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.

Pitch-In -Startups in Buffalo, NY May 22nd 2020

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.

How do you go from idea stage to having a startup?

The Idea Stage Startup Trap

I spend a lot of time talking to Idea Stage Founders about their fictional startups. Often they’re stuck thinking about their business instead of building it.

The key to initial forward momentum takes a less than 10 hours of work. In fact, I recommend you stop reading after these bullets and start right now.

  1. Fill out a Lean Canvas
  2. Build a Pitch Deck
  3. Pitch
    • To experienced Founders, just e-mail them and ask them if they’d help you with their pitch. You’ll be surprised at how accessible they are to other founders and how much help they will provide.
    • Search for early-stage pitch events. I host one called “Pitch-In.” If you can’t find any locally – start your own early stage pitch event.
    • Seek out Angel Investors or Economic Development Agencies.
  4. Rinse & Repeat until your Company exits
    • No, Really. This never stops being part of your job as a Founder – unless you bootstrap.

Pitch your Idea Stage Startup

In gardening, you can’t contain the exuberant growth of a seed in a small pot for long. If it doesn’t have room to grow, it runs, distorts in unhealthy ways, gets root bound, then dies.

The exact same thing happens to startup ideas trapped in your head. Like our fictional plant hero, your startup idea requires transplanting. The freedom to grow despite adversity leads to healthy plants that bear fruit.

Pitching your idea in public is equal to planting it in the wild. During your pitch at least one of the following will happen:

  1. The audience will spot the gaps in your plan.
  2. You will feel embarrassed about something you said, despite audience barely noticing.
  3. An expert will tell you about an “Unknown Unknown“. That is to say, a risk that you don’t know about, nor do you know it’s potential impact on your business.

Challenges like these are required to go from Idea Stage to a functioning Startup. In fact, every time you adapt and overcome a challenge to one of your ideas, the startup gets stronger.

There is Magic in Public Accountability

Standing on stage presenting a slide deck takes the idea out of your mind and makes it tangible startup. It’s a promise to the audience. You’re not lying to them – this business is real. You have transfigured an idea to an early stage startup. The audience bears witness to the artifacts, proof-of-life, you are now a Founder.

The journey of 1,000 miles has started with these first steps. Now take the next step, and the next, and the next, until your arrive at your destination.

Remember to be mindful and enjoy the journey.

Employee Heatmap – The Simplest and Most Effective Tool in the Management Arsenal

One of the hardest things for senior managers to maintain Situational Awareness across their entire organization. Ego and averaging often obscure the reporting up through your hierarchy.

Mid-level managers don’t ask for help because they don’t see how their team’s problems are impacting the organization as a whole. This lack of reporting or “the blame game” can hide the root causes of cross-functional problems.

Whenever I face uncertainty, I collect and visualize data to gain a deeper understanding of the problem.

Capturing Data Efficiently

Every week, managers are required to report their individual team members “stress load” in a shared google sheet. In aggregate, over-time, this Employee Heatmap data becomes immensely valuable in understanding your teams’ performance.

This quick report (~2 minutes for a team of 5) allows both you and your managers to visually see changes in employees status across your entire organization. This insight allows you both to determine where to focus your analysis and assistance as leader.

The Employee Heat Map

Spreadsheet Heatmap of Employee Stress over time.
A quick review during the weekly management meeting visually helps you determine where you need to ask questions and assist.

Download the Employee Heatmap Example.xls

What is Stress Load?

The Employee Heatmap is built on a quantitative value that we call “Stress Load”. “Stress Load” is defined as Workload + Familyload.

As a Human-First leader, I view my employees capacity as the combination of two things. The 8-hours they spend on the clock and the issues they’re facing during the 16-hours a day that I don’t pay them for.

My managers collect these data points during their monthly 1-on-1s with their direct reports. They adjust the monthly self-reported “stress load” number based on their direct observation when reporting it in the management review weekly.

What is Workload?

Workload in the Employee Heatmap is quantified on a scale of 1-10. 1 being almost completely unsaturated to the point of boredom and 10 being complete saturation at an unsustainable pace. 4-6 is the Goldilocks Zone.

Depending on your team composition, you may regularly see 6-7 . Challenging workloads tend to keep Type-A employees more engaged and therefore might not be a negative indicator. Sustained values in the 8-10 range usually indicate an underlying issue that needs attention.

I encourage my managers to restate the number and ask “What does that mean to you?”. If the self-reported number is out of the Goldilocks Zone for that employee, I instruct them to ask “Why do you feel this way?” It’s important that the direct manager understands what is driving the stress level of their employee’s workload numbers.

Qualitative reasons often drive higher workload numbers. Employees doing work that they don’t enjoy or having to work with someone they dislike is more often the culprit than being overwhelmed by volume. Managers tend to be better at recognizing tasking issues than rooting out qualitative drivers.

