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 More information about LAUNCH events, This Week in Startups, and LAUNCH Ticker:

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Why I (we?) invested $378,000 in 


Over the past year, we’ve all read about the promise of AngelList’s Syndicate program. I’ve been shouting from the mountain tops that I think this is a revolution ( because an angel investor like myself could “jump the fence” and fully fund a founder.

Typically an angel gives $10k to $50k to a founder, which serves to kick off their fundraising process and maybe build out or improve their MVP (minimum viable product).

Founders take a high-profile angel’s name and sell it to VCs and other investors as their “social proof” that they are a serious concern. After this first Silicon Valley blessing, things tend to go well for startups. Every week, a couple of startups ping me to tell me, “We got [insert Kevin Rose/Cyan Banister/Gary Vaynerchuk/Joanne Wilson/Tim Ferriss] to commit! Can we share our plans with you?”

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Announcing LAUNCH Beacon: Retail, Location & Payments (June 16, NYC)



Every couple of years, folks like me say retail is dead, and the stats on malls seem to be proving that out -- with 15% estimated to close in the next 10 years. The stunning pictures of malls in transition, including this strip mall parking lot converted to an urban farm (, are the stuff of science fiction. Dystopian rebirth –– the street finding its own use for the past.

Yet we’re all still shopping like crazy. People still like to go out of their houses, despite the hype around the Oculus Rift that Zuck just bought for 1.3% of their stock.

As much as I love to set up “subscribe and save” on Amazon Prime, never having to think about coffee beans, soap and razors, I still like to get out of the house and take my four-year-old daughter somewhere on the weekends.

Folks are being pulled from their homes by the lure of 4D movie theaters in Los Angeles (, open spaces like Tony Hsieh’s container park in downtown Vegas (, and digital storefronts in shopping malls (

Retail, local and payments are all in massive transition.

When I sense something like this, I do two things:

1. Start writing checks as an angel investor
2. Hold a conference:

With regard to number one, I’ve invested in seven local-ish plays to date (about 10% of my investments): (sold to Facebook), (software for local businesses), (book any appointment), (find a service provider, like I just did for tennis), (urban logistics, not just cabs now that they launched Uber Rush in NYC), Red Tricycle (what to do with your kids:  and (software/services for salons and such). Links to each of these founders on This Week in Startups at the bottom of this announcement.

With regard to the conference, on June 16, I will host a one-day event in New York City (I’m coming home!) at the Metropolitan Pavilion on W. 18th Street (where I used to host Silicon Alley 99, 2000, etc).

Simple agenda: I will do demos with 10 startups that we hand select for awesomeness (not my investments FYI), two keynote/fireside chats and four partner presentations (keeping the lights on baby!). Then we will have an intimate dinner for 150.

This is a tiny event, but we hope it has great density of people who care about these issues.

How to be involved:
a) If you want to attend you can buy a ticket here:
b) If you work at a retailer in transition please ping us for an invite & feedback at
c) If you want to speak at the event you can apply here:
d) If you are broke and a founder/technologist with passion, we have 15 scholarships available for pre-funding
e) If you want to help keep the lights on and be one of the four presenting partners email
f) If you are working press -- on assignment covering the event -- apply here:
g) We will not be live streaming the event, but some content will be released as This Week in Startups episodes:

Thanks to my friends at Pivotal Labs for partnering with me on this awesome event.

best @Jason Calacanis & the LAUNCH team

Related founders on the show:
Gowalla 12/3/2010:
Dwolla 9/17/2013: 
Uber (1) 8/16/2011:
Uber (2) 3/4/2014:
StyleSeat: not yet, but we’re booking Melody soon!


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LAUNCH Festival 2014: And the winners are...

It’s been a whirlwind three days. Over 9,000 people registered for the 2014 LAUNCH Festival, dozens of companies pitched their products in the Demo Pit, speakers went deep on their strategies at the Startup Stage. We saw 3D printed heart tissue on stage. LAUNCH Founder Jason Calacanis danced to Gangnam Style for a product demo. A pocket drone buzzed the audience (no one was harmed, thankfully). And 40 companies launched on stage. 

We’re so proud of everyone who participated in our competition and Hackathon, and thankful to our keynote speakers: Travis Kalanick of Uber, Paul Graham of Y Combinator, Yves Béhar of fuseproject, and Mark Cuban.

