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Photo by Gonzalo Arnaiz on Unsplash

A founder I was meeting for the first time was telling me about her startup. She spent the first 15-ish minutes of our meeting describing her project. Then, once she’d told me everything she wanted to explain, she asked a question that, to her, seemed simple. She asked: “Why is nobody buying my product?”

It wasn’t the first time I’d been asked that same question by a founder. In fact, I get asked that question almost weekly. But something was particularly jarring about the way this founder asked. She did it in the same way she might ask me to name my favorite color. …


Pitch competitions aren’t the same as pitching investors, and that’s why great fundraisers often loose pitch competitions.

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Photo by Alexandre Pellaes on Unsplash

Most of the advice about giving great startup pitches is for pitching investors. But investor pitches aren’t the only kinds of pitches entrepreneurs give. I was recently reminded of this when a former student asked for my help as he prepared for an upcoming pitch competition.

Pitch competitions have some similarities with investor pitches, but they’re definitely not identical. Most obviously, investor pitches are usually in small conference rooms or offices with only two or three people. Pitch competitions take place in large rooms or auditoriums with dozens or sometimes even hundreds of people.

Back when I was a founder, my favorite part about participating in pitch contests was that they gave me an opportunity to watch other entrepreneurs present their startups. I’d always make sure to sit in the audience for as many of the other pitches as possible and take careful mental notes on what worked well and what didn’t. …


It’s even harder than you think. And you probably already think it’s really hard.

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Image courtesy Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels

Before Facebook became synonymous with “social media,” and even before MySpace was the coolest website on the planet, there was another startup that most people credit with inventing social networking as we know it. That website was called Friendster.

Most people reading this have probably never used Friendster. But lots of entrepreneurs have heard of it. In fact, for a long time, Friendster was the cautionary tale venture capitalists would use when founders pitched them their next great social media apps. …


When you’re working on a startup, success is harder to recognize than you probably think

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Image courtesy Pexels.com

“I’ve got some exciting news,” my student said as he sat down across from me. “I’ve decided I’m going to turn down my job offer at Amazon and focus completely on my startup.”

“Really?” I replied. “I didn’t even realize you had a startup.”

“Yeah, I’ve got a few,” he said. “I mean, they’re all mostly in the idea stage at this point. But some of them have real potential. And I know if I want to be a successful entrepreneur, I need to commit myself 100% to being a founder. …


Find out what happens when entrepreneurs forget to consider the consequences of their actions

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Image courtesy Ingo Joseph via Pexels

If you experienced the “Dot-Com Bubble” you surely remember all the hype and excitement surrounding the Web as well as all the money that flowed into tech startups in the late 90s. You also remember when things came tumbling down in May and April of 2000, wiping out countless companies and turning Silicon Valley into a corporate wasteland.

So what if I told you it was caused by a 19-year-old college drop-out?

In a way, that’s what happened. In 1997, a University of Virginia student named Bill Martin dropped out of college to launch an online community where people could discuss stocks. He called it RagingBull.com. Within 36 months, the entire tech industry had collapsed. …


Great founding teams are critical for startup success, but the best teams probably look different than you think

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Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash

I was speaking with a startup founder who was struggling to find a co-founder. “I just can’t seem to find someone I really like,” he said. “I can’t imagine spending the next 10 years of my life working with any of the people I’ve met. We don’t have anything in common.”

“Why does that matter?” I asked.

“Investors always talk about the importance of investing in great teams,” he answered. “So I want to make sure I have the best team possible.”

“It is important to have a great team,” I replied. …


Even one of the most popular pieces of software in the world wasn’t safe!

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Image courtesy Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels

When I began fundraising for my first startup over 15 years ago, an early mentor of mine warned me: “Choose your investors wisely.” At the time, I remember thinking the advice seemed like a strange warning. After all, isn’t all money the same? Isn’t a dollar always worth a dollar?

In retrospect, I think the problem with the advice was that it was never given with any good explanations of what made bad investors so bad. The only reason I ever heard involved investors getting control of the company and forcing out founders. But, as a struggling founder, this was an easy scenario to shrug off. …


Being introduced to investors seems better than cold emailing them, but does the data support it?

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Image courtesy Sora Shimazaki via Pexels

Back when I was constantly fundraising for my startups, people always told me the best way to get meetings with potential investors was through warm intros from mutual connections. I trusted that advice, and, for years, I followed it blindly while trying to grow as big a professional network as possible. I’ve even given the same advice to countless other entrepreneurs. But is it good advice? Are warm intros really the best way to meet investors? Some recent data I’ve collected suggests that might not be true.

Some data on warm intros vs. cold emails

When I look back on my years of fundraising, I remember, at various points, thinking warm introductions to the investors I wanted to meet never seemed to get me any farther than cold emailing them. If anything, the warm intros seemed less effective than cold emails. …


If you’ve ever agonized about what to call your startup, you need to hear this advice, too

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Image courtesy Lay Low via Pexels

If you’ve ever managed any sort of website, you know about Google Analytics. It’s Google’s ubiquitous web analytics platform that’s estimated to be on an incredible 70% of all websites. Just copy/paste a simple line of code into the footer of your webpage, and you’ll have an enterprise-grade stats tracking tool to track visitors on your site. Best of all, it’s completely free!

Of course, it’s not really free. Surely none of us are that naive, right? The deal we’re making with Google is kind of like a deal with the Devil. …


It’s easier to become a great salesperson than you might think

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Image courtesy Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels

I was quizzing a pre-revenue entrepreneur about customer acquisition. He was practicing his fundraising pitch with me, and he’d spent the entire time talking about his product. I wanted to know how he was going to sell it. Finally, he’d had enough of my questions.

“I’m a product guy,” he huffed. “Can’t I just tell investors I’ll hire some MBA to do the selling for me? Isn’t that what I’m raising money for, anyway? So I can hire people, I mean.”

I shook my head. “No, you can’t,” I answered. “You’re the founder. …

About

Aaron Dinin, PhD

I teach entrepreneurship at Duke. Software Engineer. PhD in English. I write about the mistakes entrepreneurs make since I’ve made plenty. More @ aarondinin.com

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