Demo days are wearing out the entrepreneurial ecosystem
Demo days are traditionally a startup’s biggest milestone, a day prepared for after months of sacrifice and sleepless nights. On demo day, a startup is on stage in the bright light, unveiling their baby to potential investors, hoping their newborn will take its first steps toward making them proud parents. But the world of demo days has exploded, leading to fatigue in the startup ecosystem, wherein rather than leading up to a big day where the industry takes pause to peruse the new class of incoming innovators, there are so many demo days that they are becoming more like an exhausting train of events startups frequent, with even more exhausted investors.
Memphis-based venture development organization Start Co’s Co-president Eric Mathews is witnessing this fatigue first hand, noting that investors are being asked to participate in several dozen demo days each year, resulting the pipeline of quality deals flattening out, they’re being asked to view an increasing number of pitches, and founders expect visibility with serious investors which are becoming harder to source.
Mathews said, “Accelerators — the model of building startups quickly with concentrated resources and time — by most standards are still young, less than three years old with TechStars and Y-Combinator as early leaders before that. Demo Days at the end of accelerators started out as a way to match founders and investors efficiently, now must evolve or face losing value for both groups.”
Five ways the ecosystem is being burned out
Below are five of Mathews’ observations about why entrepreneurial ecosystems, not just investors, are experiencing demo day fatigue:
- Quantity not quality. Accelerators have grown into the hundreds nationwide, but the number of investors is about the same. Investors are burned out—for example, here in Tennessee most won’t even drive two hours to see teams, despite the option of having at least 10 Demo Days in-state each year. The net-net is that the quantity of Demo Days continues to increase, but the quality of the deals has not.
- Focus on idea-stage entrepreneurs. Any startup can make a polished pitch deck in 90 days, but practically none can go from back-of-napkin to investable in 90 days. Thus, Demo Days occur prematurely in the lifecycle of idea stage startups. Most startups aren’t prepared for meaningful investment discussions until at least six months after they start an accelerator, if that.
- Demo Days are about hype. Accelerator operators are in a Demo Day “arms race” with their Hollywood-quality production, signature drinks, parties, and after parties to “attract” attention from a dwindling investor audience. Investors now ignore the hype waiting to see if a founding team has the grit to last three to nine months after Demo Day before making a commitment to invest.
- Investors want to know the team. Repeated exposure to founders throughout the acceleration process is what keeps investors interested. That way, they can see the progress as it unfolds and therefore reduce risk. As a result of this shift, investors are now participating as mentors more and more before and after Demo Days – and with the ongoing mentoring relationship in place investors are skipping Demo Days all together.
- Demo Day isn’t the goal. Building a business, not Demo Day, is the goal of an accelerator. Demo Days shift the focus away from what is really important: building a successful business.
How demo days can evolve, improve
Mathews notes that accelerators should have culminating experiences at various milestones, and demo days should be one of those experiences, rather than the end result.
In Mathews’ words, below are several ways demo days can add value rather than fatigue:
- Change the name. Most startups aren’t ready for serious investment at this stage, so we shouldn’t call them investor days. Think of launching, engaging and activating around the accelerator. If you come up with a better name than Demo Day email or comment below.
- Change the focus. Demo Days are really for the ecosystems around the startups, not just for the startups. The event should be a place for service providers, supporters, prior and new investors, mentors, interested parties, and friends and family to experience the entrepreneurial culture, understand the milestone the founders have achieved, and understand the next stops on their journey.
- It’s the start, not finish, line. The event should be about showcasing the teams and allowing them to get feedback so they can strengthen their business offering. The experience will be one of many stops on the long journey for the founders to grow and refine their product or service offering.
- Tap into alumni networks. With most accelerators completing their 2nd and 3rd cohorts this year, those who previously went through the program can be role models and remind founders that hard work and persistence can result in success, but also note that failures are often part of the journey. These alumni/founder connections can lead to mentor relationships as well as job matching in the future.
