• 5 Tips to Perfect Your 30-Second Pitch

    By: Preeti Narang, Steering Committee Member

    With three years and countless pitchfests under our belts, TechSparks has seen a wide range of pitch styles.
    Here are tips from some of the best: 

    1) Forget Memorization 

    You only have 30-seconds or a quick elevator ride and you don’t want to forget anything, so most people memorize and over practice their pitches. Once the lights are on, you are on stage and everyone is watching you, nerves kick in and things start to go haywire when you miss a word or a memorized cue. At TechSparks we encourage you to stop and try again (maybe with a beer in hand to relax a bit).  

    2) Try Bullet Points  

    Instead of word-for-word memorization, practice by listing out 3 key bullet points with topics that you want to address. When it’s time for the pitch, all you have to remember are the 3 key points you want to talk about which will then free you to stay on topic, as well as speak naturally and bring some personality and life into the presentation. 

    3) Just a little bit about yourself 

    Right now, it’s not about you, it’s about the idea. Share just enough to provide a point of reference or to help the listener relate your expertise to the idea you are about to share. Your introduction helps set the stage for your pitch and depending on what you share can help or hurt your cause. Often times, at TechSparks we’ve seen presenters confuse the audience by spending too much time talking about their professional background which doesn’t have anything to do with the idea being presented. 

    3) Relate or Share a Story 

    Boil down complicated ideas with a leading question (i.e. have you ever experienced x?) or short story (i.e. imagine you are an x), this will quickly engage the audience and get them up to speed with the problem you are addressing. The best pitches we have seen clearly and quickly describe the problem in the market and explain the solution with a frame of reference for the audience, such as, “our product is like the Uber for x.”  

    4) Less is More 

    When you are on stage presenting, time is a cruel enemy and 30-seconds feels like 3. The best strategy is to stick to the basics that are relevant to your story and your goals. Although it’s tempting to  throw lot’s of details to support your pitch, it gets confusing to the audience and eats away your precious time. Stick to the old adage, when it doubt, leave it out. 

    5) Network to Loosen Up 

    As an introvert, I know that when you have to get on stage to present, it’s hard to focus on anything else before you complete your mission. One of the strategies that works to help me is to network and talk to a few people before I get up and present. By redirecting my inward attention to meeting someone new and learning something new, I both distract myself and make it easier once I get up and present because now I know a couple people in the room.  

  • New Year, New Logo, New Ideas

    New Year, New Logo, New Ideas

    Welcome to 2014! 

    As you know, Holden Bonwit and I came up with the idea for TechSparks in early 2013. It was an idea, which turned into more ideas. Since launching in May, we've tried a lot of different things and tried to figure out who we are as an organization and what role we play in the community. While we're still a fledging startup group, here are some things we discovered about TechSparks in 2013:

    1. TechSparks is about ideas. 

    The core component of our events has become the TechSparks Fast Pitch, a casual 30-second elevator pitch contest where entrepreneurs can present their ideas, products or companies. All participants must be under 10K users and $10K in annual revenue. We've attracted some really interesting seed stage ideas in a diverse range of industries and different stages of development. At our events, we allow the attendees to vote on their favorite pitch. Winning is great, but it's not everything. There is one little perk though, since the winner gets a meeting with a local Pasadena influencer to get feedback on their ideas. The awesome thing about Pasadena is that we have so many accomplished tech veterans. In 2013, our winners scored meetings with Tom McGovern, Managing Director of New Ventures at Idealab, Andy Wilson, CEO of Rexter and Co-Chair of Innovate Pasadena, and Beau Laskey, Partner at SVB Capital. The meetings are to get advice, find resources and connect with the Pasadena community. We want to create more opportunities for entrepreneurs to share their ideas and get feedback in a safe forum and hope to expand on what we've started in 2014. 

    2. TechSparks is about entrepreneurship. 

    In our year-end survey, we found that about 50% of our attendees are entrepreneurs starting or running their own businesses and another 50% were people thinking about starting their own businesses. TechSparks is a place to learn about entrepreneurship and get the ball rolling. This year, we hope to connect you to resources that can help you, which is why we've decided to expand our partnership with CoFoundersLab in 2014. 

    3. TechSparks is about experimentation. 

    Since our first event in May 2013, we've changed at least one major thing at each of our monthly events. We tried different formats of pitches, changed up the room format, and run special promotions to attract specific crowds (interns, college students, etc.). It may have been confusing, but we also found it really fun. As entrepreneurs, we're always looking to test ideas and see if they work. TechSparks, because it was started by a bunch of entrepreneurs, has turned into an amplified version of that. We'll continue to change things as we go. To see what works, how we can make it better, where we should head next. The first thing we've changed in 2014 is our logo color! We thought we'd mix it up and make it a blue year. 

