I’m Artie Moffa. I’m a poet. In 2009, I started a tiny publishing company in Medford, Massachusetts. Two months ago, I was able to quit my day job as a designer for a large textbook company in Boston. On Halloween, I moved to San Francisco. My fledgling company, Bicycle Comics, will publish its third book in early 2011. In the meantime, I find myself with a blessedly flexible schedule in a new and exciting city. When my girlfriend suggested I go to the Women 2.0 Pitch Night, held at Twilio’s offices in downtown San Francisco last Thursday, I said: “Sure!”

I don’t know how many poets regularly attend entrepreneurial pitch nights; I didn’t see anybody I knew in the crowd. The fabled startup culture of San Francisco is the subject of both reverence and ridicule on the East Coast, and I found myself trying very hard to clear my head of all preconceptions, both good and bad, as the conference began. I got myself a Hansen’s ginger ale, picked out a seat, and listened.

I expected to have a decent rapport with this stuff. After all, I’ve been running my own little startup for two years. I know about IRS Schedule C forms, soliciting bids from vendors, buying ads on Facebook, etc. I’d also provided the storyline and limericks for Wildlife Tycoon: Venture Africa, the first software title from Pocketwatch Games, a one-man game startup run by a college friend. Enshrined in a cheap 3×5 frame is my receipt from the Apple Store where I giddily purchased my own computer game even though I had quite a few free copies at home. You won’t see me on the cover of Fast Company anytime soon, but I’m not a total babe-in-the-woods when it comes to running a business or working for a startup.

As I sipped ginger-ale and listened, sure enough, things felt familiar. But it was a different kind of familiar than I’d been expecting. What I saw and heard resonated with the poet in me, not the entrepreneur. Firms had seven minutes to pitch their ideas to an audience and a panel of judges, who would vote for their favorites. The best pitches would advance in the competition and win prizes. I had a few moments of disorienting déja-vu before I realized I was at a poetry slam.

Before I moved out here last month, I spent every Wednesday night for the past six years working as a doorman for the Boston Poetry Slam at the Cantab Lounge. I’ve seen people spin entire worlds out of words in three minutes or less. I’ve spun a few myself. Poetry slam is an exacting art form: poets have three minutes to perform their work to a panel of judges, and strict time penalties tend to favor concise storylines and polished deliveries. Ramblers and ranters tend not to make it to the winner’s circle.

Seven minutes in the spotlight seems downright luxurious to a poet accustomed to having only three. Add in PowerPoint slides and a Question & Answer session with the judges after each pitch and I felt a twinge of jealousy. Oh man! What I could do with a seven-minute slam poem! The judges wouldn’t even know what hit ’em! (A pipe dream, obviously; carting a laptop and projector into a real poetry slam would be grounds for disqualification and general opprobrium.)

Again, I was there out of curiosity. I thought maybe I’d get a poem out of it, possibly meet some new friends. That was it. But old habits die hard. I found myself critiquing the performances: Why is she spending ten seconds on her previous career? Why did their slide ask three rhetorical questions if she was only going to answer one of them? Why did she end with that visual? I wasn’t expecting to take eight pages of notes on the various pitches, but I did.

Why should anyone care what a poet thinks about Women 2.0 Pitch Night pitches? What do I know about airtime microcredit, or recycled wood substitutes? Not much. But there were two parts to every startup pitch I saw today: the idea, and the performance of the idea. Performing an idea on stage in a limited time to a room full of skeptical strangers and judges? Well, that I know quite a bit about.

First off: Context is king. When you spend months or even years of your life absorbed in your startup, your daily vocabulary can fill up with words and concepts unfamiliar to the rest of the world. When you pitch your idea, even to a room full of tech-savvy venture capitalists, make sure to provide context. Imagine you’re pitching your idea to your grandfather, or to someone who has never worked in the US. Provide definitions for words the audience might not know. Jargon, even “easy” jargon, can form barriers and turn people off.

