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January 3, 2017 By: Zachary Sequoia

Death to the Public Pitch

While enjoying a burrito from the hipster food van at Sydney’s StartCon 2016, I began an interesting conversation with one of the engineers from IBM’s BlueMix cloud services. We had both been attending the public pitch competition between the time slots of the other invited speakers, and I remarked about wondering when the idea of the public pitch became such a main stream idea.

Having witnessed (and worked within) both the first technology boom in San Francisco in the 1990’s and then next global wave some years later, I struggled to remember a time when a public arena Shark Tank-style pitch competition had ever been popular. I find it hard to fathom any serious investor sitting through 2 days of 1 – 2 minute pitches in the hope that they eventually stumble across the next great startup.

To be fair I believe that if an individual has literally never pitched their idea in front of an investor, I imagine that some initial (and often brutal) feedback could benefit in helping them prepare for more serious meetings. The problem with this scenario is that with the plethora of incubators and mentorship services available, it hardly seems necessary for budding entrepreneurs to ‘pop-one’s-cherry’ at a public pitch competition.

Furthermore, much of the criteria with which the pitches are judged often revolves around the pitchers confidence and pubic speaking ability. The merit of a fresh, new, innovative idea – potentially worth billions – shouldn’t necessarily ride on one’s comfort (or discomfort) at engaging a large crowd.

I also believe the 1 or 2 minute time slots allocated to pitches is a reduction far from anywhere near a realistic speaking period in order to get an idea across. I once heard one of the god-fathers of Silicon Valley Venture Capitalists explain the origins of the elevator pitch and the the reasons surrounding why it’s invention was necessary. Obviously VC need a quick and easy way to filter out companies with soft, unresolved business plans etc. but as I stated, serious VC aren’t the ones sitting for hours on end at pitch competitions. They are silently wandering the expo floor with their trained eye looking for individuals and companies who stand out from the crowd.

It seems to me that the public pitch has morphed into a bizarre realm of entertainment – and weirdly enough, considering who attends, entertainment that seems aimed purely at other startups.

Written by: Zachary Sequoia