- Accelerate community activation. For Demo Days that are happening in the fly over-zone of the United States (which is a lot of them) where investor concentrations are lower, they can be helpful to activate the community, recruit more talent and mentors, and help uncover more resources. Think of ways to engage these groups and include programmatic elements for them.
- Cull the herd. Demo events can serve as a method to concentrate an accelerator’s limited resources on the founders that are ready to take the next entrepreneurial steps on their journey. Conversely, those that are off track can be guided back to the drawing board or take a different path without using up post-accelerator support resources wastefully.
How to turn your side hustle or hobby into a successful business
(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Surely you have a favorite hobby by now, well what can you do with it? You can grow it into a full time business, but how?
Almost everyone has a hobby they enjoy doing in their spare time — something that sparks their creativity and engages their senses. If you look forward to your weekend pastime more than your nine-to-five job, perhaps it’s time to turn your passion into profits.
This path requires dedication and commitment. However, as you turn your hobby into a profitable reality, the hard work pays off. Getting to that point requires several steps. Thankfully, there are many resources out there that will help you pave the way.
- Establish the Basics: Establishing the basics will act as your roadmap for turning your passion into a business. This plan will no doubt change along the way, but it’s important to have preliminary ideas of where you want to take your enterprise.First, establish what you’ll be selling. Most hobbies can become a business, but you’ll need to hone in on what people will be buying. Anything of value — like products and services — can be an enterprise. Once you have that in mind, you can decide if you want it to be a part-time or full-time job. If you already have a job, managing your time between the two can get tricky.
To stay on top of your tasks, you can look into a time management app or software. With these platforms, you can input how much time you spend on certain projects. From there, you can properly divide your time and give your new business the attention it requires.
Next, you’ll have to conduct research. Is there a market for your product nearby? Can your business realistically take off in your location? How much needs to be e-commerce? Market research can help you determine who’s interested in buying and what you’ll need to get your business off the ground.
- Know Your Finances: Your finances are one of the biggest factors when starting a business. Too often, people rush into things without planning their expenses and resources first. Be sure to ground your plan with actionable steps. For instance, If you’ll be working from home, you can save on renting costs. However, some businesses require a storefront, so keep that in mind.You can also look into financial planning software or budgeting tools. Research relevant tips for budgeting when starting a small business. One pro-tip to keep in mind, if renting, is that you’ll want to save around six months’ worth of rent beforehand. That way, when you get started, you won’t rely on revenue to pay this expense.
Additionally, don’t forget about taxes. You’ll likely need to pay estimated quarterly ones and potential sales taxes, too. There are multiple tools to help calculate these expenses online. Don’t be surprised by the costs, a hobby can be inexpensive but ramping up to a business can be costly, but worth it.
- Take the First Steps: As you form your plans and goals, you can start to take the first steps toward a sale. This phase consists of setting up space in your home or a store and developing your products or services.You’ll also want to set up a digital platform where you can access information at any time. In this central base, you can refer to all the details about your plans, finances and marketing strategies. With tools like Google Docs and Spreadsheets, creating accounting documents and client lists become easy.
- Create Marketing Strategies: Your first sale will likely be to someone you know. That’s an important step. No matter who it is, though, marketing and advertising can take your business to the next level. Make sure you have a strong online presence. With social media and Google’s resources, you can increase your reach.Having social media pages on multiple platforms can help spread awareness of your business. You can use hashtags and locations to establish yourself so others can find you. Most of these platforms have analytic tracking, too, so you can see who engages with your pages and when.
From there, you can work with Google Analytics. It connects to your website and tracks activity and sales. It shows you which visitors come from social media, referrals and search engines. Then, you can focus your marketing strategies on strengthening those areas.
Additionally, it’s vital to focus on search engine optimization (SEO). SEO works with search engines like Google to push your listing to the top with keywords and links. As you cover your bases with SEO and social media, your online presence can grow along with your sales.