Second off: As any slam poet can tell you: You are pitching to the judges and to the room. Get the crowd on your side and the judges will have a hard time ignoring them.

Finally: I’m a poet. A slam poet. We actively seek out harsh criticism to help us grow as artists. That can make us come across as a bit blunt in the real world.

With that, my take on the first six pitches: Mightyverse, Nexpense, Prepay Nation, Aesir Metals, BioLumber, and Chouette.

Mightyverse: Sarah Allen, Co-founder and CEO.
“Mightyverse collects words, phrases, and sentences translated from one language to another. Subject matter experts and performers create and record phraselists for free publication or sale through the Mightyverse platform.” (All company blurbs are condensed versions of what appeared in the Women 2.0 program booklet.)

Ms. Allen’s bio includes development credit on After Effects, Shockwave, and Flash. As someone who has used all three products, I was impressed by her resume. As a poet, I was less impressed by the final sentence in her bio: “[She] is a speaker of multiple languages – both spoken and coded.” She is a speaker of spoken languages is the poet’s equivalent of a syntax error.

Two caveats before I offer my thoughts on the pitch:

First caveat: I was just getting there when you were introduced, and I was booting up my laptop and picking out a beverage for the first few minutes of your pitch. You also had the bad luck of going first and discovering certain quirks of the audio system. So my comments about Mightyverse are more off-the-cuff than the rest of my critiques. Please take everything with two grains of salt, at least.

Second caveat: I poo-pooed the iPod when it came out. $500 for an MP3 player? I recognized the beauty and elegance of the iPod, but I felt the “portable music player” problem had been solved in the late 1980s by the Sony Discman, which was clunky but cost only $40 in 2001. I was very, very wrong.

Having said that: I feel as though the translation problem got solved long ago by the $10 travel dictionaries. Or by the $30 QWERTY translators. Or by the numerous translation Websites and smartphone apps. To your credit, you addressed those competitors head-on. You had clear slides that explained the current marketplace for translation solutions, you identified a gap, and you explained how your product was special, how it would fill that gap. Where you lost me was with your choice of example: the Italian Filmmaker kit. “I want to get this shot before we lose the light” is a phrase so specific (Italian/ Filmmaking/ On-Location) that I doubt there is enough of a potential market to support it. Now, I’m a poet. I am nothing like a market-research statistician. You might have convincing data on film crews, but I didn’t see that data, and I was skeptical. One of the judges called you on that very point, asking something about “you seem to be aiming for highly vertical markets…”

Your other example was much stronger: the app for ordering sushi in Japanese. The $10 travel dictionary will, at best, allow people to ask directions to a sushi bar, but your app can provide value to the millions of tourists and business travelers who visit Japan each year and want to order sushi correctly.

Since the sushi app is a real, live product, you did the right thing in highlighting it. It didn’t phase your partner (and it didn’t phase me) that only a few people have bought the app each month. We know you’re a startup, and I think it’s great you’ve got the sushi app as your guinea pig as you attempt to build your crowd-sourced marketplace of translation videos.

I own three iPods, by the way. I’m not sure I even bothered to pack my Discman when I moved here last month; it may still be in Boston. Shows you what I know.

Nexpense: Jennifer Bonnett, Founder and CEO.
“Nexpense is a mobile expense reporting solution. Nexpense allows users to capture their expenses in real-time utilizing their smart phones.”

It was just you up there on stage. You looked confident and prepared. Having one woman give the entire pitch left no doubt this presentation fit the Women 2.0 criterion. But it also made you look like a solo act. That’s a judgment call, but having one or two coworkers (male or female) nodding in the background might have given you more presence in the room. Your body language was good; you addressed both the judges and the audience.

You did a great job of quickly introducing yourself and then contextualizing your product: what it is, what it does, what problem it addresses. I understood the relevant business landscape within a minute or so. In a perfect world, you’d spend twenty seconds explaining the cumbersome task of tracking expenses for the benefit of people who seldom go on business trips, but truthfully, I think a Bay-Area audience is fully on-board from the start.

