How To Pitch A Product

I've said a bunch of times on this blog that the perfect pitch is a very short intro to provide context followed immediately by a demo. Last night at the NY Tech Meetup, John Britton of our portfolio company Twilio showed how it is done. If you do a lot of pitches, spend the six minutes to watch this.

Watch live streaming video from nytechmeetup at livestream.com

It sure helps to write code live if you are pitching to developers. John got a big nod from the audience for doing that.

But the important point is that when you show your product live in front of people, they can get what you are doing way faster than working through a bunch of slides. Kudos to John for an excellent pitch. Apparently Business Insider called it "the best demo we've ever seen."

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. sumit_mehrotra

    For a developer oriented product writing code, even if it is “Hello World” is the way to go (personal experience). It shows that not only is the product so easy to use to that you can do a ‘live’ demo, but also is in workable state and is not vapor-ware. Vapor-ware deters a developer audience like nothing else. Again personal experience presenting the same thing with slideware and as a live demo. 🙂

  2. marfi

    John delivered! Great pitch and a great service, nothing more to add!

  3. Djachao

    wow , this made me want to write some twillio apps. It’s an amazing way to connect with the audience.

  4. John Britton

    It’s really funny because when I started working on the demo I had a full slide deck. Each time I practiced I eliminated a slide or two until there was nothing left. At that point I decided to just show the site and start coding.*edit*If you want to learn more about Twilio, join us for a Meetup. We’ve got one happening in NYC on August 24.Also this post is onThe front page of Reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/cx…The front page of Hacker News: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1577340Thanks everyone for the kind words!John Britton – http://www.johndbritton.com

    1. reece

      awesome job, John. you’re a natural.great work engaging the audience and really showing off your product.

    2. brmore

      Nicely done, sir.

    3. John Britton

      If you’re interested in learning more about Twilio, join us for a Meetup. We’ve got one happening in NYC on August 24.

    4. ShanaC

      I was there. I loved it. I have no idea what you are going to do with my phone number now, but I loved every moment of it. And you have a great personality to do what you did, which was cutting edge in the way of a presentation.

      1. John Britton

        I’m not going to do anything with your phone number. You have my word.

        1. ShanaC

          Thank you for being a gentleman.

    5. Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg

      I have to say, it was really surprising (in a good way) to see you linked to on one of my daily reads! From the GSoC to “BEST DEMO EVAH!!!” in 3 short years… amazing! I hope Flat World knows what they’re missing now that you’ve moved on!Kudos John! And I’ll just echo the sentiment made elsewhere in these comments: you’ve now excited the Zivtech crew to move to OpenVBX/Twilio for our phone needs, and made us want to start developing some phone apps to go along with the rest of our tool chest. Perhaps I can show you the demo we’re working on for our new OSS application next time I’m up in the Rotten Apple, and yes, I will bribe you with food and beer.

      1. John Britton

        (duplicate comment)

      2. John Britton

        I really do owe a lot to Google Summer of Code and to my mentoring organization Gallery. The program is great and run by great people, I must shout out to the Google Open Source Programs Office, Leslie Hawthorn, Cat Allman, Carol Smith, Ellen Ko, and the others I may have forgotten to list are all awesome and are making a difference in a lot of Open Source communities.

      3. John Britton

        Thanks Alex!If I were to accept bribes, food and beer would suffice. Definitely let me know the next time you’re up here. I might be down in Philly some time this summer, if I am I’ll be sure to swing by ZivTech.

      4. Bfelix

        Yes, yes, we know, we know. Thanks for rubbing it in, Alex 🙂

    6. Mark Essel

      John, you had me at nano.we use twilio for garagedollar.com and it works flawlessly.

      1. John Britton

        “You had me at nano.”Best. Quote. Ever.

    7. Taylor Davidson

      Was there, loved the demo, stoked to see Fred highlight it. Who wouldn’t love it?

    8. Nate Westheimer

      John, you did a great job.

      1. John Britton

        Thanks Nate!

      2. fredwilson

        whoa. Nate’s in the house. nice to see you here Nate. nice job with the meetup this week.

