This summer I was lucky enough to coach two student teams at the summer accelerator that was run by the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship at UMass Amherst and Valley Venture Mentors. I love working with the students at Berthiaume. I get energized every time I go out there, and I’m always impressed with the quality of ideas and constant hustle to try to build a business from the ground up.
Last night was the final event marking the end of the accelerator. Every team had to present a two minute pitch that represented how far their idea had developed over the past 10 weeks. As you would expect, some teams were on the cusp of actually launching a product. Other teams pushed their idea as far as they could, only to realize that they had to go back to drawing board, which is a different kind of success in a program like this.
Just before the pitches were going to start, I ended up in a conversation with one of the entrepreneurs I hadn’t talked to before. She explained the business idea she was developing.
And of course, I had a strong point of view on her approach, and how she had to change it. And I just had to share it with her. Right before she was going on stage in front of 100 people to pitch her business for the very first time.
Which felt like a terrible idea when I saw her on stage 10 minutes later.
Two points I have to make in my defense.
First, my advice was good advice! She was building a content discovery business in the health and wellness space, and she wanted to build it in a mobile app.
And I have very strong feelings about mobile apps. In almost every startup, starting with an app is bad idea. They are expensive to build, costly to maintain, app discovery in the App Store is a mess, and most apps are opened once or twice and then left to rot on the fifth screen on your phone.
For a startup with very little cash, trying to find product-market fit, you can use a website, email and social tools to hone your idea and prove you’re on the right track without spending all of your cash.
Second, I swear I wasn’t trying to sabotage her pitch. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that she would be on stage in 10 minutes. In that moment, I spotted a flaw in her plan, I could see that she was stuck and I wanted to help.
There are two take aways from this experience. One for me and one for you.
If I find myself in a similar situation in the future, I’ll do my best to restrain myself. I’ll offer to connect after their pitch, so that I don’t risk screwing up their ability to effectively pitch the idea they have been working on.
But to be honest, I get excited when I talk to entrepreneurs. I can’t help myself. I have experiences, opinions and ideas that I want to share. So maybe it’s best if you turn the other way if you see me just before you’re going to pitch your idea in front of a crowd.
As for the woman I talked to last night at this event. Her pitch was great. I didn’t break anything. But my inner monologue didn’t shut up the whole time. I have ideas on how she could change that pitch and give her company a better shot at success. And if she asks me again, I’m going to tell her what I think.