    I think 2014 is going to be another year of big ideas! Stay tuned...

    Jennifer Chang

    TechSparks Steering Commitee

  • 12 Networking Tips for Interns

    It's summer, and for many startups, that means the arrival of bright-eyed, eager young interns joining the offices for the summer. For our July SparkUp, TechSparks is extending an invite to all Pasadena-area interns to join our Pasadena Tech Community. This is a great opportunity for interns to learn more about the vibrant tech scene here in Pasadena, as well as for the rest of us to learn about the trends impacting young people. 

    I shared the following tips on business networking with the Idealab Summer Intern Program, and I thought I'd share them on our website as well. These are just my perspectives on networking gained from two tours in business school, three summer internships and countless networking events. If you'd like to add some tips as well, please leave a comment to share it with our interns. 

    Tip #1: Be Your Real Self.

    Networking is about building relationships, and all relationships are built on trust. So the worst way to start any relationship is to fake it. Be real, and let people get to know the real you. In this era of social media, it's pretty hard to pretend to be something you're not anyhow. Also, networking is not just about work and business. Often, you'll build a connection with someone due to personal interests, but that trust will then carry over into business as well. While I don't suggest talking about hot topics like politics or religion until you know someone better, you should feel free to talk about your family and friends, your hobbies and your interests.  

    Tip #2 : Take Inventory of What You Bring to the Table.

    Many people, especially young people, are intimidated by the idea of approaching others because they think, "Why would this bigshot want to talk to me?" That's a great question, and you should really think about that. Why would someone want to talk to you? Take inventory of all of the things you bring to the table. For our interns, I particularly want to stress that you bring a lot to a conversation. You have a different perspective on technology as a young person, you can connect entrepreneurs to your talented classmates who are looking for jobs, etc. Everyone brings something to the table. Be aware of what your value proposition is and take confidence in the fact that people want to meet you. 

    Tip #3: Find Commonalities. 

    It's one of the most basic human characteristics to want to be around those who share commonalities. I'm not advising that you go through a checklist to see if you have anything in common. Usually, these things will come up in conversation naturally, but it's also a smart practice to think about what the people at a specific event may have in common with you. Perhaps you go to a school in the area. Others are likely to have gone to that school. Bring it up. When others bring up things that you share, make sure to mention your connection to that as well. And don't drop it there - keep the conversation going. 

    Tip # 4: Interested is Interesting.

    Really engage in your conversations with others and listen to what they're saying. People like people who are interested in what they're saying. Don't you? If you don't understand something, ask them to explain it. The great thing about the tech industry is that it's filled with all kinds of geeks. Geeks are awesome because they're really interested and passionate about they do. Keep asking questions. You'll learn something and expand your network, as well. 

    Tip #5: Don't Limit Your Network.

    I really started hitting the ground networking when I was starting my first company. My sole purpose was to find sales targets, and I would often get frustrated when I got stuck talking to someone who I realized was not going to be a potential customer. This event is only 2 hours long! Why am I talking to you?!! However, over time, I learned that every interaction has value. While someone may not be a potential customer, they may be able to introduce you to someone, teach you something new, give you constructive feedback, become a mentor or sponsor, and/or just turn out to be an awesome new friend. Network with an open mind. Maybe someone can't help you in that moment, but you never know where life will take you, especially in tech where things move quickly.

    Tip #6: Connect People.

    Perhaps you meet someone who's not directly relevant to your business or interests, but they're a cool person and you know someone who may be in a position to help them. Why don't you provide an introduction? Being a connector is a powerful position. It costs you very little to send an email or make a phone call, but the reward is high. People tend to keep connectors close and will be eager to provide a favor since they know connectors will likely pay it back. Also, I like to think there's something called "network karma." Put good energy out there and watch it come back tenfold. 

    Tip #7: Your Network is Everywhere.

    Don't just limit yourself to networking events. Your network is comprised of people, and people are everywhere. I find that some of the best places to find worthwhile business contacts are places that require waiting, such as airports, airplanes, parking lots and elevators. These are empty minutes where are you can't do anything all that productive. The story of how Media Temple became a sponsor of TechSparks is another great example of this. I was stuck in the valet waiting area at the Montgomery Tech Conference for an hour and half. I was outside of the conference, but I knew that most of the people also in the valet waiting area were probably people in tech. So I started going around and introducing myself to people. One of them turned out to be Todd Greene, VP of Marketing for Media Temple. When MT joined as a sponsor, we had the funds to launch our first SparkUp and a great Steering Committee member, Mark Medina. Just because the event is over doesn't mean that the networking opportunity is over. 