        1. Nate Westheimer

          Always in the house in spirit, Fred, but always reading via my mobile reader on the train and no way to comment.You know what Disqus needs to let me do? Email a link to your post to Disqus and post it as a comment for me (like I’m doing now for my followup comment). I wish I could seed my first comment via email too.

  5. Barrie Robinson

    Great pitch John!

  6. wordpress themes

    Seems very Cool for Pitch .That’s the good Point. show your product live in front of people

  7. RichardF

    props to John for doing a great live demo because live so often goes wrong even when you think you have the bases covered.Twilio have a really nice api.

  8. kagilandam

    This is the kind of pitch gives a learning for others.There is thing called “Dumbwaiter pitch” by Umair … which i felt was total nonsense. Explain your company in one-sentence…the same thing happened during my thesis defense…One of the examiner asked me explain your thesis in one-line (I got so pissed off…bloody u do a thesis burning your brain and ass for 5-yeas and this guy coming and asking me to tell in one sentence). I kept quite for sometime thinking about what to answer… he again asked with a big smile on his face … I told him”Read my 230-page thesis report”.My thesis guide had a good laugh…i could not because i was on stage and being examined.

    1. Ed Freyfogle

      “TLDR” is the unfortunate reality of mass communication in the world of info overload.The ability to succinctly summarize and convey complexity is key. Hence, the power of this presentation. He was showing, not telling. I didn’t have to read anything.http://www.urbandictionary….

    2. Alex Murphy

      I know this frustration. This is ultimately why great companies have great people/groups/departments playing different roles. One for the detail and how everything works, one for the vision and where you are going, one to bridge the gap between the first two, and one to tell others all about it in a way that envokes emotion and passion for the product/service. It is tough, especially on the spot if you are the detail person that has built all of the underlying pieces to get the one sentence summary, but every book, thesis etc has a title, you can start there.

      1. kagilandam

        Yes I understand that. But this was a technical defense platform where he was supposed to ask me how i did it and how it works. Anyhow I had my day on the occasion … the examiner got furious and started taking me down on basic physics and stripped me down on the stage…. with all perspiration I finally escaped with the statement…”A new data acquisition scheme for MRI scanner”.

  9. Frank Denbow

    I have known about Twillio for a while but this just gets me excited again to develop something using their API.

  10. johndodds

    Utility trumps “potential” every time.

  11. harscoat

    And thx Fred for sharing – helps us learn

  12. DonRyan

    Epic pitch. Nothing better than showing the product in use. Great job.

  13. Daniel Hepper

    Great pitch! I found that demos that somehow connect the virtual with the real world (like making a phone ring) work quite well.If you plan to do live coding, don’t underestimate how long it takes to show something meaningful.

  14. markslater

    great demo -its telling what the first question was! “what can i use it for”.I’m still struggling through the use cases – clearly you have cracked the plumbing – whats the killer app?best of luck and great demo.

    1. RichardF

      my impression was it’s the plumbing that they want to provide Mark. Like Clickatell or mblox but with voice as well.

  15. CliffElam

    It is striking, as always, how much work goes into a “simple” demo.Interesting that there was 0 description of how this powers businesses. Maybe the wrong forum, but I always used to try to make sure that was fused in – you never know who is in the audience.-XC

  16. Alex Murphy

    Simple and to the point. Best kind of demo there is and perfect for the audience.This took me back to what I think is the most famous line of any computer ever … “shall we play a game?”

  17. kenberger

    If you hang out at MIT Media Lab, you’ll frequently see the mantra “Demo or Die”. Seems to be the point here.

  18. jeffyablon

    Or in old sales parlance:-Show The Sizzle, Not The Steak-Don’t Tell Me What It Is, Tell Me What It DoesErr . . . but I agree with the guy who asked “Why do I need it?”And: John Really did do himself and his company proud.Jeff YablonPresident & CEOAnswer Guy and Virtual VIP Computer Support, Business Change Coaching and Virtual Assistant ServicesAnswer Guy and Virtual VIP on Twitter

  19. Eric Friedman

    Excellent demo – tell the story and let the product show itself.

