The Art of the Pitch: Be Direct

At Microsoft’s Silicon Valley headquarters Monday evening, a couple hundred entrepreneurs and investors gathered to schmooze, eat mashed-potato-and-roast-beef hors-d’oeuvres from martini glasses, and spend a few desultory moments looking over the eight companies on display in the middle of the meeting room. Like other networking events, Connector Showcase III promised to connect those who need money with those who have it, or those who have opportunities with those who can take advantage of them, depending on how you look at it. Some of the companies on display were Web 2.0 startups (KickApps), some were Web 2.0 nonprofits (Kiva.org), and some were just plain old-school bastions of old-fashioned electrical engineering (Plantronics).

But only one had the chutzpah to ask point-blank for the money. "Zubio is going to do for the massage market what Starbucks did for coffee," founder and CEO Sam Keller enthused, talking up his company’s online massage reservation system, its two downtown locations, and his plans for nationwide expansion, while his business partner gave free chair massages a few feet away. The posterboard behind Keller touted Zubio as "an excellent opportunity for angel investors," with a minimum investment of $10,000 — "the last chance for small investors" to get on board. When one visitor expressed interest in the company’s business, Keller was quick to go for the close: "Did you bring your checkbook?" he asked, only half joking.

Across the room, Monster Cable founder (and "head monster") Noel Leestood, an imposing 6 and a half feet tall on his Segway, rocking gentlyback and forth on his cybernetically balanced wheels. Bambi Francisco,the recently deposed Marketwatch columnist, began her introduction of the night’s product demos. In a  quiet voice she gave a modest pitch for her new startup, Vator(short for "innovator" as well as "elevator pitch," she explained).Francisco acknowledged the value, in terms of site traffic, of a majorwriteup in the Wall Street Journal, even if that writeup came afew weeks before a redesign which would, she promised, look and workmuch better than the current site. There’s no such thing as bad press,but it can come too early: A first lesson in press control for thenewly minted entrepreneur.

The demos went on, as Silicon Valley businessman Auren Hoffman(a cofounder of the company sponsoring the event) stood at the back ofthe crowd checking his BlackBery, and the schmoozing continued, more orless quietly, in the darkened corners of the room.

As the night wound down, Keller spoke happily of the event. "We’vehad several people tell us tonight that they want to invest. Of course,we’ll have to see how many of them actually work out. You never knowuntil you have the money in your hands. But we got our last biginvestor at the last one of these. It definitely works." Providedyou’re willing to ask for the money, straight up, and not beat aroundthe bush.

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The Art of the Pitch: Be Direct