Founder's Guide
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What I Wish I Had Known at Demo Day: Tips From Past YC Founders

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Demo Day is an exciting yet overwhelming time for startups. As you prepare for the busy days ahead, we pulled together some advice from past YC founders including a snap-style video from Justin as a flashback.

 

Your pitch and presentation style 

Mathilde Collin, Front (S14)

“When you start your pitch, work on the narrative first and leverage your data to tell a story about what the business has achieved and where it is going. Metrics are necessary, but they are too often shared without a narrative arc.

Secondly, make sure you have all the metrics investors might ask for so you can quickly and accurately respond to their questions and keep the momentum going.”

 

David Rusenko, Weebly (W07)

“Make it relevant. Investors can live in their own world, so try to find an angle that they can relate to. For us with Weebly, that meant rebuilding each investor‘s website in 5 minutes at the beginning of a pitch – most had spent considerable time and money to get the site they had, and it was eye-opening for them to see that there was an easier way.”

 

 

Sasha Orloff, LendUp (W12) 

“To prepare for Demo Day, one of the things we did was try and identify all the questions we didn’t want investors to ask us. Then figured out the answers and when possible support it with evidence or even a slide in the appendix of our deck. Investors are trying to gauge how you handle problems, especially the hard problems. This is a time you shouldn’t be underprepared.”

 

 

Ryan Petersen, Flexport (W14) 

“I like to remind myself that even Bruce Springsteen still gets nervous before his concerts. But instead of letting that derail his performance, he tells himself that that feeling in his gut is nervous energy that he can harness to give the fans what they want. Remember that, and then try to focus on what investors want: First, not to be bored. Second, to get rich(er). So try to be entertaining or at least informative while remembering to appeal to their greed.”

 

 

Negotiation tactics and engaging with investors 

Jack Altman, Teespring and Lattice (W13 and W16)

“Don’t confuse investor interest with product-market fit. You’re about to be on the receiving end of a lot of hype and FOMO; use it to your advantage by taking the money and then keep your burn and ego low.”

 

 

 

Immad Akhund, Heyzip and Mercury (W09 and S07) 

“With the rush of Demo Day and trying to close quickly, it can be easy to forget that the investor relationship is something that can last 10+ years and is a permanent contract with the company. It’s important to pick the right investors that will be helpful but also that you click with because you will most likely work with them for a prolonged period of time.”

 

 

Ryan Petersen, Flexport (W14) 

“Remember that there is no “round” on seed funding because it’s made up of SAFEs and convertible notes. That is, each investor is signing an independent investment document, separate from all the others. That means you don’t need to corral them all to invest at the same moment in time. Just get ones, then get the next one, and the one after that. This means that you can offer better terms to people who take the risk of investing sooner and raise the price later.”  

 

Sasha Orloff, LendUp (W12) 

“You don’t realize how small the Valley can be, and how connected and patient investors can be. Be respectful, be responsive, and don’t close doors. We had people pass on earlier rounds that invested large amounts of capital later, or introduced us to partners and investors that later were critical to the company’s capitalization and success.”

 

 

Mathilde Collin, Front (S14)

“Create relationships with potential investors before you need to raise money. This will help you save time during the fundraising process because you then wouldn’t have to spend so much time getting to know the partner who is going to work with you.“

 

 

Ryan Petersen, Flexport (W14) 

“Silicon Valley is such a rumor mill, it’s worse than high school. As an entrepreneur, you need to find an outlier, someone who will value your business more than others. That means minimizing the gossip as much as possible, which means minimizing the number of investors you talk to and the length of time that your deal is out in the market. That’s counterintuitive, as you would think that the more investors you talk to and the longer you take to raise your round, the higher the price.

Being selective works doubly well because when a VC goes to reference check you with a friend at another VC fund and finds out they’ve never heard about you, they get super excited. Proprietary deal flow is what they live for. It means they’re good at their job!”

 

After Demo Day 

 

Emmett Shear, Kiko and Twitch (S05 and W07)

“Raising money at Demo Day isn’t a success. Getting the highest valuation or the most money isn’t winning. You will live or die by your execution. Get the money you need at a reasonable price and get moving again.”

 

 

 

Steve Huffman, Hipmunk and Reddit (S05 and S10)

“After YC, Alexis and I met regularly with our investors, Justin [Kan] and Emmett [Shear], which continued many of the benefits of YC—support, advice, friendship, accountability—long after YC left town. Looking back at this time, it was one of the most formative times of my career, after YC itself.”

 

 

Suhail Doshi, Mighty and Mixpanel (S09 and S19) 

“After the conclusion of Demo Day, here are my five pieces of advice: (1) Don’t fundraise forever. Get back to work as fast as you can. (2) Set weekly goals. Everyone should buy into it and hit them as a team. (3) Also set a simple growth goal for the next 3 months. Assume that not hitting this goal will mean startup failure. (4) Don’t burn a lot of cash. More people and a better office doesn’t necessarily mean it becomes a better company. (5) Find 2-4 other founders you can count on and have dinner every 3 months where you can share openly.”

 

Sasha Orloff, LendUp (W12) 

“YC helps build support, hype, momentum, and excitement. But the day after Demo Day it is you and your co-founder(s) again, and it becomes real, real quick. 

While our batchmates were out celebrating the completion of YC, my co-founder and I were building a spreadsheet and trying to curate the right mix of investors to support our business and mitigate our risks, setting up meetings right away, and stacking as many as we could from breakfast to drinks. It ended up serving us well, and we were off to the races with capital, a support network, and started building.”

 

And… Justin Kan, Kiko, Twitch, Exec, and Atrium (S05, W07, W12, and W18) 

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  • This real world feedback- 20/20 vision is priceless. As a fellow founder and entrepreneur I have learned that the experience and lessons learned from those before me are the most valuable. It helped me land a deal on Shark Tank and continue Les to help through our growth. Thanks to all who shared their wisdom.
    Vance
    Line Cutterz, LLC

  • mm

    Cassie Pallesen is Atrium's Head of Corporate Marketing. Before Atrium, Cassie built and led Anaplan's global content team as well as held marketing roles at Autodesk and Bluewolf (an IBM company). Cassie is a well-rounded marketer with experience in website & content strategy, marketing communications, product marketing, demand generation, and content development.

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