  20. Bfelix

    John firmly defined his role as “developer evangelist” with that excellent demo. Awesome.I also find it interesting that the more “raw” the demo (using ssh, nano, writing PHP from scratch) the more the techie crowd eats it up. Zend/Textmate/fancy IDE with hidden SFTP would not have been as exciting.

  21. Morgan Warstler

    It is just such a killer platform, so much fun. We need to get it hooked into TV commercial creation. So cool.

    1. John Britton

      That’s a great idea, I’d love to see someone start doing that.

  22. akita16384

    Can someone share this on youtube already?Livestream is choppy tonight. 🙁

    1. John Britton

      I don’t have the video, only LiveStream has the original, seems to be working better now.

  23. baba12

    I only wish Twilio would be more transparent in letting it be known that there is realty nothing that is “Open” about their Open VBX product. Also they can be transparent that they run their services on Amazon EC2 and on top of Asterisk.I would think USV being a investor would demand that of their portfolio company being how they have presented themselves to the world at large.I am not sure this pitch was to raise funds but more to show what Twilio is about.But interesting that a San Fran company was able to get on a New York Tech meetup event.

    1. daryn

      How is Open VBX not “open” to you? You can download the source, customize to your heart’s content, and run it on your own servers. Yes, it uses the twilio cloud, but I don’t see how that is an issue.As far as using AWS and/or Asterisk, Jeff Lawson used to talk about this more often, but I think it is a distraction from the main twilio value prop. As a user, knowing about the backing infrastructure may fulfill some curiosity, but what is important is the API/interface that you use, behind that, if it’s a black box shouldn’t matter. I’d imagine that many of the pieces on the backend have and will be rewritten and swapped out as the company grows.

    2. Danielle Morrill

      We have always been extremely open about our architecture using Asterisk, EC2 and S3 – check out this presentation on Slideshare *from 2 years ago* for a rundown of how it works:http://www.slideshare.net/twilio/twilio-voice-a…The idea that in order for something to be truly open, the entire stack must be open is preposterous. OpenVBX is absolutely open and open-source. It requires Twilio on the backend to do all the awesome things it does (like provision phone numbers on the fly) – but you certainly could rip all that out and replace with your own backend solution if you really wanted to. People don’t do that because it is hard, and they aren’t telephony experts. That’s why we created the company. Both the OpenVBX.org and Twilio.com are very straightforward about these things – and if you have feedback on how we can communicate that more clearly I’d love to hear it here, or at [email protected]-Danielle @ Twilio

      1. baba12

        Thanks for your response. That presentation may cover the facts that Asterisk is used on a EC2 platform, but me being a person with technical skills was able to figure out what maybe making the twilio engine work is one thing. I don’t think it is transparent on your website that the twilio stack runs on top of Asterisk and is powered by EC2. Possibly this is not something you need to reveal unless asked for by a customer and that is fair.Sure OpenVBX is fully open source but it relies heavily on Twilio. If you choose to use something else with that it may not necessarily function the way it does with Twilio. That information is not made available openly but I am guessing it is buried somewhere in the pages within openvbx.org or at twilio.My point was that Fred Wilso is big on transparency and he tends to lead by example and I was just noting that one of USV’s portfolio companies may not be as transparent as one would like it to be. It is like the terms and conditions of a credit card are clear and available but it is 200 pages long and in 6 point font. Similarly I thought twilio was stating the truth and being transparent possibly but it does not come through unless one digs deep and still you find that there are shades of grey not black and white. Still thanks for responding and trying to explain Twilio’s position.

        1. jeffiel

          Hi Baba,Not to beat a dead horse, but we are pretty transparent about OpenVBX:http://openvbx.org/how-it-w…Noting very clearly that it’s built on Twilio’s Pay-As-You-Go service in a large font.-jefftwilio.com

        2. fredwilson

          i think you are off base in your critique Baba. no double standard going on here

    3. fredwilson

      i don’t understand your comment. what is not open about openVBX?