    Tip #8: Check In. Tweet. Make Your Presence Known.

    Social media is an awesome tool for networking. I rarely tweet in my day-to-day life, but when I'm at a big event, I beeline for the hashtag and post something right away, even if it's just a "At @TechSparks #SparkUp." It's a great way to bring people to you. People can check the tweetstream, look up profiles for people in the area, and then come looking for you, rather than the other way around. I also use location-based apps like Highlight and Circle so that people know I'm in the vicinity. You can also check-in and make your presence known via Foursquare or Facebook. If you're at an event looking for specific types of people, post that. Make your presence known so people can find you. 

    Tip #9: Follow Up. 

    Networking events are only the beginning of the conversation. It's important to continue building and mainitaining relationships beyond. I recommend collecting business cards and then taking some time the day after the event to follow up. Follow up can be as simple as looking up the people you met on LinkedIn and adding them to your network. This will send a message to the person and remind them that they met you at the event. Also, now that you're connected on LinkedIn, you have that contact within reach for the future. Another good practice is to take notes on the business cards as reminders. For example, say you spoke to someone who you promised to connect to someone else. Take note of that on the card so that you're reminded to send them an email during your follow up time. 

    Tip #10: Ask People Out. 

    Networking is a lot like dating, but with the purpose of business rather than something romantic. It is completely appropriate to ask people you meet at an event out to lunch or for a coffee. If anything, I highly recommend it. The one-on-one time is a great way to get to know someone better and build a relationship. I especially encourage interns to request lunches and coffee dates so that you can dig deeper into potential career paths and companies that interest you. 

    Tip #11: Remember You Are Your Brand. 

    You are your brand. Like Pepsi and Disney, you need to be aware that your reputation. Be careful to maintain the image that you want to convey - trustworthy, reliable, honest, etc. And be wary of associating with people who damage your brand. Like I said in Tip #1, all relationships are built on trust, and it's important to convey a positive brand image. Follow through on your commitments, respond to emails, be accesible and put good energy out. All of this will echo through your network and their networks.

    Tip #12: Take Advantage of This Opportunity.

    Take advantage of this opportunity! Being an intern is awesome. So awesome, in fact, that I've actually done 3 summer internships and would do more if I could. Generally speaking, people want to help interns learn. Email the CEO of your company and ask them if they'd be willing to take some time to meet with you. While that may not be time they'd offer to just anyone, for the intern, they just might. In fact, when I was an intern at Apple, there were urban legends that some interns tried this with Steve Jobs and actually got meetings! Students have a much easier time getting access to people. I actually met the owner of Barney's Beanery, one of the TechSparks sponsors, when I was an MBA student and was writing a paper for my entrepreneurship class. David Houston was generous with his time, and I got the opportunity to learn about his entrepreneurial journey. As luck would have it, our paths crossed again when I started TechSparks. Take full advantage of your current situation because unfortunately, you'll eventually have to graduate. 

    Hope you enjoyed my tips, and can't wait to see you all at our next #SparkUp on Wednesday, July 17 6-8PM at Barney's Beanery!

    With SPARK!

    Jennifer Chang
    TechSparks Steering Committee Member
    Director of Strategic Marketing at Perfect Market

  • Pasadena Gets a Spark!

    Over the past decade, a change has been in the air in Los Angeles.  Specifically, in the past two years, a startup ecosystem has come about as a result of both the concerted efforts of individuals driving towards a goal, and less surely, but equally importantly by entrepreneurs who were creating their own opportunities.

    Locals have seen evidence of the change in the myriad events around town - from hackathons with prize money to pitch events open to the public, to launch parties for budding companies, energy was high.  The fervor of activities was supplemented by the launch of coworking spaces, accelerators and incubators - something only heard of a few hours up the coast in years past.  (If you somehow missed the action I'm describing, check out this slide deck of Sam Teller from LaunchPad LA / General Assembly).

    Locals weren't the only ones noticing the activity; the Startup Genome Project recently ranked Los Angeles the number three startup ecosystem in the world in 2012!  (Download the full report here.)