Everything you need to know to catch up on LAUNCH Festival 2014 is here.

 Something we need to add? Email

LAUNCH Festival 2014 Winners

Hackathon Winners ($33k prize, each):

Best Overall ($200k investment prize)
Connect | @connectsanfran

Additional winners ($25k investment prize, each)

  • Best 2.0 - Credible | @crediblelabs

  • Best Alpha - The Pocket Drone | @airdroids

  • Best Design - Dattch | @dattchapp

  • Best Consumer Hardware - Drop | @AdapticsHQ

  • Best Enterprise Hardware - Density | @roundedco

  • Technical Achievement - CSTM | @cstmglobal

  • Best Benefit Corporation - HandUp | @handup

  • Best Enterprise - Knox | @knoxpayments

Ice House #DreamApp contest winners ($50k investment prize)

Barracuda Hackathon Investment Grand Prize ($25k)

  • Blush | @blushmessenger

Did we miss you on this list? Email

** All investment prizes are still pending due diligence.


Five rules I learned from 7 years of coaching Launch Festival & TechCrunch50

I’ve been coaching companies like Yammer, Dropbox, SpaceMonkey, and Mint for the past seven years for the LAUNCH Festival and previously TechCrunch50 (RIP!).


Over 350 startups have been on the stage, including the 40 who will join us on Feb 24-26th at this year’s LAUNCH Festival. Our event has grown from 400 folks packed into the Palace hotel to 9,000+ at the Design Center Concourse.


9,000 people, wow. Might even hit 10,000!  


In this time I’ve defined five things about what makes for a great presentation at a conference:


1. Start showing the product within 15 seconds

2. “Show don’t tell”

3. Examples matter

4. Synchronicity

5. “Wow!” moments


I’ll get into those five in detail below.

Note: you can still join us for the Festival here: -- as well as the four intimate 100-person dinners we host.

1. Show product in 15 seconds


The strongest product demos start with strong products. If you have the next Uber, Dropbox, Path, Secret, Angry Birds or Yammer, show it to us. Don’t make us wait. In product pitches you have two types of folks: those with gorgeous, high-quality products and those with, well, “not.”

The longer you take to show your product the more we believe you are a talker, not a walker. When you describe the market size, your degree and how much your competitors suck, we become certain that you will not show us the goods.

2. Show don’t tell: do not talk about what your product does--show us!


Every founder I’ve worked with has started by saying something like “Dropbox allows you to share files between two computers as easily as dragging or dropping them. Installation takes only a minute, and you get 5 gigs free when you sign up.”

This is not as strong as showing us these three facts by presenting:

“My partner John is on the Dropbox website.”

“My partner John puts in his name, email and selects a password.”

“John clicks on ‘Install the Dropbox client’ and sees the Dropbox icon in his tray.”

“He double clicks it, and drags his Hawaii family photos into it, and it tells him he is using 500 megs of his 5 gig free limit.”

“John now opens his laptop and logins into Dropbox and sees his files are syncing.”

“Now let me open my iPhone and you see these same photos in the Dropbox app.”

“Now John right clicks on the photo and says share and enters his mom’s email address.”

“Here is mom’s AOL email account, where she gets prompted to click on the link.”

“She sees the photos and is prompted to add this to her Dropbox account--and we have viral growth.”

That’s a world-class demo right there. Coming out and explaining “Dropbox is cloud storage so simple your mom can use it, it has five gigs free, works on iPhone and sharing is as easy as a click of a button” is not as powerful.


Because screens want to move--and people want to see them move.

3. Examples matter


Ask yourself, “Have I selected the most memorable and demonstrative examples of your product at work?” Here is an example:

“With Uber you can order a car on your phone.”

“John is a 39-year old enterprise-software sales executive for IBM who visits San Diego, San Francisco, Arizona and Los Angeles at least twice a month each. He typically has to wait in cab lines for 20 minutes in each city, or spend three times as much money on a black car.

“Now, once his plane lands we see him open Uber and order a car. He is moving his pin to the departures level because there is less madness there. He sees the car is seven minutes away and now he clicks text and sends a message that he is wearing a blue suit and will be at departures--not arrivals. He saved $50 and 20 minutes already.”

Between those two stories you’re going to remember much more about the second one, and you’re going to be able to empathize with a road warrior like John.

