Thoughts on startups by investors that
fund them & entrepreneurs that run them

6 Tips For Entrepreneurs Who Think They Can Dance

I’m not much of a television person, but my family loves one of the popular “reality” shows, called “So You Think You Can Dance,” so I’m sort of forced to watch it every week. Over time, I’ve concluded that even startup entrepreneurs can learn a few things from this one. Of course, you must ignore the pomp and circumstance of the TV staging.

I’m on the selection committee of our local Angels group, so I know that every CEO approaching our group for funding goes through ten minutes of creative “dancing,” to give us a basis for selecting startups that are most qualified and “ready” to proceed to the next level. If selected, they go through it again in the real meeting of 40-60 investors. It’s tough and not fun for either side.

The business “dance” obviously has different particulars than TV dancing, but there is serious business and artistry involved in both cases. Here are some observations I can offer to startup founders looking for funding, analogous to the aspiring dancers on the show, hoping to move to the next level:

  1. Judges evaluate the person first. Investors want to look the CEO in the eye, and be convinced that he or she can lead the company to success – it’s more important than the creative idea. On the TV show, I’m sure you all see contenders that have lost before they start, just because they lack the enthusiasm, presence, and confidence of a winner.
  2. You only get a few minutes to make the case. In fact, your case is usually won or lost in the first couple of minutes. In business, as on the show, wins can turn to a loss if you bungle or skip relevant basics in the short time allotted. Everyone wants a longer time or second chance to win you back, but it would rarely ever change anything.
  3. Skip the bravado, but don’t be immobilized with fear. I subscribe to a quote from another TV show too old to mention, where the hero said “He who is not afraid – he’s a fool.” Let your adrenalin help you deliver an outstanding performance, but trying to wow investors with jokes or stories of unending success will not move you up a level.
  4. Play to the audience in front of you, and adapt your message. If the panel is looking for value and return for the investor, skip the technology pitch, or customer sales pitch. Some entrepreneurs give the same talk, no matter what the audience. If you have only one dance, don’t be surprised if it wears thin quickly with the judges.
  5. Dress appropriately and professionally. Under-dressed may impress on TV, but it’s better to be over-dressed in the business world. Business casual is the standard for investor presentations. Remember that most investors are from a generation where faded and torn jeans were on the wrong side of success in business.
  6. Practice, practice, practice. Even if you are an experienced dancer, you practice your craft with renewed determination before a big show. Business entrepreneurs need to do the same thing, maybe in “presidential debate” style with their team of critics, until they master the timing and can handle every unanticipated slip or challenge.

Even though I’m certainly no expert on dancing (I’ve taken Beginning Ballroom Dancing three times now), most of the reviews I have seen call the TV show realistic, with the panel of judges giving reasonable critical and technical feedback. That’s a welcome relief from Donald Trump’s pompous calls on “Celebrity Apprentice.”

Depending on one’s perspective, this economic surge is either the perfect time or an awful one to start a business. So, if you plan to face a business version of the dancing challenge soon, watch the show and check the recommendations above. Show some energy and enthusiasm, and don’t let the technical steps required overshadow your creativity. Break a leg!

Written by Martin Zwilling

user Martin Zwilling Founder and CEO,
Startup Professionals

Martin is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and angel investor. He is the Founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides products and services to startup founders and small business owners.

prev next

You might also be interested in

What Belongs in a Startup’s Pitch Deck?

So you’ve developed a game-changing product, formed a business with a killer team, quit your job, and are rolling the product out to market. Your business is the next unicorn, and all is good in the world. Fantastic. Now only one thing is inhibiting your company’s growth: you have no money.

For many founders of high-growth startups, bootstrapping has limits.

Read more >

From Accelerators to Venture Capital: What is best for your startup?

With startup growth up 61% since 2014 and more investment programs emerging, it can be overwhelming for founders to know just where to jump in. As the most startup-friendly accelerator on the planet, MassChallenge has helped 835 startup companies around the world, who have raised over $1.1 billion in funding and created over 6,500 jobs. We have seen startups at

Read more >

Ask A Founder: Startup Lessons Learned from Work Truck Solutions’ Kathryn Schifferle

Kathryn Schifferle, Founder and CEO of Work Truck Solutions, turned being a woman in work trucks into an oversubscribed $2.1 million round.

We sat down with Kathryn as she shared what her fundraising journey was like, the startup lessons she learned, and her advice to fellow founders, especially women. Here is what she had to say:

HK: Tell

Read more >

Valuation Part I: Peeling the Onion, or How Top Investors Value the Startups They Invest In

Update 2017: To help you understand how your startup will look to investors according to this methodology, we’ve created a fundraising feedback tool that will give you investor-level insight into your startup’s performance. In just about 15 minutes, it will tell you how much money your startup is likely to raise, where you can find that capital, and what to

Read more >

Trying to Raise Money? Thinking About Gust for Startup Fundraising?

How to Make Your Gust Account Stand Out to Investors

Before you read any further, I want you to know that I’ve personally used Gust to raise money for my first tech startup. I know a lot of other entrepreneurs who use or have used Gust to seek funds, but their profiles don’t always get attention from investors. Below are

Read more >