends and colleagues.  Ask them how they are doing and actively listen.  Through communication and vulnerable dialogue we can take steps towards healing as Americans.

Black Lives Matter!

Clark Dever

Together we can destroy the racist systems of oppression that have murdered African Americans for 400 years. It is our duty, and needs to be a foundational component of our efforts as a generation, in order to leave a better future for all the children in America.

Scaling Operations: Simple but not Easy

Scaling Operations for your SaaS startup by Kat Carter from Squire. Focused on the foundational elements of scaling and highlighted Kat’s knowledge. The Q&A at the end goes deeper and shares her wisdom gained from time in the trenches.

TL;DR: The three lessons that she focuses on are:

  • Priorities matter
  • Tools are more than just software
  • Communication is the key to everything

Priorities Matter when Scaling

While Scaling Operations, executive leadership teams need to set clear the priorities for the company. Clearing your schedule, turning off e-mail, and work through a framework. Determine what the goals for the company are and how each team supports them.

Now that you have your priorities, you need to stick with them. You also need to communicate them repeatedly to all your employees. Every manager should know the company’s goals and use them as a guide for their decision making. The impact of each team’s work on the company’s goals should be reinforced during team meetings. The goals and how teams contribute to their success should published company wide.

Tools are more than just software

“There’s an app for that.” Its tempting to search for software to fix your scaling issues. But often what you need to do is collect data and review your processes. Then put together reports and controls that maintain the improvements.


Bits are cheap. When you build new functionality for your software, record relevant meta-data. Do this even if you don’t have a use for that meta-data currently. In the future an “Unknown Unknown” will pop-up. When it does you’ll be in a much better place to solve it if you can run analysis on historical data.

Communication is the key to operations

Your tools and communication plan allow you to effectively respond to novel situations. Kat shared a story about a severe issue that hit Squire while she was on PTO. The issue affected a large part of their customer base. But, the teams followed processes they built resolving prior issues. They communicated cross-functionally to identifying the issue. The team resolved it, and communicated the solution to over 100 customers within 24 hours. She found out about the event the day she returned during a retrospective briefing. The issue was already closed due to an empowered team who knew how to communicate.

Leverage the most effective communication tool for the task. By investing in training materials (such as an internal CRM), Squire reduced their new hire on-boarding time by 75%. Review the problem areas of your company and see if there’s a way you can improve communication.

Scaling Operations is simple but not easy

If you want to scale operations at your startup, focus on building good tools and frameworks. Record data and analyze it to see where the bottle necks exist. Build processes and tools to help you increase workflow. Communicate priorities and changes to employees in several different formats. Share the most important messages more than once.

Good Neighbor – A Hackathon Retrospective

Every year, I try and participate in at least one Hackathon.  As a Product Manager, I find  building and shipping a product as fast as possible is a great way to work on your ability to scope and prioritize features.  This year’s hackathon was Buffalo’s Civic Innovation Challenge.  Which consisted of building an Android App called “Good Neighbor” utilizing Open Data from the City of Buffalo.

Good Neighbor – Pitch Video

Rapid Prototyping Tools

The other benefits of Hackathons is the challenge of learning a new tool or language in a low cost setting. I played around with Monaca and Onsen UI 2 while building this app.  Monaca’s web based IDEA for HTML5 apps was outstanding, I could make an update and instantly see it’s impact on my devices running their Android Debugger App.  Onsen UI allowed me to quickly utilize their Cordoba modules that translate to Android and iOS native UI elements.  I’d recommend both for your mobile prototyping needs.  I built the entire Proof of Concept in about 6-12 hours total.

If you’re hackathon code would pass a peer code review, you probably didn’t push yourself far enough into uncharted territory.

Good Neighbor Features

With Good Neighbor, we wanted to create a multi-lingual app targeted at new immigrants and refugees to the City of Buffalo.  The app acts as a portal in their native language, provide curated links and maps to essential civic services.

Good Neighbor Home Screen
A tappable home screen with easy to identify iconography.

Swipe Menu
A swipeable/tappable menu that uses the same iconography to provide navigation assistance from all views.

Police Precinct Map
A map view showing the different police stations in Buffalo, NY

What was descoped?

“No matter how tightly you try and scope your hackathon app, you’ll always run out of time and have to cut features.”
-Veteran Hackathoner

On the user facing side, we ended up having to bail on the integration with google translate.  It would have been an awesome feature, but we decided that there was more value in adding more content to flesh out the app for the English speaking judges.

On the technical side, we didn’t get to refactoring the app into multiple files, due to a fear that Angular.js might barf and we’d lose a ton of time on a technical “nice-to-have”.  A trade-off we weren’t willing to accept for time that we could have been spending on building out content.  Hackathons breed hacky code, but that’s the point.  They reinforce the “Ship It!” mentality.

Check out the code (Ugly and Hackish)

Fork Good Neighbor on GitHub

Sideload the Good Neighbor App for Android