On the 18th of April I had the pleasure of attending my first 'StartUp Grind' event in Chicago. StartUp Grind is a community of entrepreneurs that have partnered with Google who organise fireside chats and interviews. I was lucky enough to be in Chicago when a CEO of an EdTech (Education Technology) company would be the featured guest. As you might tell from some of my previous blogs I have a passion for effective education and was eager to learn more about the industry and what it takes to found a successful business.
The host of event was highly energetic and clearly had a genuine interest in the guest speaker's journey, so while sipping a free beer and gnawing on tasty buffet food I was taken through this CEO's story of how he became a founder and how the company has grown. The insight of seeing someone knowledgeable and passionate about their work reminded me a lot of a science conference I attended while finishing my masters. Only this time I shared the speaker's passion, reassuring me I was on the right track.
After the talk the floor was open to audience to ask questions, and, to our surprise, the stage was open for a few of us to pitch our business. As the host explained the process and people asked questions the world went quiet, maybe it was the beer, maybe I was feeling motivated after learning about this CEO's experience but I heard a voice in my head say "You know you've got to do this right?". And, with a mind of its own, my hand begun to raise, and before I know it I was getting on stage to pitch a business I had been planning over the past few months.
I was woefully unprepared, I stalled and asked the host if I should sit or stand, pretended to listen carefully to the points he said I could go over while my mind raced. "Name, Team, Company, Product, Market... Go". Right. Somehow, my entire lack of preparation was comforting, it was a suit of armour against the incoming embarrassment and nerves. The point of this was to learn, and chances like these are rare so I decided to make the most of it.
I'll never remember what I said, the moment went in a blur (but I do remember my hands shaking nervously!). The advice though, the important bit, is what I remember; in exchange for you taking the leap out of your comfort zone the host and CEO offer advice on your pitching style and the business in general. Mine was to use my story, I hinted that there was one when I (apparently) mentioned being underwhelmed and critical of the resources I had as a student - I should (and will) use that story to help the audience empathise and understand my vision. On the business side, my product was a good idea, the CEO himself admitted to recognising and seeing the problem I was trying to solve. What remains to be seen is if it is a problem people will pay to resolve.
All in all I came away from the event feeling amped (a good sign, again) my goal when attending was to start a conversation with a fellow attendee, I think it's safe to say I blew that goal out of the water!