Start Something Big

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5 tips for winning the MIT $100k Entrepreneurship Competition

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The MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition is one of the largest and most famous business plan competitions in the world. Winning instantly gets you international press coverage, the attention of top venture capitalists, and enough momentum to turn your idea into a real enterprise. 

Here are five tips to help you win it.

1. Find a great story and tell it well

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What problem are you solving and why should anyone care? Judges are looking for huge markets and big trends. First, paint a vivid picture of what the world will look like with your technology. Next, find your most passionate team member (probably your CEO) to get the judges just as excited as she is.

2. Talk to Customers

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It will be easy for your team brainstorm its way to a business model for your new idea. However, while that’s certainly a start, you need customer validation before you’re ready for prime time. Talking to customers lets you test your assumptions while also providing valuable insight into how to actually get your product to market.

Don’t forget to get quotes for your PowerPoint slides!

3. Find good advisers and stick with them.

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One of the first things you’ll learn during this competition is that everyone will have an opinion about your business. If you are too reactive to every new piece of advice, you will lose time and dilute your messaging. Early in the competition, your team should compile a list of advisers that you trust, and then agree to keep that list short. Take adviser feedback and internalize it, but have a perspective on your business and move the pitch in a direction that you can be happy about. You won’t be able to please everyone. 

4. Avoid QA surprises

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Great QA performance is one of the best ways to differentiate your team from the competition. Get ready for your QA session like you are preparing for a presidential town hall event. You should anticipate EVERYTHING your judges will ask. Internalize your talking points and make sure you get to deliver them. Find smart people to poke holes in your business plan and then either find compelling responses, or go back and fix the issues that confused your audience.

Also, plan to keep the number of people who answer questions to a minimum. We had the CEO field CEO questions (vision, team, etc) and me and the other MIT MBA answer everything else (finance, customer evidence, competitive response, etc). As an extra precaution, If the CEO didn’t have an answer, she could always punt to an MBA to handle it. As MBAs, we should always be able to at least move the conversation forward without derailing the entire pitch.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

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This goes without saying, but once you have the business plan locked, it’s time to work on your pitch like crazy. Make sure you are thinking of questions like: Does your slide order make sense? Where are you going to inflect your voice to drive your main points home? Are your slides too busy?  Who holds the clicker, and when? Are you going to stand to the left or right of the projector? 

Winning any major startup competition is going to require tons of energy (and a little bit of luck). Hopefully this post improves your outcomes. 

Good luck and happy pitching!

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glerouge asked: Hi, I saw your post about SwingSpotter and I was wondering whether you will ever get to releasing it to the general public. My father recently started taking golf classes. He's also learning how to play guitar. He has a coach for both activities. This led me to believe that there would be a market for automated coaching tool such as the one you built using the Kinect. The new kinect might even allow going further in terms of precision than the first-generation one.

There is certainly a market for automated golf coaching tools. The problem with SwingSpotter was that, at the time, the Kinect was not suitably accurate. The original Kinect also had a problem working in direct sunlight. To your point, both of these issues are now resolved with the next-gen sensor. However, my team killed this project pretty early on and have no immediate plans to continue R&D as we are all working on new ideas now.

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3dim wins the MIT $100k Mobile track!

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I’m pleased to announce that my team, 3dim, won the Mobile track of the MIT $100k business plan competition! Congratulations to the other track winners (and wildcards). Looking forward to pitching in the grand finale on May 15th!

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Today, I accidentally dropped my Nokia Lumia 920. This may be costly, but I think it should still be possible to repair the floor.

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10 Tips for Selling Out A Conference

With a great team and a bit of planning, my co-chair and I were able to sell out the 15th annual MIT Venture Capital Conference. Here are 10 tips to help you have similar success for your event!

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1. Get your site up early

As soon as you know you are going to run a conference, setup a website and start driving demand to it. Our initial digital presence just included last years speakers, three reasons why we thought attendees would want to attend, and a link to our Eventbrite page.

Here’s the final version.

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2. Recruit a Rockstar Team

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To help run the conference, my co-chair and I recruited a team of about 30 MIT Sloan students. 7 of those volunteers were in marketing, the other 23 were responsible for actually making the conference an event worth attending.

Initially I broke the roles up into Inbound Marketing (blogging and getting links), Outbound Marketing (Mailing lists, web and ground promotion, media partner outreach), Sales (pipeline management), and Social Media (Facebook and Twitter). I ended up consolidating Outbound with Sales, and Social Media with Inbound. This consolidated approach reduced overhead so our busy volunteer team could get stuff done faster.

3. Use E-Mail Marketing

If this isn’t the first year your conference has taken place, get the email addresses of past attendees to create a mailing list. This will be an invaluable asset for directly reaching people likely to attend your conference again. 

Mailchimp, an email marketing service, lets you create different mailing campaigns for your email lists. I split our list into people who were general admissions and entrepreneurs ($2-400 tickets) and students ($85 tickets), then targeted our messaging accordingly.

Mailchimp also provides analytics so you can fine-tune your campaigns.

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4. Use Media Partners/Press Release

Don’t simply rely on your own marketing machine to drive demand to your site. Cross promote with influential organizations to get links, tweets, and blog articles.

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If you have time, give partners unique links so you can track their contribution. 

You can also issue a press release. Here’s an example. This may result in inbound leads from reporters who want to cover your event.