Make a list of the top ten “user stories” you can think of-- the more illustrative the better. That is, the more you think the audience will visualize and connect with this story, the better. Tell those ten stories to people on your team and see which ones they like and remember the most from.

The more humor, drama and details the better. We remember things with a lot of details MORE than we remember things with fewer details.

4. Synchronicity


Every year, someone wants to have one founder do the first minute of a presentation, then switch to the second for two minutes and back and forth. It’s wildly confusing and distracting for the audience.

It’s a huge no-no as far as signaling goes. It shows that even in a five minute presentation the two founders can’t divide the labor--or worse, maybe there is an ego conflict!

So, always have the best speaker speak and the best driver drive. If you’re both amazing, world-class speakers then switch on and off at each event you demo your product at.

[ Note: in a 15 or 20 minute presentation, switching is not only fine, it’s advisable. As you can spend one minute setting up the second speaker, and it shows you have some depth. A 3rd or 4th speaker in a 15-20 minute VC pitch doesn’t help in my mind. Save them for Q&A. ]

5. “Wow!” moments


What are the two or three moments that judges and the audience will say “wow!” when viewing your demo? Ask yourself that, and test it.

Easy test: demo to 10 folks and have someone in the room covertly watch them. At what points do they check their phones, smile or nod in approval? Write them down and study them. If you don’t have a “wow” moment, you’re not going to win a demo competition in all likelihood. Folks like a “wow” in their startup.

Here’s an easy way to manufacture a wow or two if you don’t have one:

a) imagine what your product will look like in five years if successful.

b) imagine what your product would look like if a major technological or behavioral breakthrough occurs.

In test (a) if we were talking about Uber four years ago, the look might be a map of 1,000 taxis in each of 70 cities in real time, with the a graph of average wait time running from 20 minutes down to two.

In test (b) let’s imagine you were demoing Vine this year. You showed a mock up of the iWatch and had it send short videos by shaking your wrist, a countdown timer starting (3, 2 and 1) and a six second video was taken as you waved your opposite hand palm up and down to stop and start the video (assuming the iWatch let you use the gesture of the second hand).

That would be wildly memorable and give a huge wow. I post a Vine in under 10 seconds without ever touching a screen or key!

In other words, play out your future if everything and more goes according to plan.

What if there was a Tesla Supercharger every 100 miles in the USA? How about every two miles?

Here are some additional best practices that are smaller but can be important:

  1. Use a Mac & Chrome Browser if you can. They tend to work best with projectors.

  2. If using a Mac desktop: hide the dock (system preferences), turn off your screen saver, turn off alerts/iMessage

  3. Browser: remove your bookmark bar (shift-command-B) and enter presentation mode (shift-command-F in Chrome)

  4. Have a canned demo prepared in case you have no internet connectivity.

  5. No switching presenters during the pitch.

  6. Technical issues: In case you have a technical issue, have a “let me tell you about our market / team / inspiration” anecdote ready. When the technical issue starts, say “While Jason restarts the presentation, let me tell you how we came up with the idea for” Hopefully you don’t have to use this, but it’s good to have one in the chamber if shit hits the fan.

  7. Answer questions quickly and concisely so you can get another question in from the judges. If someone asks how you make money, say “advertising.” If they ask you to expand on that, you can say “native advertising like Twitter or Instagram.” Short answers project confidence. If you don’t know the answer to the question simply say, “That’s a good question Robert, we don’t have an answer for that yet, but we’re going to try and figure that out during our beta by studying the data.” Again, short answers are the best answers.

Hope these are helpful to everyone, and I look forward to seeing you at the event. Some notes on the program below.

--> New angels speaking: Naval Ravikant, Matt Ocko & Gil Penchina

--> Join the Hackathon on Feb 21-23rd:

--> Register for the Festival:

--> Live stream:

--> Live audio:

--> Huge thanks to our new partners making it happen:

* AnchorFree (

* AngelHack (

* Barracuda (

* Chargify (

* Cisco (

* Continuuity (

* Ebay (

* Elevate Ventures (

* Esri (

* Freestyle VC (

* Gunderson Dettmer (

* Macy’s (

* Maven Ventures (

* Paypal Developer (

* Rackspace (

* Salesforce AppExchange (

* Venture51 (

* Verizon Ventures (



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