    Living in Highland Park, and then Pasadena, I loved going to events in the startup space, all for fun and games, and because I thought it was good to see more people trying new things, and taking risks to work for themselves.  I was very content with my work at Energy Cache (ski lifts for rocks!), but loved hearing what other incredible things were being made.  

    Unfortunately, the closest of these events were 15 minutes' Metro ride away, and the others required a rush-hour dash over to Santa Monica.  It seemed that Pasadena wasn't even a bus-stop on the route of startups in Los Angeles.
    I didn't understand at first:

    Why isn't the young, raw talent being fused and funded by local success stories to create wonderful new things?

    Then I realized something that Brad Feld reinforced in a recent talk about Startup Communities (and in his book by the same name).  Brad notes that there aren't hard and fast rules about how these discrete happenings need to occur.  Anyone can run a tiny experiment (perhaps, launch a social gathering!), take some data (see if people show up), and then continue to evolve the idea (make it a monthly meeting!).  So Jennifer Chang and I decided to start down this path earlier in 2013, right here in Pasadena.

    We've found massive support both from the other startup ecosystem evangelists, as well as from those talented individuals slowly coming out of the woodwork, talking about their projects, and taking the plunge to pursue a passion full time.  

    Pasadena has amenable conditions to thrive as a successful startup community.  It has some incredible talent, it has some money to take risks, it has great weather and year-round access to diverse outdoor landscapes.

    The sky's the limit!  Perhaps we'll follow the Long Tail of business and offer specific SparkUps events for Tangible Products, and some for WebApps, and some for Social Enterprise ventures, and some for Game Theory.  We're not sure.  But we're here to test the Social Spark Theory (that we invented)  which states that when driven, smart people play games and socialize, they will spark big ideas that change the world.

    Come to our next SparkUp and put our theory to the test!

  • Welcome to TechSparks

    An idea is a powerful thing, and all ideas stem from people. 

    In March 2013, a couple of us had an idea. Holden Bonwit and I were talking about how most of the startup events in LA are in Santa Monica. The fact is, while there is a vibrant startup community in Pasadena, as everyone knows, LA traffic is horrible, and most of us can't make the trek from Pasadena to Santa Monica by 6PM on a weeknight. This conversation sparked an idea: If we want more startup events in Pasadena, wouldn't others? 

    We decided to invite other people in the community to discuss this over lunch at Idealab. We had about 15 people show up, from all of the Idealab operating companies and from other startups in the area, to talk about the idea of starting a new organization that would put together events for the local startup community. From that informal lunch meeting on March 8, 2013, TechSparks emerged. 

    Like all great ideas, this one had a mind of its own. Soon after we decided to start TechSparks, Tom McGovern, Managing Director at Idealab, introduced to Pasadena Innovation Council, a group of entrepreneurs looking to unify the local startup community. Pasadena Innovation Council liked the idea, and we decided to form as an extension of their existing non-profit entity. Idealab also liked the idea of mobilizing our local community and jumped on as our first sponsor. The Idealab Design team helped us out with picking a name and designing a logo. A few days after our first TechSparks meeting, I serendipitiously met Media Temple's VP of Marketing, Todd Greene, in the valet parking line at the Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica. He liked the idea, and as a result of that conversation, Media Temple became a sponsor of TechSparks. When it came to picking a venue for TechSparks events, we checked out numerous locations on Colorado Blvd and really liked the 2nd floor of Barney's Beanery in Pasadena because it could accommodate our group as it grew. As chance would have it, I already knew the owner of Barney's Beanery, David Houston. When I reached out to David, I found out he is working on a tech startup called Abicam and was excited to host the Pasadena startup community at his restaurant. We rounded out our sponsors with Signworks USA, a company started by a couple of my childhood friends and that provides printing and web services to small businesses.

    I tell you this story because it's a testament to the power of an idea and demonstrates how good ideas are sparked and cultivated when people come together. That is how TechSparks came to be, and that is what we hope to accomplish by putting together these events. 

    We look forward to hosting all of you at our TechSparks Sparkups, a monthly mixer at Barney's Beanery. Sparkups won't have a formal agenda, but rather, we'd like you to come make it your own. The TechSparks Steering Committee will be responsible for providing the infrastructure - sponsors, venue, marketing, demo schedule, etc. - but TechSparks is about providing the Pasadena startup community a social forum to interact and collaborate, so that you may spark some new ideas that change the world as we know it. 

    With Spark, 

    Jennifer Chang
    Director of Strategic Marketing at Perfect Market
    Steering Committee Member of TechSparks