You rallied us around a common enemy: everyone hates expense reports. You showed a good mix of humanity, humility, and humor with the phrase “we’re going to change the world… with expense reporting!” This set up a grounded tone for your presentation. I liked it.

Your slides were slightly text-heavy. A seven-minute presentation means we don’t have much time to read. You did better than some of your competitors, though.

I was glad to see you’re multi-platform: iPhone, Android, PalmOS, way to go. You skillfully explained the difficulties posed by the different camera technologies. While the problem sounds daunting, your adroit explanation of it inspired confidence. You were forthright about the problem without dwelling on it.

You brought us a little research on your competitors, told us you were aiming more for the small and mid-size companies they’d overlooked. I’d have liked to hear just a few more sentences about your competitive strategy, since you’re not the first-mover in this market.

“Freemium” was a nice phrase. My first time hearing that. (I’m new to San Francisco.)

You spent a lot of time on your qualifications to run a company and your past successes in 2001…which was a long time ago. A seven-minute proposal doesn’t have time for your resume. Save that for the Q and A (if the judges are truly concerned) or for future sit-down meetings with venture capitalists.

The same goes for the qualifications and strengths of your team. Again, that’s relevant information that can come out later. Seven minutes is tight, and a good team will understand that the product needs the spotlight, not the people.

You cleverly snuck a help-wanted ad onto your slides by suggesting you were looking to hire in key areas…but you immediately blunted that announcement by adding you’d already interviewed some candidates.

My experience with OCR is that it almost never works. OCR is the human-powered flight of the data-processing world: we all believe it can work, but the landscape is littered with broken ornithopters. OCR is central to your product’s efficiency, so talk to us about your OCR solution. You briefly–very briefly–showed us a slide suggesting that if OCR didn’t work, the receipt in question went down the chain for processing. This is a make-or-break part of your back-end service, and it deserves a little more attention. Twenty more seconds spent here gets you further with an audience than two slides full of coworkers’ names.

Your own question: “Am I talking to the end user or am I talking to the company?” showed good introspection. I don’t have the answer to that, but I’m confident you will soon enough.

Prepay Nation: Jessica Bishop, Founding Member.
“Currently, there are limited methodologies for immigrants to transfer small values to family back home. Prepay Nation enables the transfer of value using our distribution channel, processing platform, and connectivities with mobile network operators.” (Try "connections" instead of "connectivities.")

Ms. Bishop’s first sentence was: “So, I’m one of the founders,” followed by: “…our company is very young and exciting, sort of like myself.” Nope. It’s understandable if you don’t have your entire pitch memorized by rote. However, the first two or three sentences in any presentation, should be polished and prepared. An informal tone is fine if that’s your preferred style, but your opening lines gave the impression you’d been spooked by the starting gun.

“[Prepay Nation’s product will] enable transfer of small value to mobile phones abroad…mobile airtime minutes, mobile money ‘mwallets.’” That was on a slide I read about 30 seconds into your pitch. I’d have preferred you getting there a little sooner, but that’s just my preference. Your explanation of the current problem was good.
Your slides had small type. There was plenty of white space; you could increase your font size a bit and still have well-balanced slides. This was strictly a typographical problem; the wording was fine.

I liked your choice of hypothetical people, Carlos and Cynthia, as “actors” to illustrate the Prepay Nation solution. You can do even more with Carlos and Cynthia: have them send minutes the current, clunky way first, then have them transfer minutes the Prepay Nation way. One slide for each scenario. “They chat and catch up” wasted precious seconds. You don’t need to be that homey; you’ve already done a good job establishing a friendly, informal tone just by giving names to your prospective customers.

The slide listing all of your channel partners and vendors resembled a food-web diagram. You’re right to be pleased about all the partners you have, but it’s okay for the purposes of clarity to depict only a few key logos.

