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How do you argue with success Y Combinator style? I prefer Techcrunch Disrupt's model of demos, here's why

"What makes you so arrogant that you think you can improve on success, Scoble?" I don't know, but I guess that's the Silicon Valley way. We always are looking to improve everything. My dad instilled that in me as an engineer. Always is a better way. Always. History has proven him right more often than wrong. 

So many of Y Combinator companies have that same attitude, too. AirBnb made finding a place to stay better. Dropbox made storing files better.

It's why I love hanging out with startups. They are arrogant enough to think they can change the world. Of course most end up failing, but the ones that do succeed we all revere.

So, when I tell Paul Graham that Y Combinator's demo day could be better, it is in that spirit. 

I hate that it forces companies to focus so much on their slides. Very few companies gave anything close to a demo. Here's what happens: each company gets 2:15 on stage. Two minutes. It's hard to say anything useful on stage. But they all did a pretty similar thing. Gave you a sense of what their company did, showed a slide capture or two. Got into the market size. Covered the team and what made them cool. Showed off adoption to date, or profits/sales, to date, if they had them. And got off the stage. All done with Apple's Keynote. 

I realized how much I hate presentations and why I never do slides for my talks. It took me back to sitting through pitches at a computer magazine in the 1990s and through lame-ass idea shows at Microsoft in 2003-2006. It made me remember just how boring Bill Gates' CES keynotes usually were. The only non-boring parts were when they pulled out the demos. 

It's why I don't allow PowerPoint in my shows. Ever. If it ever happens I stop the interview and explain the rules. I rarely do. It's so non-human.

So, if I were Paul Graham, what would I do? Force everyone to do an actual, live, demo of their product.

When Silicon Valley focuses on product, it wins. Think back to what Apple does on stage. Do they show a lot of slides? Hell no. Always a demo. Same at Google. Or Facebook. Or really any interesting company pitch. 

Yes, I understand, the Y Combinator demo day is really not done for humans. It's done to get Venture Capitalists hot and bothered. 

The thing is, everytime I see someone like Ron Conway or Ashton Kutcher, both of whom I saw in the aisles here, they are excited about product. Companies that build great product. Companies that can show off how their product is unique. Different. Interesting. 

I really hate it when I see headlines like this: "Y Combinator's Young Startups Tout Revenue Over Users." http://go.bloomberg.com/tech-deals/2012-08-22-y-combinators-young-startups-tout-revenue-over-users/ This means the money people have taken over. That the focus isn't on the product.

Which is why I prefer a demo day where actual users get to mix in with the Investors and journalists, too. Like at Techcrunch Disrupt. There the focus is on the product, along with the fundamentals of the company. Far more my style. Far more demoing going on. It's funny that Y Combinator calls yesterday a "demo day." It really isn't. It should be called "investor pitch day." I think that's too bad.

So, I invite any of the Y Combinator companies to come and sit down with me over the next few weeks and show me their products. If you'll be demoing at Techcrunch Disrupt, or will be attending, please do get on my calendar. I'm at scobleizer@gmail.com

If you want to go to Techcrunch Disrupt I've arranged for a $100 discount if you use the code: Scobledsf12. http://techcrunch.com/events/disrupt-sf-2012/

That said, there are some really positive trends I'm seeing here that don't get reported on. First, these companies are hungry to talk about their product. I got nailed by dozens of companies walking into the hall who showed you cool products. Wired covered a few of the ones I saw: http://www.wired.com/business/2012/08/one-y-combinator-startup-follows-amazon-lockers-lead/

Other good reports: 
GigaOm: Y Combinator's debutante ball of demo days doesn't disappoint. http://gigaom.com/2012/08/21/y-combinators-debutante-ball-of-demo-days-doesnt-disappoint/

The Next Web's 10 favorite companies: http://thenextweb.com/insider/2012/08/22/here-top-ten-startups-saw-y-combinator-demo-day/

Techcrunch's favorite 10 companies: http://techcrunch.com/2012/08/21/best-of-yc-demo-day/

Inc: Y Combinator: New Start-ups Borrow Proven Business Models: http://www.inc.com/maeghan-ouimet/y-combinator-demo-day-summer-2012-round-up.html
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17 comments
 
If you are a new company and want to sell me on your worth.   Don't tell me what you do, show me
 
Yeah, I got one of those on my car. Funny way to market, but effective, too!
 