My astute friend Mike Canzoneri solves this problem by breaking down his version of this process into 3 values: Workload Emotional, Workload Quantity, Family Load.

What is Family Load?

Family Load is also measured on a scale of 1-10. 1 being almost completely stress-free to the point of boredom and 10 being overwhelming stress that detracts from the employees quality of life.

We respect our employees’ privacy as a cultural value at my company. Managers are instructed to not ask for the “Why?” with this number. If their employees volunteer the information, they are told to keep it in confidence. This qualitative input can help the manager to bias the monthly number appropriately for the weekly reporting as the employees life-situation continues to develop.

Long Term Value of the Employee Heatmap

Trend Analysis of Employee Heat Map
The trend, leading, and trailing, indicators all provide valuable insights on your process and people.

If you graph the data in the Employee Heatmap, you can start to determine leading and trailing indicators as well as recurring trends in your team’s functioning.

I’ve used this data to make staffing plans, deconflict teams before they were in a negative feedback loop, and change how we schedule work. It’s pound-for-pound the most powerful tool in my personal management toolbox. I highly encourage you to try it, modify it, and share the results.

Questions of the Day

What’s your favorite tool for managing your employees? Do you have any other tricks for keeping a pulse on in-direct reports?

Why you should build wireframes in Powerpoint.

Wireframe for ClarkDever.com in Powerpoint

There are dozens of tools for building user interfaces, some of them are web-based, some require specialized skills and software (looking at you Adobe). They all have their place, but I routinely recommend people user Powerpoint for their wireframing needs.

Here’s why you should use Powerpoint for wiring framing:

  • You build them faster
  • It forces you to focus on Information Architecture, not details
  • Everyone knows how to use Powerpoint
  • You can fake interactions and test process flows
  • It allows you to quickly get feedback from real humans before a single line of code is written.
For clarity: I'm going to say Powerpoint for the remainder of this post – but Powerpoint, Keynote, LibreOffice, Google Slides are all acceptable alternatives. 

Increase your Velocity

I train my teams to use the simplest/fastest prototype or tool that gets them the feedback they need to advance the product down the development pipeline. The best tools are the ones that reduce friction and allow you to increase your development velocity.

If you have to learn a new UI in order to implement a test, you’re reducing your speed to market. That amount of friction may seem small, but it adds up. Experienced product managers will tell you that more deadlines are missed as the results of hundreds of small inefficiencies than one-off catastrophic events.

Right Level of Fidelity

More powerful tools have more features, more feature means more complexity and time wasted on irrelevant details. You shouldn’t be concerned about anything but information architecture and block level elements when wireframing.

As a simple guideline: When you’re building a wireframe, it should be no more complicated then what you can personally draw on a whiteboard. So in practice, you should be creating the digital version of your crappy illustration.

This is important, because design should be left to designers. The purpose of a wireframe is to identify the functional units on a page (and maybe their relative priority/weight). Primarily, you should be concerned with content at the “block” level. Instead of worrying about design, you should be asking yourself if all of the objectives of the page/view are being met.

It sounds trivial, but I can’t tell you how many e-commerce wireframes I’ve reviewed that didn’t have contact information in the headers or navigation, and/or didn’t provide a direct link to the cart page. Every page should have one job, make sure that you have the content blocks that support the page’s goal.

Non-technical people know Powerpoint

You friends, family, business analysts, content marketers, and pilot customers, all know Powerpoint well enough to wireframe. They are the Subject Matter Experts on their needs, not your designers. You wouldn’t ask your Plumber to architect your home, so why would you ask a Web Developer to determine your information architecture?

Getting the right team members engaged with the wireframing process will improve the quality of the output. Wireframes are the foundation that your product’s usability is based on.

This part of the design phase is also the cheapest, and fastest place to make changes based on user feedback. No one has spent hours in photoshop, no one has written a line of code, there are no dependencies – enjoy this agility while it lasts and try wireframing different variations of your screens.

Interactions and Navigation

You can emulate interactions with your product by building different slides to represent different states. By having clickable areas load specific slides, the wireframes can show a user the result of their actions.

This functionality allows you to test different funnels and begin to understand how novice users interact with your product. The biggest benefit of this entire process is that, you can perform interactive user testing without engaging a designer or software developer.

Universally Accessible

Powerpoint is ubiquitous, you can share files and get quick revisions from several stakeholders remotely and asynchronously. Additionally, you can export the final product as a PDF for easy user testing.

Load that PDF on your mobile device and ask random people at a coffee shop to accomplish a task on your site, BOOM!, observable user testing for the cost of a cup of coffee.

Questions of the Day

What other tools have you used to quickly build prototypes? What were the benefits and drawbacks?