Monday, June 23, 2014

Geek Girl Tech Con - View into the Sharkette Tank

San Diego Geek Girl Tech Con took place on Saturday and as predicted I wished I'd had a clone so that I could be in half a dozen places at once. The scope of activities was impressive: 13 (yes, 13) simultaneous workshops, speakers and events going on most of the day from 9am-6pm. Energy was high and people seemed thrilled with the opportunity to dive into such a diverse and supportive environment. For those still standing at the end of the day (which many were) there was a lively outdoor reception. Minus a clone, I nonetheless had some amazing experiences; I decided to focus much of my time on entrepreneurial sessions. So in this first post about the Con, I'm sharing observations and insights of the Sharkette Tank.
Sharkette Tank Judges

There were three sessions of the Sharkette Tank, which was made up of a panel of 5-6 judges and 10 local start-up companies making their best pitches to promote their business. With my bird's-eye view from the audience, it was a fascinating opportunity to watch everyone. Some of the product and service ideas were brilliant. In addition, the Sharkette Tank provided a great learning opportunity for anyone thinking of jumping into the start-up world. With that in mind, here are some take home messages.

- Focus, focus, focus. The judges, always polite (unlike their counterparts on network television who can be scathing), suggested more than once that a company was trying to solve too many problems, or trying to solve a big problem before nailing down their core solution to a targeted customer pain point. This can be easier said than done of course, because having vision and a passion to scale impact is what gets entrepreneurs up in the morning. Lose that passion and you lose your reason for existence.
This pitch left no stone unturned

- Distribution Strategy? Quite a few companies received feedback that they had a great product or product idea, but didn't have a concrete, viable plan to get it out there to the people who would want it. In a related vein, had they done a solid test of their idea in the target market? This is another tough issue. It's easy to fall into a "build it and they will come" mentality. Especially when you think, you know, that your product or service is the next best thing since sliced bread. Besides, the leg work necessary to gain a foot hold in competitive markets isn't exciting (to most people).

Which brings me to my next observation:

- Who is missing from the team? A few teams were told that they were lacking a key principle person in some area (e.g. technical, marketing). Companies that want to make an impact, that want to scale, can't be companies of one. Now, here is something really cool I learned about later on when I was having a conversation with one of the judges: Founder Dating. Connecting entrepreneurs with other entrepreneurs. Kudos to the people who came up with this idea!
Bet you can guess what this company is about

- Presentation matters. The best presentations grabbed the judges in the first few seconds and kept them interested and engaged throughout. The bottom line message was "Show Me, Don't Tell Me". It is much more effective to demonstrate your product or service in some way, rather than simply talk about how wonderful it is. You could tell by watching the judges' facial expressions and body language if they were intrigued. Long before you got to the Q&A where the nature of their feedback removed all doubt. You could also get a second read on this by looking around at the audience. When a company was really kicking butt, no one was on their cell phone or chatting with their neighbor.

The judges' favorites included Packsack, a new twist on reusable bags, inspired by observations about plastic on the beach by the surfer founder. This is Southern California! Another favorite was Giftovus, an interesting way to crowd source gift buying and giving. They call it, appropriately, "friend sourcing".

The judges' (and my) hands down favorite was USKey*, who are prototyping an ingenious way to prevent laptop theft. As the two college student presenters noted in the first few seconds of their presentation: don't you just hate it when you get settled into a coffee shop or other public place, with all your stuff spread out and your computer set up, and only then discover you have to go to the bathroom? I think everyone in the auditorium, including the judges, could relate to that scenario. I'm rooting for these two women and their company big time.

From my pov, everyone won. Everyone who pitched in the Sharkette Tank received valuable feedback about the content and style of their presentation as well as about their product plan and trajectory. The audience had the chance to observe first hand what a pitch can look like and what works or doesn't work.

The judges generously donated their time and experience to the community through this event. It didn't stop there because they were accessible all day. I was not the only one who had enjoyable and professionally helpful conversations with them.

Meeting new people and learning new things was happening every where at Geek Girl Tech Con. In my next post, I'll share some of the other goings on at the Con.
Just a few of the Sharkette Tank Entrepreneurs

*As far as I can tell, they don't yet have a website.

No comments:

Post a Comment