“Unbanked” is a term I know from NPR’s Planet Money podcast, referring to residents of underdeveloped nations who lack the funds or the financial literacy to maintain accounts at traditional banks. I think it’s a great term, but you might want to provide a little context, as it’s not a common word.

I was unclear what you meant by the bullet point “40 million in US alone” on one of your slides. Was that 40 million people or 40 million dollars? Always err on the side of more context.

“Our processing platform is exceptional and scalable.” What makes it exceptional? Could you offer one or two quick data points to prove that your process for airtime transfers is faster/cheaper/smarter than existing solutions? Don’t linger on this point, but don’t claim to be exceptional and leave it at that.

I blinked for a second about your plan to do “SMS campaigns to market to our users.” If your users are, by definition, on prepaid cell phone plans, are you sure those ads won’t chew into their airtime? You’ve probably solved that problem already, in which case you just need to tell us so: “our marketing campaign includes free SMS reminders to our users.”

I liked the slide showing your progress on aspects of your business. “Completed” is a comforting word. “Transacting” is an awkward one. “Generating revenues” is even better than “completed,” and you should (tastefully) highlight that word for emphasis on the slide.

Consider introducing Anurag Jain at the start of the pitch and having him wait on stage in the background. He can step forward naturally when the pitch is ready to segue to him. You (Jessica Bishop) have clearly put time and effort into this pitch and this company, and it wasn’t off-putting for me to see a man answering a few of the judges’ questions about your Women 2.0 pitch.

Mr. Jain’s answer to one of the judge’s questions was so good that it should not have been left to chance in the Q&A portion; it should have been featured prominently. A judge asked about fraud claims and customer service issues. Mr. Jain said Prepay Nation would provide second tier support, okay. But then he unveiled this jewel: “The sender is not paying any fees, the recipient is not paying any fees, and everyone in the value chain is making money. Everybody’s either saving or making money.” Wow. It’s a very powerful statement, and it should absolutely be on a slide in the first two minutes of your pitch. Earlier, when I wondered what made you exceptional? That’s my answer.

Aesir Metals: Sarah Jordan, Co-Founder and General Manager.
"Aesir Metals is an advanced materials company bringing innovation to the iron and steel industry. We deliver rapid prototypes, replacement parts, and short tuns in under 2 weeks and as little as 24 hours." (The blurb for you on the Women 2.0 Website is much better. Use that.)

You had a killer pitch, but you missed out on two key areas: context and heartstrings.

We needed context. Very few of us are machinists, or ironworkers, or foundry-owners. You’re not selling a consumer product; you’re selling a component to factories that might end up in products we buy. We, the audience, are going to need a lot of hand-holding on this one. We know what a cog is, but we have no idea how such things are currently produced, nor do we really understand why your method is better. You need to give us a 60-second crash-course on metals casting in modern America:

  1. How a newly-designed gear traditionally gets made, how long that takes, how much it costs.
  2. How Aesir can make a new gear, why your process is superior, etc.

You passed around a foam cog and an iron cog, and those were great; people smiled and enjoyed the physicality and heft. Bring a few more samples next time, so they make the rounds more quickly. You were the only presenters who let everyone literally touch the merchandise. Bravo!

Who is your customer? You mentioned something about auto-racers and specialized parts, but then that storyline trailed off. What kind of factories buy your parts?

You talked about tight tolerances, precision machining, and then you spoke in terms of tonnage: When a judge asked, “What capacity can you run at?” you answered in terms of tons per day. Tons of what? Tons of finely machined industrial parts? Are gears and cogs sold by tonnage? I had so many questions, and I think the audience did, too, because we don’t know your industry.

