Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Presenting your startup at Demo Day.

Pro tip: Don’t actually do a demo.

In today’s world of entrepreneurship, “Demo Day” is a pitch event. Startups give a brief presentation on their venture, and hope that perhaps the audience can help with funding, introductions, partnerships, advice, etc. Many incubators and accelerators have some sort of Demo Day.

But the name is a misnomer — Demo Days presentations don’t usually include actual product demos. For one thing, anybody who has tried to do a live product demo in front of an audience knows it can be painful (remember when Elon Musk accidentally broke his product on stage?). But more importantly, proving that the product works isn’t usually what investors care about.

Think of this example: with Airbnb, the question wasn’t “Could this website be built?” — of course it could! The question was whether they could get market share, whether the economics would work, whether people would be comfortable booking a room in someone else’s home, etc. So to have stood on stage giving a product demo of the Airbnb website would have addressed absolutely none of an investor’s questions. This is true with 99% of today’s startups.

Here’s my list of the things that a startup might include in a short presentation at a Demo Day:

Every venture is different, of course, and every entrepreneur has their own style. So not everyone has to use this exact recipe. But those are generally the things that an investor cares about (so those should be the same things you care about!).

But don’t do a Demo on Demo Day. I know you’re excited to show a live demo of your awesome product, but save that for a follow-up meeting. Showing that you understand the factors that will drive the success or failure of the venture is what will impress investors. Showing them that you know how to build a website will not.

I’m a Silicon Valley guy. I teach entrepreneurship at Stanford, coach startup CEO’s at Miller Center, and run the 4thly Startup Accelerator. Also, I love tacos.

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