  24. daryn

    You know I’m a huge twilio fan, but that aside, John did an amazing job.I do think some pitches work better as slides, if the product is very complex and you want to get your high-level message across, but in general, it’s always great to demo something live, whether it is as extreme as writing code, or just clicking through some live screens.

  25. ShanaC

    I was there.First you have this good looking Nerd Guy walk on stage in a t-shirt.Suddenly he is narrating as he writes code. It turns out that the code he shows to the audience is the easiest possibly code to read (it’s xml labeled things that you know already, conference, call, etc.)Suddenly my phone is ringing in my hands. And I was sitting there totally incredulous. And that is why it is an amazing demo. You got to play along with the presenter, joke around with him at his practical jokes…Let’s put it this way:The guy after him lucked out that he also had some wicked cool tech. Otherwise I would have freaked being after that.

    1. fredwilson

      john blogged about why this demo worked so well on his bloghttp://www.johndbritton.com…he echoes a few of your themes Shana

      1. ShanaC

        I saw it. he didn’t mention that he was a gentleman about it (see commentbelow about my phone number, gah) He should take some credit and mentionthat he’s being good with the phone numbers.

  26. Senith MBA tutor

    Excellent pitch!

  27. Guest

    If I could find someone who agrees to pay Twilio .03 cents for every INCOMING SMS message, then I’d care about their APIs and Pitch capabilities. ‘Til then, I can’t fathom their business model as being applicable to any real world businesses — Just a bunch of Developers hovering around, building prototypes that never gain financial traction.Perhaps their voice services are better? But, when it comes to their text services, it’s unrealistic.Delivering a great pitch does not necessarily equate to delivering a great revenue generating business. But, it can help you raise Dollars from other people.

    1. fredwilson

      they will fix this issue.

  28. Jake Howerton

    Twilio is an awesome concept but they seem hamstrung by their pricing model. Right now they are charging 600% above fair market rate for minutes, so most applications on their platform have to be really high value interactions, IVRs or robocalls.Are they making the bet that these calls are going to outweigh human-to-human calls in the future? Hopefully not. Ideally they would create a marketplace where any provider can provide DIDs, terminations and routing through the other side for their API customers, but then they would have to pivot on their pricing model.If they do this, they could kill it. If not someone will solve this problem and all their existing customers will flee the price gouging because the solution is the same for both segments of the market.

    1. fredwilson

      they know this and are working to fix it

  29. Chris Brisson

    Great demo John! Quickly shows the power of their system. Pretty simple and easy system 🙂

  30. Nate Westheimer

    Fred, let me tell you, after hosting the event for 20 months and coaching over 150 demoers, John has taken it to the top. You got a great guy in a great company there.

    1. fredwilson

      he’s a natural for sure.

      1. John Britton

        Thanks guys!

  31. CollegeHippo

    Not many VC’s would appreciate a tech demo like this but looking at the audience, it could’nt be better.Awesome demo. Love the product.Not sure if something of less magnitude can be done while pitching to VC ? 🙂

  32. TarekP

    Great pitch, great energy and great humor.Especially humorous was the part where only the non-AT&T phones rang. Us ‘front running’ iPhone addicts sat sulking with busy signals and perpetual lag.

  33. Keenan

    Fred, the folks at Techstars Boulder could have given a clinic on this. Investor Day was today and most of them did a fantastic job, quick, to the point, intriguing, informative and engaging.It was a great 3 hours.

    1. fredwilson

      i am sorry i missed it

  34. andyidsinga

    that is sofaking awesome!

  35. RJ Johnston

    A demo by which many others will be measured. Very nice, thank you for highlighting it.

  36. Emily Merkle

    How about eliminating the term “pitch” from our collective vocabulary and use “introduction”, “presentation”, or somesuch?

  37. Peter Beddows

    Fred: Don’t know if you have seen this yet since it has just been posted but “How Your Smartphone Will Transform Your Elevator Pitch” by Michael Schrage (MIT) in a HBR blog adds yet another dimension to this discussion at http://bit.ly/bwRV5o. Worth a read I think.