You had amazing, tantalizing numbers to back up your claims: You said, “Our customer is used to paying $15/pound. We’re charging them $9, but our cost is $1.” And you’re doing this right now, with small orders for some of your buyers. That’s astounding. But we don’t have all the information we need to trust our own astonishment. The story we’ve been hearing about manufacturing is that our factories and workers simply can’t compete with Chinese factories who can pay their workers just a few dollars per day. You need to address that story head-on, tell us why your process is so good/ so fast/ so special that you can compete with Chinese foundries that have lower labor costs. Iron is heavy, shipping is expensive, this might work. You kept talking about “we eliminate processes” but we don’t know what you mean. Tell us what your competitors’ processes are and why you can skip those steps. We need a simple chart of figures and facts–remember, you only have seven minutes, so keep it simple–or we need a flowchart, timeline, something to help us believe you. And we want to believe you.

That leads me to my second point: Please pull our heartstrings. You’re from Youngstown, Ohio, a town so down on its luck it has its own Bruce Springsteen song. We would love to love your company. We coastal people (I’ve just moved to San Francisco from Boston, so I’m coastal, either way) long for the Midwest Rust Belt to rise again. Tell us your city has a generation of world-class ironworkers ready to be your workforce. Tell us there is so much excess capacity in Ohio foundries that you can expand quickly once you get rolling. Tell us about political support, tell us Speaker-elect John Boehner is an Ohio congressman who once owned an Ohio plastics factory, and he’d love to help you out. That iron cog you passed around should have a “Made in the USA” sticker on it, just so everyone gets the point. You have a tremendous emotional advantage in these competitions; please don’t be ashamed to use it.

One of your products (processes?) is called COED, pronounced “Cody.” it was an unfortunate wrong note in a Women 2.0 conference, because the word COED conjures up America’s early stumbles on the way to women’s equality in higher education. COED evokes sentiments such as “Oh, look, the girls are playing volleyball.” That’s just bad luck for you the way your acronym plays in this particular environment. (Poets think about this stuff all day, it’s why we’re so much fun at parties.)

One judge asked, “How do you do product development?” Mark DeBruin’s answer was a little vague and included the phrase: “I do that in my head.” That’s impressive, and he came across as a very bright guy, but if he’s doing this stuff in your head that makes him irreplaceable. Investors (and customers) will want to know that your company is robust and can survive the departure of key personnel.

Your attitude toward Intellectual Property (IP) also seemed haphazard. When a judge asked you “How are you protecting your huge margins and advantages?” you replied, “We’ve done another startup. There’s a big learning curve. Even if a company wanted to get into this it would take them three to five years to figure this process out.” Are you sure? The judge wasn’t convinced, because the follow-up was: “Do you have patents or IP around your process? Where did the technology come from?” Your answer: we have applied for a patent for COED, the rest we are hiding as trade secrets. Mr. DeBruin added: “Lost foam actually became viable in 1989 [for copper and aluminum and other metals]. It’s now much easier to make lost-foam parts. But with iron products, you don’t have much wiggle room.” I remained puzzled. He continued: “One of the troubles with patents is you have to tell people how you do something. We’re trying to keep it as trade secrets so people can’t copy us.” .A patent gives you 20 years of safety. Ms. Jordan just finished telling us that it would take your competitors only three to five years to catch you. At a minimum, tell us why you felt COED was worth a patent application but the lost-foam process is not.

I’d have liked to have seen Ms. Jordan deliver more of the facts and figures in this presentation. Of all the presentations I saw today, Aesir stood out for having a man doing a lot of the talking.

BioLumber: Kristin Kaune, CEO.
“BioLumber is a patented, structural-strength sustainable building material. A ‘cradle-to-cradle’ product that offers an ecopragmatic solution to pressing needs by reclaiming waste otherwise headed for landfills and oceans while saving trees harvested for conventional lumber, BioLumber can itself be recycled, needs no special tools, is priced similarly to high-grade conventional lumber, and is the strongest brand of recycled lumber available.”

The crowd was back from a break and was restless and chatty. It’s not your fault you didn’t have the audience. It was your fault your laptop wasn’t ready to go. It’s the first and only rule of PowerPoint: your laptop must be infallible, and you must have a backup plan anyway.

