Last Thursday I had the fortune of attending two events at Boston’s famed week-long FutureM conference. The following is the first of a two-blog recap of my time there, focused on one of the most popular shows at the conference. The second part will be posted on Racetalk tomorrow…
Thursday, September 15
2:30-4:30pm, Hill Holliday Boston Offices
Do you like American Idol? Do you like sales pitches even more? For the absurd amount of us in Boston to whom these qualifications apply, The Pitch was perfect. Five representatives from local technology start-ups would have eight minutes to “pitch” their company to a board of five judges a la the Paula Abdul/Steven Tyler crew (I would venture a guess that the FutureM judges have a slightly higher average IQ), who in turn would provide feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the contestants’ sales presentations. The premise of the event was simple enough. The start-ups themselves, however, were a little more complex…
Hosted by advertising firm Hill Holliday, the contestants were all new advertising and marketing services. Simpli.fi, as represented by founder Don Epperson, was up first. Branded “the intersection of search & display,” Simpli.fi allows for keyword-targeted display advertising, thus fostering more precisely targeted display ad placements. Eppersons’s pitch focused very much on the details behind the technology, and the judges were quick to scrutinize him. “I kept thinking, ‘What would the headline be?’” said Todd Wasserman, Editor-in-Chief of Mashable, and others suggested that some sales statistic, a projection of recent momentum and even simple marketing tactics such as providing a video on the company website would have helped Simpli.fi make the cause behind their impressive yet convoluted technology.
Next up was card linked offers provider CLOVR Media (Full disclosure: Clovr Media is a Racepoint Group client). CLOVR was pitched by SVP of Sales Kim Riedell, and it was noticeable that she had adapted her pitch based on the judges previous comments. “How many of you use coupons?” Riedell asked to open her pitch. Obviously everyone in the room raised their hands, and this is was a good sign as to how the popularly pandered pitch progressed. Card linked offers work as such: a customer may be browsing the New York Times online and notice a display ad offering $10 off their next purchase at Best Buy. By clicking the ad they are given the opportunity to add the $10 discount directly to their credit or debit card of choice. The next time they are at Best Buy, they will automatically receive $10 off by using that same card. While the consumer benefits were apparent, Riedell also mentioned “headline worthy” facts such as a recent round of funding by Bain Capital Investments and an upcoming product launch. The judges, while impressed with the technology, were wary of potential privacy concerns. “When I hear ‘We see 99% of all transactions,’ alarm bells immediately go off,” warned Rupal Parekh, Agency Editor for Advertising Age.
ChoiceStream’s CRO Lori Trahan was docked for the third slot. “What if you had a market of one?” Trahan provocatively asked, and the entire crowd of marketing professionals had perked ears. ChoiceStream’s flagship product is Crunch, described as the first targeting platform to use “predictive data.” Beyond that, however, I could not accurately explain to you what ChoiceStream does or how it targets, as Trahan’s pitch delved deeply into the back-end of the product. “Really jargon-y,” Parekh said after the pitch. Judge Adam Cahill also pointed out Trahan’s inability to convey what makes ChoiceStream different from the overall “crowdedness” of the space.
Then, there was Boris Revsin. “We are guaranteed to jumpstart the consumer experience of any brand in the world that wants to target college students,” the Co-founder and CEO of CampusLIVE boldly proclaimed at the beginning of his pitch. “Students use CampusLIVE to meet celebrities, find products and get discounts.” CampusLIVE facilitates brand awareness on college campuses by providing incentives for students to go to their website and participate in game-like experiences such as photo contests or even something simple like liking the brand’s Facebook page. Revsin’s pitch was essentially a case study involving the LeBron James-backed Sheets, an energy-infused Listerine strip, and the judges ate it up. “Super,” “crisp,” and “a great story” were all compliments showered upon Revsin, by Cahill alone. Nick Dunham of Dunkin’ Brands also lauded the celebrity aspect to it.
The final, and thankfully easiest to understand pitch was Springpad, represented by Co-founder and CEO Jeff Jayner. Have you ever been browsing the internet and stumbled upon something that was really interesting or cool, but didn’t have the time to take a note of it? Springpad takes those things you stumbled upon and allows users to store it in a personal profile in the cloud, to be later accessed by any of your mobile devices in the event that you forget about it in favor of all the other things rattling in your brain. “Save it for later,” Jayner rejoiced, many times, throughout his pitch. (Personally, Springpad should consider switching their slogan to “making them internets work for old people with no memory,” which is inevitably where they will find success.) Springpad will also organize your “notes” for you, and update you on things such as promotions held by movie theaters or restaurants you want to keep note of. Parekh loved the concept of Springpad. “You don’t have to do anything, and it’s free, which Americans will love,” she said.
While no winner was crowned, The Pitch made it easy to see what works well in sales meetings, and what does not. A clear passion for your product, confidence and frankly stage presence helped Revsin become the crowd favorite, and his pitch seemed to be the most well-received by the judges as well. Those that faltered did so under the weight of too much industry jargon or too may inconsequential numbers. A successful pitch has to convey an alluring company story from the perspective of the past, present and future. There has to be a genius to the concept of the product. The current state of the company has to be one of projection and momentum, usually conveyed through recent funding rounds or successful product launches. Finally, and most important, the company and their services have to have a clear direction; one where success is lucrative yet attainable.
Also, as Parekh pleaded, no more “cutesy” internet-based company names. That one was directed at you, Simpli.fi.
Stay tuned as tomorrow I will recap Thursday evening’s “Beyond Mobile Browsing – Mobile Commerce Goes In-Store.” Free food, free alcohol, free Stop & Shop gift cards, and a free look into mobile commerce’s future.