The Current State of Design Leadership

Jan 28th, 2016 · The Industry

The Industry

How to Get Funded Without a Working Product

March 13th, 2015

Self Published

I like to stay productive so, in my free time, I advise companies by helping shape their design and product strategy. Most recently, I had the privilege serving as Designer in Residence in Jason CalacanisLaunch Incubator.

For 12 weeks, I assisted with design reviews on the funding pitches of 7 stealth companies that would eventually present on stage, while launching to an audience of thousands. In the first week, I was surprised by what each company showed. The goal of every product and pitch was unclear and far from concise… Some companies didn’t even have functioning products. It was a jumbled mess and I was genuinely concerned.

  1. Back to the Drawing Board

    Jason doled out homework. Most of his feedback was related to the presentation or how the product affected it, without too much direct feedback on the specific product itself. Every week, companies improved on poise, speed, clarity, design, and even interest level by applying feedback they received. By week 6 everything started to click. I had seen a total of 42 pitches and rounds of feedback. Finally, companies presented with grace and sophistication, and their businesses made sense. The product features that were once confusing had been refined or removed.

  2. Focus on Your Pitch

    I realized if you want funding, you must perfect communication and clarity. Once you decide what to build, start crafting your pitch and apply polish until the vision is clear. The same way a good designer starts with copy, a good CEO starts with their pitch. (This is a similar technique to how Amazon writes press releases before product development starts.)

    When you design and build a product it can be extremely difficult to understand its purpose because you are constantly looking outward. By focusing on the pitch you can turn the tables and gain inward perspective. Hearing opinions of your pitch provides even more insight into what people actually want from your product. If something doesn’t make sense in your pitch, it probably doesn’t make sense in your product either.

  3. Practice Makes Until Perfect

    By week 12, every company had nailed their presentations and received the funding they were seeking. Even the rehearsals for handling technical glitches paid off. More than once, I got chills while sitting in my seat as I compared companies to their former selves. Thankfully each company had been able to complete a working product but, even if they didn’t, I have no doubt they would have still secured funding they were seeking based off their pitches (some companies came really close).

  4. Details Matter, The Big Picture Matters More

    Don’t get caught up in the details of your business plan. Let the pieces fall into place as you define your company’s purpose. Write your narrative and the “product” will follow. Many companies that receive angel funding (Launch Incubator included) are still hammering out the smaller details of execution. In fact, even the core business plans of many companies seeking A and B rounds are still in flux. If you develop an initial plan and communicate it clearly and confidently, you will get funding.

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