Slipping a tight blazer over his tee-shirt, the entrepreneur bounded onto the stage.
He glowed with confidence as he presented the vision for “Qwiki,” his technology start-up:
Qwiki would automatically create short videos on search terms like Albert Einstein orLady Gaga. With sight, sound and motion, the search experience would become entertaining and emotional. It would change the world forever.
The entrepreneur paused and smiled. “For the first time ever,” he intoned, “information becomes an experience you can watch.”
The audience was on the edge of their seats. If you listened closely, you could almost hear the sound of investors reaching for their checkbooks.
Seeing a presentation like Qwiki’s — having a front-row seat to the public launch of a groundbreaking company — is a joy.
It’s also how many savvy investors get their first look at early-stage investment opportunities. This week we’re going to show you how to join them.
Dozens of Big Ideas
The above scenario with Qwiki took place in September of 2010. It was at a packed conference in San Francisco hosted by a blog called TechCrunch
Hundreds of start-ups were in attendance, and dozens were presenting their “big idea” up on stage. Professional investors were sniffing around, looking for the next big thing.
I’d wanted to go to the conference, but couldn’t leave my office in New York that week. Luckily for me, the entire 3-day event was live-streamed on the web for free.So, several times a day, I shut my office door, tuned into “TechCrunch TV,” and watched some of the hottest tech start-ups from around the world take the stage and present their companies.
Blood in the Water?
Interestingly, the excitement of a TechCrunch conference doesn’t end when the charismatic start-up founders finish their pitch; the end of the formal pitch is just a cue for the real action to get started.
You see, high-end tech conferences attract rock-star panelists — visionary entrepreneurs who’ve already created the next big thing; prolific angel investors; legendary venture capitalists; hard-hitting journalists; etc.The panelists sit up on stage with the entrepreneurs and grill them, ripping their businesses apart like blood-thirsty sharks.
A Love Fest Instead
But when the panelists finally took the microphone after Qwiki’s presentation, all the audience heard was this:
Ron Conway, famous angel, early investor in Google. “Too bad Barry Diller already left the conference. He would have bought this company.”
Roelof Botha, top-notch venture capitalist at legendary tech investor Sequoia Capital: “I found it mesmerizing.”
Marissa Mayer, previously an executive at Google, currently the CEO of Yahoo: “Visually beautiful, well packaged. This is in the sweet spot.”
After the Show
Given the excitement around the product and the reaction of the panelists, was it any surprise that, three months later, in January 2011, Qwiki raised $8 million in financing?
Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin wrote a big check. So did a co-founder of YouTube. A bunch of angel investors tagged along.
Investors smelled success. They wanted in.
It’s Your Turn
There were strong signals with Qwiki that might have led you to put it on your shortlist as a potential investment: visionary product, solid team, big market, excitement from professional investors, etc.
And clearly, seeing a bunch of companies like Qwiki pitch their vision (and hearing feedback from influential panelists) is a useful tool for identifying early-stage opportunities. After all, conferences like TechCrunch are curating the best deals for you, and the panelists are basically helping you do your research.
But how can you find out where “pitches” and “demonstrations” like Qwiki’s take place?
I’ll tell you exactly how: keep your eyes and ears open for what’s called “Demo Days”!
Nowadays, many promising early-stage companies get their start at technology accelerators. Accelerators are hands-on mentoring programs that put start-ups through three or so months of boot-camp, preparing them to raise money and then blast off to success.
Investors are invited to the programs’ “Demo Day,” where the graduating start-ups demonstrate (“demo”) their company to the public. Or, like I did for Qwiki’s presentation, you can often tune in on the web.
This is a great way to see companies before they start raising money, and while there’s still plenty of time for you to dig in and learn about what they do.
For example, you may have recently noticed a company on Crowdability called FreightFarms. We picked up on the deal when it was featured on equity crowdfunding platform WeFunder.com
But before it started raising money on WeFunder, FreightFarms went through a prestigious accelerator called TechStars. If you’d caught the TechStars demo day event, you could have sniffed out this company before it hit the radar of other crowdfunding investors, putting yourself in a better position to make a quick, informed investment decision.
Turn Demo Day Into PayDay
And of course, you could always tune into TechCrunch’s “Disrupt” Conference, a multi-day demo day, packed with everything from company presentations to fireside chats.
With the ability to attract dozens of quality companies like Qwiki as well as high-octane panelists, TechCrunch’s conference are always worthwhile.
This year’s event starts on September 7th, and 30 companies will be presenting. Check out the details here
and maybe you’ll find the next Qwiki!
All’s Well That Ends Well
Last month, on July 2, 2013, Qwiki was bought by a big Internet company.
The price? About $50 million — which would likely have earned you a nice return.
None other than Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, the panelist from Qwiki’s demo at TechCrunch — the one who’d said, “Visually beautiful, well packaged. This is in the sweet spot.”
If she can strike gold at these demo days, so can you.