Why I Don’t Invest In Winners of Startup Competition Anymore

By TechJuice on
April 29, 2015
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This year, I was back as one of the judges in some startup competition events in Indonesia. I haven’t been in the judge’s chair since 2012 because I’ve always thought this type of event is mostly for-a-show-only and that’s it.

In the early days, I was quite intense (Simon-Cowell-style) in making honed comments. Though, I didn’t really enjoy hurting the participant’s feeling, I felt that I have a responsibility to tell them if they were suck. But after sometime, I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t even utter any commentaries, nor bother to ask any questions during Q&A session.

Now, I’m curious to see if things have changed in the Indonesia’s startup arena. Something must have changed, right? (Especially after someone dropped hundreds million of dollar worth-of-cash value in one e-commerce startup in Indonesia)

Errr… not quite…

It’s not the uncomfortably body gesture, nor the broken English. But it’s the structure of the overall pitch.

Unstructured. Unprepared.

But most of all, these guys have failed in presenting the very important consideration of it all: the product. What are the killer features? What are the propositions? Why do customers choose your product than others? Do users have a great first experience? Do they come back and tell others about your product?

Since the product description is a goner, all of the judges scored on their market knowledge, presentation tone, and how they look (seriously).

Here are the compilations of my thoughts after some dozens competition-type events and 100+ presentation pitches over the past 4 years:

They Are Usually The Best Out of The Worst

Usually after all startups presented their pitch, judges are escorted to the back of the room for discussion and deliberation.

“Well, they’re all sh*t…” said one judge and the rest were kind of agreeing.

After all judges consolidated the name of the best startup as the winner, one of the judges asked, “Would you invest in one of them?”

“No,” answered the other judges almost in unison.

If you think you’re a hot founder coming out of a competition, just remember that you might be the best out of the worst.

They’re More “Prize Hunters” Than “Real Entrepreneurs”

There are always a bunch of dudes who look really confident on stage and they always seem to mesmerize the audience with their charms.

Lesson learned, years ago, stupidly too, I ended up invested in one of these guys. The idea was solid, the team was convincing, a four out of four ‘yay’ from the judges. After a while, this team won money from series of competitions, but they seem to ignore the fact that they need to complete the product and have a real business to run (read: it becomes real when someone their put money into your company)

The team disbanded and each of the so-called-founder pursued a different career path (none of them end up doing a startup).

They’re “Testing the Water”

These guys are a tease, really.

There are two types of these guys:

The first one was easy: they just want to know if they are any good and how much they are worth. The idea is to “check and balance” where they are today.

Most likely they will go with a ridiculous valuation if they do win the competition.

Second, the guys with “decent” traction and product (usually backed by big group of conglomerates) pitched their proposal in the startup competition. Now, in my opinion these guys are no longer startup (but who cares about my opinion anyway). Come on, they stopped being a startup the moment they sold their soul to the big guys.

Now why they even bother to show up and “compete” with “the prize hunters” and “the best of the worst”?

I have one interesting theory: the big guys, a.k.a the boss, want to see if they’re making the “right decision” investing in these founders.

The big guys wanted the judges (read: expert validators) to tell them that these kids are OK.

It’s complicated isn’t it? Are you sure you want to get into bed with these guys?

Now, I’ve been hearing something like this: “Then how do we get exposure we needed?”

Since I have found little evidence that these so-called winners/finalists are serious entrepreneurs, here are my two cents if you want to get investors to invest in your company:

Start A Conversation

This is one of the parts I love the most about my job: meeting cool founders. (Remember, “coolness” is the currency, folks)

Get to know each other. You know, chat.

75% of the success of any startup is on the founders. Investors will invest in you only if you share chemistry with them, and vice versa. When it comes to an investment, it’s really about whether they can work with you (read: not only your fancy product). So spend sometime talking about your team, and yourself.

Forget feeding your ego for a while when you start a genuine conversation with prospective investors.

Get Proper Introduction

No cold calling (especially if you have no previous reputation or track record to begin with).

Do some research before you meet a business angel or a venture capitalist. If you have common connection to the target person, get him/her to introduce you to build an association.

Get to know “community leaders” in the industry (they’re not hard to find, and these guys are sometime really friendly too). These “community leaders” aren’t always the mavens, but they’re definitely “the connectors” that you need to get to know the investment community.

Focus Building Your Product (Let Others Talk About You)

Some of the coolest founders I’ve worked with weren’t the people participating in one of these events. These dudes don’t even have the luxury of time to go into stage and present. Instead, they focus on building the product (some of them literally live and breath in the same compound, apartment unit, dorm room with their team and company).

“Product, product, product”, that’s the mantra.

These guys are awesome. They are under the radar, and suddenly boom they’re right in front of you with excellent results.

But here’s the thing: people love talking about them already, before they go boom.

In fact, I just had a cup of coffee with a couple of co-founders whom are working on something exciting (and I truly believe these guys are the next big thing) right before I went on judging.

And every time after I’ve met one of these guys, I said to myself: “Hope I’m worthy of them.”

The story originally appeared here.

 
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