You had an excellent narrative start. Lumber, particularly structural lumber, isn’t a retail consumer product, but it’s not as esoteric as investment casting, either. You provided the proper context. Starbucks is a globally-known brand, and your slides had effective visuals of all the empty milk jugs. Your reference to plastic islands of waste was topical and lent urgency to the situation. Anyone who might think “but we already recycle” would recall the plastic islands floating in the Pacific and realize we still have a long way to go. I particularly liked the sentence: “[Society has] started to recycle, but we have only just begun effective reuse.”

Your writing was clear, organized, concise. Even your company blurb was efficient; I trimmed down most of the blurbs in these write-ups, but I saw no good place to cut yours. One of the reasons your pitch was so concise, however, was that you were reading it to us. Please try to memorize more of your pitch. Eye contact with the judges and the audience tells us a lot about your confidence and familiarity with the company. If any of your friends are actors, poets, or comedians, ask them for memorization tips. If you like, just memorize critical sections and practice improvising your way between those sections. Use a few index cards for notes and cues, but please don’t put a clipboard or a folder of papers come between you and your audience.

You want $5 million, which seems like a lot. You went fifth, so you knew that was more than any of the first four pitches sought. You’d had time this afternoon to incorporate your competitors’ pitches into your strategy. Let us know you’d been paying attention to the other pitches, and tell us why $5 million to BioLumber would bring better returns than $2 million to someone else.

You said: “We’re strong and not just for decking.” Please elaborate, because I was thinking only of decking. “You may not have seen solar panels on your way here today, but I’m sure you saw things made of wood.” That was vague.

I’m glad you mentioned Trex decking and the money they’ve made. One of your slides cited a few lines from your patent abstract, and that was a nice, subtle drop-in: it lets people know you’ve done your research and development, and that you’ve taken steps to protect your invention.

Most of your charts went by too fast and had too much info. In a seven minute pitch there will not be time for everything. Pick the charts and the topics that put your company in the best light and keep the focus on those things. The “introducing our team” chart was on stage for five seconds and that was pointless. Five seconds didn’t let us get to know your team, it just stole five seconds from one of your other slides.

The “Why BioLumber” slide was all-around good. Consider ending with that slide.

“Ecopragmatic materials” is a good slogan.

The judges asked you a lot of questions, which was probably a sign they were interested.

You had members of your team on-hand to answer questions, which was good. Everyone who speaks from the stage should introduce himself/herself in ten words or five seconds, whichever is shorter.

California’s high-speed rail system is a compelling potential market; play on our heartstrings about train nostalgia and capitalize on the green synergy of using recycled materials to expand the reach of mass-transit.

You claim manpower is only 5% of your expenses, which is such a small percentage compared to most businesses that you’ll need to explain your cost structure with a quick pie chart. You mentioned Waste Management has guaranteed you a good price for raw materials; do you have disproportionately large capital costs?

At the end of your presentation, you circled back to the beginning with “So the next time you have that coffee, think about the milk jug…” You used perfect narrative structure. We come back to the beginning, but we come back better informed. That’s how to tell stories, how to write winning poems, and how to give great presentations. Next time? Do all those good things, but make more eye contact and use fewer notes.

Chouette: Judith Nelson, Founder and Designer
“Choosing a handbag usually pits function against fashion. All women need and deserve a fashionable and timeless bag that does it all; one that converts into whatever bag they need, whenever they need it.”

Your logo and your company name were both my favorite. I’m tired of companies mashing words together to come up with "2.0" sounding names.

You had some advantages batting sixth in this lineup. You could watch five other firms pitch their ideas and study what they said, how the judges and audience reacted to them, gauge the room acoustics, all those benefits of going last (before the dinner break). Also, after a lot of (literally) heavy topics such as cast iron and lumber, plus some abstract concepts such as translation software and mobile minute transfers, you were bringing something fun, down-to-earth and, (I mean this in the very best way possible) unabashedly girly. You had a lot going for you.

