How to Deliver a Winning Tech Conference Pitch

Delivering a winning tech conference pitch is akin to cutting the perfect diamond -- the planning, cleaving, sawing, brute polishing and final inspection all add up to the ultimate sum of all your preparation.... By Sam Frons (Founder & CEO, Addicaid)

Such was my moment at last week’s 2013 LAUNCH Festival, where I demoed Addicaid, a social good app whose mission is to help addicts and alcoholics in recovery develop a personal treatment program.

A San Francisco conference devoted to showcasing the best new startups, LAUNCH was attended by roughly 4,000 people who watched 53 teams share their wares on stage. I was one of only three women to present, a surprisingly small cohort even for the male-dominated tech industry. We learned of our acceptance out of the 500 companies who applied about 17 days before the event, and the days leading up to it were late nights, countless revisions, and loads of practicing in front of the mirror. Only once we hit the sub 100-hour mark to present did I look at my app and say, ‘Shit! This looks like shit! Who built this front-end!?!’ and read my speech and said ‘Shit! Who wrote this!?!’ (read: I did). A total makeover occurred within those remaining hours to a point where I felt like I would grok it.

On Opening Lines and Looking the Part

My general attire is cords and flannel, but a cavalcade of male friends suggested I snazz it up. In my freshly purchased Ross: Dress for Less heels and hip-hugging garment, I sauntered on stage and with a mic wired to my jaw, two big screens projected me to the hundreds of people sitting so far that I was no higher than ten pixels. My heartbeat cranked up and I bet my faced rosied up, and there was suddenly no greater feeling than the one rushing over me: Everyone was here to listen to what I had to say.

I was a tightly woven frazzled ball of energy, but consoled by the fact that, no matter what happens, the audience will be happy to see a lady with an app to assuage addiction grace the stage. It’s a mission impossible to diss without sounding totally callous. I had great insurance. Not to mention that my opening line was what Tyler Crowley, our presentation coach, dubbed the best of LAUNCH 2013- “Hi, I’m Sam, and I’m an alcoholic.”

Keep Calm and Charm the Server

What’s everyone’s worst presentation nightmare? There’s a fire alarm? That after all those months trying to calm yourself by imagining the audience naked you discover it’s you instead? Or perhaps your server crashes? Bingo! You can see it in all its glory on the presentation video. While the situation may have seemed dire, the secret was that typing ‘python -m SimpleHTTPServer’ would charm it back so I had no real pangs of anxiety. Honestly, being put on the spot like that worked in my favor. Going into the command line during a presentation really impresses people. I’m thinking of making it part of my routine.

Addicaid was a favorite for five out of the six judges on our panel. So many nice words! I had no idea how much Silicon Valley loved addicts (well, I had some idea -- based on the Nielson ratings for Intervention and Celebrity Rehab....) 

Where to Sit at the Awards Ceremony

My co-founder, Matt Kleiman, and I didn’t approach LAUNCH as a competition. Despite our previous belief that we were totally out of our league, once we presented, there was such a good vibe that it inspired us to sit closer to the stage during the awards ceremony. And we all know the closer you sit to the stage during an awards ceremony, the more convinced you are you will win.

“The diamond in the rough award goes to a startup that is very new, squeaked their way into the competition and really impressed the hell out of the judges, the grand jury, and the audience,” said LAUNCH founder Jason Calacanis before he introduced Brian Alvey, who presented the award.

A Diamond in the Rough

It’s very self-affirming to hear your company’s name as a win. Yet after all the congratulatory tweets sank to the bottom of my feed and the enthusiastic handshakes were a thing of last night, the award became defined in my brain as more of a ‘great job for being poor, startup!’ than something I could pride myself on. But that’s just my emotional brain reconfiguring triumphs into acts of shame. It was baffling -- but then it hit me. The shame comes from a place of feeling stuck and slow. I am a diamond in the rough that isn’t getting cut fast enough. We are past the planning, have cleaved and sawed this startup into as many rough fragments as possible, and now require some spinning axles to brute (also known as girdle) this prototypal gem into production.

But the will and code of two recovering addicts alone isn’t enough. And that’s when things get tough. The sentimental support, as great as it is, won’t help us get Addicaid out to people, and now, hopefully with this breakthrough at LAUNCH, we will get what we need to make it great.

About the guest blogger: Sam Frons is the founder and CEO (and proxy front-end developer) of Addicaid, which is pre-launch in semi-stealth mode. Sam loves the future as the Singularity sees it and tries to make it get there sooner by solving social problems that should have been solved long ago. She recently graduated from NYU’s art program and somehow ended up coding more than sculpting but loves both equally. Follow her on Twitter at @samfrons