The art & science of getting your idea voted at Startup Weekend

The Art (or Science?!) of getting your idea voted at SW and then winning….every time!!

This is a post by Maulik Doshi, Langoor’s Chief Business Officer for the Startup Weekend. Maulik & Team were the winners of Startup Weekend 2012 and now he is one of the organizers of this event. He has a 100% pitch selection record.

Republished with permission from – Startup Weekend

The point is, it all comes down to the pitch. No, honestly, it does. So far, I’ve pitched 4 ideas at SW (2 ideas the first time I took part and 2 ideas the second time) and every single one has got voted into the top 10 (out of at least 100 ideas pitched each time). It’s rare for someone to get their idea voted. Extremely rare for someone to get both their ideas voted, both times!

Was it the idea that was the crux? I’m not so sure. One of them was called “F@#K you” and another was about mapping and rating toilets. No one in their right minds votes for this stuff.

Dave McClure’ reaction when Maulik pitched an app named “F@#K U” based upon his presentation.

Whilst these ideas of mine were being heavily voted in, there were some world class ideas that sadly weren’t. When I sat down to think why, I realized that the difference was the way they were pitched. I’m the Chief Business Officer at Langoor ( and I make pitches for a living. If you’d care to know, here’s my two cents on what makes the difference for me:

Speak from the listener’s perspective
You’ve heard the saying “a diplomat is one who can tell you to go to hell and make you look forward to the trip.” Add another beautiful saying to that, one that I live almost daily: “don’t make your customer feel like you are selling. Make them feel like they are buying.” The moment you start thinking from the perspective of the audience, you’re also speaking from their perspective. And that makes you so, so easy to relate to.

Humor is almost always a game-changer. Sadly, you can’t force it onto people. In our case (as those making the pitch), sadly you can’t force it into people.

You only have 60 seconds to make your pitch. Not enough time to constantly keep people cracking jokes. Make 1 or 2. Make them count. Make sure they’re related to what you’re saying. Thrust it in at a place/time that the audience never expected it. If you want to crack genuinely good jokes, you should know this: humor is nothing but lateral thinking. Go figure.

Surprise / Intrigue
Speaking with a drab and boring tone will kill the attention of even the best listeners. Make sure that when you slip in your idea, it drops everyone’s jaws by at least half a millimeter :-)
It could be the most boring idea of the world but you don’t really have to convey it like that.

Problem Statement
Your audience needs to have a clear idea of the problem before knowing how you’re going to solve it. If your problem is obscure and not necessarily one that the masses suffer from, you would do well to give the audience a fair idea of it first.

Build Up / Clincher
There’s a reason that a musical composition builds up into its crescendo. You’ve got to imbibe that in your pitch. Don’t jump to your best points immediately. Mix them around. First the bait, then the hook and finally the sinker. There shouldn’t be a moment that your audience wants to look away at something more interesting. There should be no moment where the previous moment was more interesting.

Leave your audience with a clincher or hook that they will latch onto and easily relate to you with. This comes in ridiculously handy for when it comes to the moment of truth where they need to vote for you. The aim shouldn’t be that they are going through the list and put a check mark against your name or idea. The aim should be to have them search for your name and idea so that they can put a check mark against it.

Basic hygiene points

  • Modulate your voice.
  • Animate when you speak (maybe consider using some simple prop – this will usually help you sidestep any nervousness you may feel).
  • Make eye contact with everyone (not just the people sitting right in front of you)
  • Work on your body language. Be affable and open.
  • Actually care about your pitch.
  • If you’re not a regular public speaker, practice to your last iota of energy in front of a mirror.
  • Do some trial pitches with your friends, take their feedback and incorporate it.
  • Be audible (at least 80% of the speakers miss this one)
  • Be coherent (at least 90% of the speakers miss this one)
  • Be a winner (at least 99% of the speakers miss this one)
  • Go out there knowing that you’re going to win. Don’t pray for it. Don’t hope for it. Know it.

I hope this helps you guys.

Critique/ commentary on this post is very welcome too.

Abuse in private, praise in public ;)

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