In some ways, your presentation was a breath of fresh air. You exuded energy and enthusiasm. There was no hesitation or shyness. If I had called down to Central Casting for a “likable good sport” they’d have sent me your husband. You nailed the presentation, you nailed the show-biz part of this. The audience went for it. But you fell flat on content and details.

For one thing, your husband might have been a little too good. We had such fun watching him ham it up as a handbag model that we didn’t give you our full attention. The twenty-bags photo collage is also a powerful visual. It’s distractingly powerful. Put it up briefly as you walk on stage, perhaps, and come back to that slide at the end, perhaps leave it up during the Q&A session (unless you get an “I’m so glad you asked” question).

The Chouette bag can turn into 20 bags, but a lot of those bags are pretty similar. We saw your husband make minor changes to the straps and then put it back on his shoulder. That diluted the impact and it kept him distractingly busy. I suggest you pick out four or five radically different bag styles (clutch, laptop bag, backpack, and so forth) and have him model just those styles.

Your product is personal and homespun, and it’s fine that your style is more intimate and casual. However, you spent too long taking us through the backstory, your friends encouraging you to attend craft fairs, etc. It’s great that this business started as a hobby, but your pitch should be about looking ahead to new markets and becoming a full-fledged company. The story of you pinning kleenexes together to make the first bag is too anecdotal for your seven minute pitch.

I got the feeling we were hearing the same pitch we’d have seen if you’d gone first this afternoon. Did you change anything that afternoon in response to what your competitors did (or didn’t do) during their pitches?

I liked the line: “Bags of function peaked in the 1800s and since then they’ve only been versions of planned obsolescence.” That could have been the start of a quick primer on the major bag styes/types. Four or five quick slides on the main types of handbags. Naturally, the properly-configured Chouette Bag would illustrate each style. Do the photography skillfully and it might be a surprise around the one-minute mark that we’ve been seeing the same bag each time.

“We insisted on manufacturing domestic,” was bold, admirable, it might even be good business, but you need to defend it against the obvious: most garment manufacturers went overseas years ago.

A recent Planet Money podcast explored the current nonexistence of patent or copyright protection for fashion designs in the United States. How will you defend your one product line from competition and copycats?

Where this presentation really fell through was in the Question and Answer session. You appeared–there is no gentle way to put this–unprepared. A judge asked: “How many bags have been sold so far?” Your answer was: “Probably about 1,000.” Nope. “Probably” and “about” are vague words on their own, but combined they make whatever comes next meaningless. The CEO of McDonald’s can tell investors he or she has sold “Billions and Billions” of hamburgers, but you needed a precise number: “We’ve sold 950 bags so far.” (That’s okay, by the way. It would have been okay if you’d only sold 90 bags so far. You’re in a startup competition. It’s nothing to be bashful about.) But I think you were nervous about your answer, because your entire answer was: “Probably about 1000. I’m totally unprepared for any technology questions.” Please banish the phrase “I’m totally unprepared for…” from your on-stage vocabulary. A four-digit number is not technology. You’re the founder, and you need solid statistics. Have your husband give you pop quizes if that helps you prepare next time. “What are your gross margins?” You’ve got them. “What were your revenues last quarter?” Up goes the chart. You’re good at facts and figures–after all, you knew that $100 and under constitutes 46% of the market for handbags. If you don’t know your own data, it gives the impression that the business side of your business isn’t interesting to you, and that will alarm investors no matter how much passion and enthusiasm you show them.

Do you know the lifespan/ wearability of your products? That’s tricky market research, but you’re the one who introduced the notion of planned obsolescence.

The Judge had you there with the observation: “It’s sort of a one-and-done product” Your answer is good: rawhide, denim, etc., but if people want different colors and textiles then the one bag they bought gives the lie to your sales pitch of “the only bag you need.” “Interchangeable handles” is a good step: "Accessorize your accessories."