Completely agree for the most part because live demos are always much more interesting. One quibble: Apple shows a ton of slides during its presentations. They also play commercials and videos during their keynotes too. We just overlook it because the demos are so good. 
 
+Marin Perez that's true. But if you reduce it to the essence it's always the demo that sticks out. 
 
Exactly right, "I hate that it forces companies to focus so much on their slides. Very few companies gave anything close to a demo." Thanks +Robert Scoble  -- You KNOW why we don't do demo's -- because (ironically) it's too RISKY.  If an entrepreneur thinks it's RISKY to demo their software -- they are not much of an entrepreneur!
 
+Halley Suitt Tucker sure, please do quote me. I gotta check out your book, but gotta leave for another startup interview. Already late. Sigh.
 
First, Apple really does show a lot of slides. They do quite a bit of demos as well, but it's a lot of slides and talking. Go back and rewatch one.

Second, two minutes isn't really enough time to do a demo either. Assuming the time limit is there to get everyone in, there's only one thing I think you could do in two minutes ...

Tell a Story.

Get past the elevator pitch, and craft a story that encapsulates what you're trying to do. Because really, in two minutes, you need to make people believe in your idea. 

If you think about what Apple does in their commercials, you might have a better idea of what I'm talking about. Most of them tell a story. I instantly got why FaceTime was awesome (even though I never use it) when I saw the commercial of the dad reading a bedtime story to his daughter.

Does the demo even matter, at the end of the day? Most companies will shift gears or revamp the product after the initial launch anyway as they tune the concept. What does a demo matter if it will irrelevant in six months? If your answer is that it shows they can execute, I say, "So what?" Execution can be fixed. You can always write new code. But if the idea is flawed, or if people don't believe in it, you're dead in the water.
 
When I worked as a brand marketer we'd get pitched by startups frequently and it was all about the demo -- if that didn't excite how was it going to get users and grow to provide value?

No doubt other parts are important but I'm buying into what you're doing, not what you could do.
 
+Rob Stevens I agree, but I'd rather that the story focus on the product. That's why Apple always wins. Even when they stick more slides and talk into the thing.
 
I haven't seen any YC demo day yet, but you make them sound like TED. Btw, how come no demos are shown on demo day?
 
What's wrong with startups finally having a focus on making money?

1. If Cinch focussed on making money maybe they'd still be here. 
2. Apple is the ultimate money company. Do they give away iPhones with 1,000 songs and apps already loaded? No... they profit on every part of the product experience. And that's a GOOD thing. 
3. Users + ??? = Profits only works for founders that want to play the lottery. 

I'm thrilled that investors and founders are starting to realize you can focus on both great experiences AND making money like Apple does. It means, as a customer that...

A. Services I use will stick around longer.
B. My content is less likely to be sold out to advertisers.
C. I'm less likely to drown in poorly targeted ads.
D. They'll get to re-invest that money into a better experience.  
 
YC let it slide day! I could not help myself. Not a suprise given whats going on with Facebook and its move from a product focused company to revenue company. Facebook's newest product shipments focuse on revenue(Game subscription and adSearch) only. Facebook has not launch anything that would make you go "wow". Mark Zuckerberg really needs to read his IPO letter again and take Facebook back to what made it behemoth it is today. Its obvious that this trickled down onto YC for the worse.
 
Most SV investors seem to be MBAs or former bankers, so slides and revenues are reflections of that type of mindset training.

I know this because I was a banker (Strategic Investments, TMT).

However, before I was a banker, I worked in an analytics startup and it was all about the product (code and execution). Slides were a non sequitir. Either the new functionality was demo-able to paying clients or we just wouldn't schedule the meeting.

As a founder I went through an incubator program. All they seemed interested in honing us towards was a 60-second story pitch involving less than 5 slides.

This wasn't particularly helpful because it took time away from execution and product building (coding, frame working user flow around the site, integrating front-end with back-end database etc).

I can appreciate that it's important to refine an idea towards monetization and becoming "investment-ready" before a line of code's written. It can be the case that, sometimes, a trap that technical founders can fall into is that they code what they think is "cool" but they haven't properly built the business case or realised that their idea has limited, niche or runway-constrained routes to markets and revenues.

Likewise, I can appreciate that no product demo can mean that the team doesn't have the technical knowhow to develop and execute code. This is true where founders are business people who produce slick slides but their version of an MVP is a clickable Keynote but they can't progress beyond to the actual build (unless they can raise money and hire the technical talent).

All-in-all, give me product demos rather than slides any day of the week. 
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