30 seconds on the clock. Ready… Set… Pitch!

By Nichole Montoya (Co-founder & CEO, Cheddar Up)

This is part five in a series from one of our PITCH finalists documenting behind-the-scenes life at her growing startup Cheddar Up. Here are parts one, two, three and four.

The buildup of my first week at 500 Startups was the welcome pitch night. It was the first social event for the group, which involved each company giving a 30-second pitch. Several people asked me that day if I was prepared for it.

It was 30-seconds… how hard could it be?

For some reason I was envisioning us all standing in a circle, quickly explaining what our company does. What I found out later that evening was that this was an “event.” LOTS of people were there, many from past 500 batches, mentors… the room was packed. Each company was called up separately to give what they hoped was a very effective pitch, meaning it was attention-getting and all. Crap. This was not the kumbaya-like setting I was expecting. I had to revise my pitch in my head on the fly, which I don’t do well.

Pitching: Bellyache and Sweat-Inducing

When I started Cheddar Up, the idea of pitching in this type of setting – or any setting – quite literally gave me a bellyache and instant sweats. Over the past two years, I am borderline comfortable with it, but the key to my success in pitching has been practice. Lots of it. When I am prepared, I nail it. When I am not prepared…

I see why they did it this way though. It was a great ice breaker for the batch companies to get to know each other, and for other people in the 500 community to get to know the new startups. And for those running the accelerator, it gave them an idea of what they had to work with.

Dave McClure was the emcee for the evening. After each company gave their pitch, Dave would provide feedback. For some, he’d just give a thumbs up or say a quick encouraging word. And for others’ he’d have more involved feedback.

I haven’t mentioned it yet, but more than nine of the 34 companies in our batch are from other parts of the world. So in addition to having to present, some also have to deal with English as their second language.

How one company handled this was memorable. They blew this obstacle out of the water by a funny intro. The company, Plugger, sat right next to the Cheddar Up desks and is based in Korea. We hadn’t interacted much yet at this point, but they seemed nice and were very heads down. Their company essentially helps people locate outlets or power sources – much needed as far as I can tell in my travels when literally every outlet in the airport is taken.

The CEO walks up to the microphone and says something along the lines of, “We’re Plugger. Someone asked me this week if we had anything to do with masturbation for gay men.” What?!? The entire room went up in a STORM of laughter. I was doubled over. I thought Dave McClure was going to pee his pants. I doubt anyone heard much of what he said after that, but he was certainly memorable.

My Turn to Pitch

Cheddar Up was called about midway through. I did okay. But just okay. My voice was sort of nervous, not super strong, but I got through my 30 seconds.

I ended my time with an “Oh, and we’ve also raised $600,000.” This was apparently a great opportunity for learning. Dave bellowed, “Wow – that’s not easy. Are you excited about raising $600,000???”

Then he went on to explain how if we’re lucky enough to have already raised money that we should say it with excitement… and earlier in the pitch, not as an afterthought. He was totally right. Raising that $600,000 was the hardest thing I’ve ever done — ever. Point taken.

Overall, I was sort of irked that I didn’t have a killer 30-second pitch, but it was fine. It was a waste of energy to worry about it. I did notice that when Dave gave feedback: He was direct, always spot on, but also kind.

In general, I’m a pretty good read on people, and my hunches are usually right. Watching Dave over those first few days, it became very clear to me that despite Dave’s gruff exterior, he’s definitely a good human. He knows what he’s doing, he knows what he’s talking about, and he’s super passionate about the company he’s created. All that said, at present, he still scares the shit out of me.

I’m pretty darn secure, but if Dave told me that I sucked, I might actually believe him. Must not let that happen. Swinging for the bleachers from here on out.

This post originally appeared on the Cheddar Up blog.

Photo credit: Andrii Muzyka via Shutterstock.