Tech and startup conferences are battlefields.
Everyone attending is in the same competition. They all want to network with the investors and thought leaders of their industry. Let’s face it, even if you come completely prepared (which you won’t), you’re just one person out of hundreds all vying for face time.
Not to mention that you spent all your money on the ticket, plane and hotel for the conference and you need to get results to justify the trip.
Don’t be just another person with just another pitch.
You’ve got to be gangsta, you’ve gotta hustle and you’ve gotta do targeted recon work. Here’s how I pitched to Eric Schmidt:
Let me set the mood. It’s early June and I’m in Berlin, with the goal of attending the NOAH conference. I’m coughing up a lung, jet-lagged as hell and stuck in bed with a 101 degree fever. I’m exhausted because my Airbnb is loud, has no curtains and my mattress has springs poking out of it, but at $90 a night, it was a bargain.
I’ve been confined to the bed, missing out on other conferences and opportunities. It takes me three days of downing herbal teas and NyQuil and popping vitamins like they are going out of style!
However, I’m amped about what I came here to do—attend the NOAH conference—and nothing’s gonna stop me. I drag myself out of bed, and hustle through the streets of Berlin, which are, of course, swarming with people. It’s the Champions league final and half of Barcelona is in town.
I eventually make it to the conference and am looking forward to hearing the influential speakers like Arianna Huffington (whom I met, she’s super cool) and Oliver Samwer (Founder and CEO of Rocket Internet), but ultimately I had gotten it into my head that I would meet the main keynote Eric Schmidt so I could tell him about our startup, IdeaMarket, and get him interested in investing.
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Inspired by Keith Ferrazzi’s conference commando advice, which suggests meeting speakers in their pre-celebrity status before they hit the stage, I decide to wait in the parking lot at 1pm. A whole hour before Eric is scheduled to speak, I have big hopes of catching him on his way to the building. Unfortunately, he must have already been inside.
After that failed attempt, I go back in and listen to Eric’s speech. He talks about innovation, job creation, and startups, and his themes are revolving around IdeaMarket’s mission. He tells some great stories and gives creative examples. I’m digging it.
As he’s talking, I look around and realize I am just one out of 1000 attendees, including top investors, corporates and entrepreneurs from Germany and the rest of Europe.
But I am convinced that I can get to Eric Schmidt….
To give you a sense of the venue, it’s a round room with walkways on the outside rings. One side leads to a coat check and the other side leads to a second coat check and the speaker’s lounge. The latter, has some curtains 20 feet from the door.
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I decide to make my move.
I hear Eric finish his talk and by this time, I’ve made it past the girls at the coat check. Without thinking, I jump behind the curtains, ninja style, and wait. I hear applause and then a storm of people steering straight for the walkway leading to the lounge. I have a 20-foot lead on the rest of the crowd.
I glance from behind the curtain and see Eric walking in my direction. I take a deep breath and head towards him, only to be cut off by a Turkish guy who made it past security. He approaches Eric, hands him his card and starts talking about the ecosystem in Turkey. Eric responds with “I love Turkey” and keeps walking.
Then comes my moment of truth.
I swoop in next to Eric and say, “Mr. Schmidt, you are awesome!” He looks at me, smiles back, and says “thanks.”
This is when I start my “exit pitch.”
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I tell him about our mission at IdeaMarket and a little about myself, and he asks me a couple of questions. As we are about to go up the stairs, we get separated.Shit, I think. I lost him. But much to my surprise, when we get to the top of the stairs, Mr. Schmidt reaches over, and pulls me towards him. ”As you were saying?” he says.
We continue to chat and I tell him that we’d love to have him be part of our journey at IdeaMarket. I finish up my pitch, hand him my card and he even makes a comment about my title: Chief Innovation Evangelist. (I made it up.)
After I watch him get into his Black S550 Mercedes, I look back to see at least 150 people behind me, taking pictures, wishing they got the chance to speak with Mr. Schmidt. Amateurs.
Even though I’d been sick and at the bottom of my game, I achieved what I had come to the conference for. Even if Eric was never going to follow up or reach out, it didn't matter. I successfully accomplished my mission, and it felt powerful. I enjoyed every moment of the challenge. So Eric, if you are reading this, I hope you’re getting a laugh out of it!
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What is an Exit Pitch?
An exit pitch is different from a regular pitch in that you catch the person in their after-speech glory. Why? They’re going to be impressed that you’re the one person that got to them before everyone else. Exit pitches are made on the move! The fact that you’re both walking actually makes the conversation flow naturally. Follow these five steps to make your best exit pitch:
Do your f*&$@%$ research!
Know the person you’re trying to meet. Acknowledge something they have done or something that has inspired or impressed you, beyond them being a top investor or having invested in UBER. Comment on their interests as well, but remember, you’ve only got a few minutes...which leads me to the next point.
Have a hook and make an impression.
Your goal should be to stand out from all the other jabronies that just hand over business cards and talk about themselves. Have a story! Doing research about them will make that easier, but sometimes you have to freestyle. Making someone laugh in the first 30 seconds is a good start, but try throwing out something so ludicrous that they say, “let me wrap my head around this.” You’ll get their attention because either a light bulb just went off in their head or you said something genuinely new to them.
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Don’t be salesy or cheesy.
To sell yourself without sounding pushy, position your company’s abilities and mission as the answer to their current challenges or needs.What are you doing better than the rest of the flock of sheep? If they’ve been involved with ventures that are similar to your company’s, use that as fuel. Show that you really love what you are doing and that you’re solving a problem, not just trying to sell shit.
If you use up all of this precious time talking about yourself, the person will become annoyed and uninterested. Trust me. After you make your pitch, hear what they have to say, let them ask questions, and answer their questions. Your interaction should be a dialogue, not a monologue. Believe it or not, the act of walking actually makes this easier.
Be a Ninja!
As much as your exit pitch involves planning, be ready to change that plan at any moment. Take a little risk. I knew I wanted to catch Mr. Schmidt as he was leaving the stage, but I didn’t know exactly how I was going to do it. When I saw that curtain, I jumped behind it without thinking. Be inventive! (Just don’t do something illegal.)
With this, I have coined the “EXIT PITCH.” I would love to hear some of your exit pitch stories! Please go to Exitpitch.co and submit yours! Once we have received 100 submissions, we will pick one, feature it on our blog, and the winner will be invited to one of IdeaMarket’s ‘invite only’ monthly investor dinners. Good luck! Follow me on Twitter @Chiefdealmaker and keep a look out for the next edition of my blog post in the coming weeks.
Author Nima Adelkani