- Network: Outside of the online world, you have options for growing your business, too. Local companies can work together to help each other succeed — you can look into other small businesses in your area for new opportunities. People often overlook the power of collaboration, but it can bring about significant results.If you can provide a service or product to local businesses, they may be able to advertise for you at their locations. For instance, if you’re a florist and provide arrangements for a local coffee shop, it could put your business cards next to your display. Customers will see your information and know they have a local option should they need flowers.
You can also bring this connection to the digital realm. When you interact with other businesses on social media, people will see that engagement and click on your pages. That dynamic could translate to more traffic and sales. Check online to find the communities of your chosen hobby, the people there can fill you in on vital info that may be missing, or be a customer base you can connect w
- Keep the Growth Going: The last step is to perpetually keep your business growing. In this phase, you can quit your full-time job or reduce your hours to be a part-time employee. You can then focus on your new enterprise.You should expand your outreach through email newsletters, deals and coupons. You can give rewards to loyal or returning customers if you’d like, too. You can also add a blog or a section for customer service and inquiries to your website. Once your business grows enough, you may need to hire help.
As you progress, adjust your goals. You’ll see that your trajectory differs from your original ideas, but you can keep building to take it to the next step. Set new milestones and watch your business thrive.
When a Hobby Becomes a Business
You should be aware that this a long-term process. Building a brand won’t happen overnight, but the small changes will add up until your company is a force in the market. It’s also an ongoing activity. The more you grow your enterprise, the more possibilities open up. It all starts with your hobby and your entrepreneurial spirit, which can take you anywhere.
You should say no to one-way video interviews
(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Recruiters, please stop asking job applicants to send in one-way video interviews — they are demoralizing and could be discriminatory.
It’s hard enough out there for job seekers, but now some companies are requesting one-way video interviews from candidates. This is problematic on several levels. Unless the job is specifically “making TikTok or Reels videos of yourself,” HR departments should not ask this of job candidates. Even if that is the precise job description, a portfolio would be enough to show that an applicant can do the required work well.This format is also ripe for discrimination, as the recruiter can make assumptions and decisions due to their implicit bias more easily over a disembodied video than for a flesh-and-blood interviewee.
For starters, job hunting and interviewing are two stressful activities for most people. Especially post-pandemic, when it’s more likely than ever that candidates have been unemployed or underemployed for too long already, the pressure people feel about finding a job is intense. Interviewing makes most people nervous to begin with. Being on camera makes a lot of people even more nervous. One-way video interviews are not unlike public speaking, something an estimated 75% of people have a phobia of public speaking to some degree, according to various publications. Add to that the discomfort many people have seeing themselves on camera, and one-way interviews seem not only rude, but also cruel.
One benefit to one-on-one interviews, either by phone call, Zoom, or in person, is that the interviewer and the candidate have the opportunity to interact in a more authentic, conversational way. This can help put the candidate at ease, or at least will give them an opportunity to ask the HR recruiter questions about the role and the company. It also gives the interviewer a better feel for the candidate and how they would fit into a company culture or team. There is an exchange of energy for better or worse. Face-to-face, or person-to-person interviews show candidates that you value their time as well as your own. One-way video interviews are one sided, indicating that only the recruiter’s time is valuable or worth being valued.
Many job candidates have likely already applied for several positions. Updating and sending out a resume and portfolio, filling out an online application form, and possibly crafting a cover letter should be enough to convey a candidate’s qualifications to move on to an interview. Many of those documents are lost in the ether, as many recruiters and HR teams do not reply to all applicants. One-way video interviews seem impersonal at best. As with the resumes and applications, there is also the possibility that nobody will watch it, that nobody will reply. How soul-crushing. To add insult to injury, the process for these seems wildly inconsistent from company to company, with some telling the candidates to make it as long as possible. Other companies provide automated, popup questions at timed intervals, either cutting the candidate’s previous answer short or leaving them with dead air time waiting for the next question. Excruciating—surely not an opportunity to shine.