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5. Understand Discounting and Pricing

Ideally, ticket prices would not decrease as you get closer to the conference date. If conference attendees expect this to happen, they may just wait to purchase tickets until the last minute. Tickets should instead start off discounted (early bird pricing) then end at their original, un-discounted value.

If you aren’t selling enough tickets, you should consider issuing discount codes to increase volume. One discounting tactic is to limit the amount of reduced price tickets you are offering. For example, try issuing 5 tickets for 40% off, rather than simply saying “now tickets are 40% off!”. You don’t want to punish early buyers or make it seem like your conference isn’t popular.

6. Build Up Your Social Presence

For this event, we created a new facebook page (we found later that there was one from years ago, but couldn’t gain access to it) and leveraged an existing twitter account to drum up interested for our conference. Because our follower count was relatively small,  in addition to using our official channels, we posted content to our personal accounts as well.

Here’s an example Facebook post directly targeting sales:

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Some of our posts included links to various articles around interesting topics that related to our panels, speakers, etc.

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Don’t forget you can run Facebook ad campaigns to increase your follower count! At the time, we were cash strapped and couldn’t afford a campaign, but next year’s organizers will likely run one. Because you can target your social campaign at a very granular level, you can reach the people most likely to attend your event. To learn more, read about my previous experience with Facebook campaigns here.

7. Put Boots on the Ground

Build up your offline presence! Identify areas where likely attendees visit and place poster advertisements there. Don’t forget the QR code!

Analytics tip: You could use a different QR code for each poster site then track the effectiveness of a given location. One way to do this is to use query parameters. For example, the link http://mitvcconference.com/2012/?source=mitsloancafe would let us know that the person using that QR code saw this poster in the cafeteria. We ended up not implementing this level of tracking due to time/budget constraints.

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 If you can get on slide projectors cheaply, do it. 

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8. Focus on Your Ticket Mix

To truly sell out, you need to fill seats AND make your revenue numbers. If your budget calls for $20k in ticket sales, discounting heavily to sell tickets faster may leave you short on revenue if you’re not careful. 

The ticket mix issue matters most when selling different ticket types to different attendees. For us, we could have sold out the conference very quickly using only student tickets ($85) but we would have been far short of our revenue targets. We knew that we had to target both professionals ($400) and entrepreneurs ($200) in a particular ratio to make sure we covered our costs. 

9. Track Your Progress

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If you have data from previous years, use it to check your progress vs your projections. Keep in mind that when looking at historical data, you may see a volume increase near the end. Some of this is due to increased organic awareness, but it may also be because last years organizers were giving away/heavily discounting tickets. Either way, don’t take a last minute surge for granted. Keep pushing!

10. Account for Yield

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When selling tickets, you have to account for yield. For this years conference, we planned on having around 280 attendees (about 220 in the main room and 60 in the overflow room) so we sold 320 tickets. This was a bit of a misstep as we assumed about 87% of people who purchased these (relatively expensive) tickets would attend the conference at some point during the day. However, now that we have post-conference numbers, it turns out that only 75% of attendees showed up. To get to our attendance goal, we should have kept our registration open for another day or two and sold about 370 tickets. If you are primarily selling student tickets, I would assume an even lower yield than 75%.

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That does it. Shoot me a message if you think I missed anything! Best of luck and happy planning!

Filed under MIT VC Conference Marketing Event Planning

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Recap: The MIT Venture Capital Conference

As co-chair of the 15th annual MIT Venture Capital conference, I’m happy to say that the day was a huge success! Here are some highlights of this sold-out event, in case you missed it:

Doug Leone of Sequoia Capital shared his thoughts on what makes some investors great.

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Tom Stemberg, Managing General Partner at the Highland consumer fund, addressed a crowd of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. He had a lot to say about his experience founding Staples. Did you know the “Staples Easy Button” was created by a Sloanie??

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Attendees networking in the morning. We had a mix of students, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs.

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Me kicking off the conference

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Ten startups competed in our Startup Showdown. Jason Shin of Delightfully gives a heartwarming pitch about sharing thoughtful experiences with digital gifts.

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Fashion designer and investor Marc Ecko gave startup advice to students.

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The Mobile Panel discussed what’s next in commerce.

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Our social media team live did a great job live tweeting the event. Special thanks to our guest tweeter, @KD!

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#MITVCConf was trending in Boston!

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The MIT VC Conference was featured in the Wall Street Journal!

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It was great to give back to the MIT entrepreneurial ecosystem! Looking forward to handing the conference off to next year’s leadership team so they can make it an even bigger success next winter!

Filed under Venture Capital MIT Sloan MIT VC Conference

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How To Run the Worst Online Ad Campaign In the World

In this tutorial, I will explain how to run the worst online ad campaign in the world.

Step 1. Pay a ton of money for a banner ad on YouTube. Rather than let people watch the video directly in that space (as they are accustomed to doing),  make them click the ad and go to another page.

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Step 2. After users reach the next page, make them click again to go somewhere else.

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Step 3. On the final landing page, award your determined users the opportunity to “watch now.”

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Step 4. Use QuickTime

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Filed under marketing

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Looks like the months of planning and marketing execution paid off: The VC Conference is sold out!

Looks like the months of planning and marketing execution paid off: The VC Conference is sold out!