The thought of someone putting themselves through a process that could be so grueling for them personally only to hear crickets in response is simply depressing. It’s possible that a real live human won’t even see these, because if an HR recruiter doesn’t have the time to schedule a phone screener at least, they likely won’t be taking the time to watch all of the one-way video interviews they receive. This shows so little regard for the applicant that it reflects poorly on the company—and tells applicants something about how the company will likely treat their employees.
If Reddit r/recruitinghell and members of the Austin Digital Jobs Facebook group are to be believed, a lot of candidates won’t bother with these awkward and dehumanizing one-way video interviews anyway. In a popular Reddit post, hundreds of commenters weighed in to agree with u/tron_mexico25’s post saying he turned down a request to do one of these. The Reddit post concludes, “If you would like for candidates to pursue your open roles, I would humbly suggest someone reaches out with a more personal touch instead of asking candidates to speak into a camera with no opportunity for meaningful interaction.”
Both HR recruiters and candidates in Austin Digital Jobs responded to the posting of a CareerPlug article, written by their Director of HR, Natalie Morgan, that they should be avoided and “are hurting the candidate experience.”
The ADJ members strongly agreed with Morgan that these one-way videos were disrespectful, “gross,” “terrible,” “indefensibly dumb,” and a waste of time. One ADJ member, Annette Priest, sums up the whole vibe perfectly, when they say, “Yuck. You’re almost never treated as well working for a company as you are when you’re interviewing. Consider this a red flag and run away!” I agree completely. Applicants, you shouldn’t subject yourself to these. Recruiters, please be better.
You’re more likely to thrive with entrepreneurs if you get distracted easily
(ENTREPRENEUR) If monotony and boredom at work bores you, it’s possible you may fit with the other entrepreneurs with a quick and constantly changing career.
When Bill Gates was a kid, he knew he liked messing around with code. He couldn’t have known how it might evolve, but he, like other entrepreneurs, was willing to live in the distraction, focusing on details when needed, but always learning, moving on, taking risks and growing in the process.
Some of the most successful folks among us are not content to sit and make widgets every day. They cannot thrive in a detail and focused work environment. So, it may come as no surprise to know that people who are more easily distracted are also more likely to thrive as entrepreneurs.
According to this study, if you are intelligent and get distracted more easily, those two qualities combined will likely enhance your creativity. And, that creativity and ability to use distraction as an advantage can be channeled to create new things, jobs, companies, etc.
For those of us who are more easily distracted, who enjoy doing different things every day, and who like learning, a recent article in the Harvard Business Review suggests a good option is to find a career path that provides the right amount of distraction and which is a great fit for your personality. If you do that your talent is more likely to be apparent because you are playing to your strengths. Also, if you are working in your sweet spot you will be more productive and motivated.
Maybe not surprisingly, the top job for those who live in distraction is entrepreneur. The term “easily distracted” often comes with a negative connotation, but considering an entrepreneur is taking risks, making things happen and creating companies, ideas, products that may have never existed, this spins that idea on its head. Entrepreneurs are the chief cooks and bottle washers of the world. They ideate, create, hire and inspire. None of that is possible in a monotonous work environment.
“Unsurprisingly, meta-analyses indicate that entrepreneurs tend to have higher levels of ‘openness to experience,’ so they differ from managers and leaders in that they are more curious, interested in variety and novelty, and are more prone to boredom — as well as less likely to tolerate routine and predictability,” according to the HBR story.
Other careers that are great fits for those of us (me included) who enjoy distraction are PR/Media Production, Journalism and Consultant. What these fields all have in common is, there is never a dull moment, switching from task to task is pretty commonplace, and you will do well if you can be a generalist – synthesizing information and weeding out the unnecessary.
Not sure where your strengths lie? Here’s a quick quiz to give you some feedback on how curious you really are.
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