Photo by Fotografías con Limón on Unsplash


Are we here to talk about your company or your pitch?

I had one of those sudden insights.

You know the type. It’s evident in retrospect,  takes only a moment to go “Aha,” and it only took me two decades of missing it.

Imagine if I had evaluated the ping-pong playing ability of 3,500 students by having them write essays on historical figures. Doing this without even hinting at the evaluation criteria. I bet that twenty years later, armed with 20/20 hindsight, it wouldn’t seem like it had been that good an idea.

Last night I was at an “idea review” for early-stage companies. Generally, they are 18-24 months away from being ready to talk to investors.

They are given a few minutes to present a deck based on a standard template.

As a panel member, I am instructed to focus on (1) the viability of their core idea and (2) the thoroughness of their research.

The deck template has everything needed for a typical investor presentation; less than half of that is related to their core idea and the thoroughness of their research.

In prep, people focus on each of the areas on those slides. They are a year or more too early for half of them.

So, I am changing the way I begin my office hours. For years I have started with, “How can I be most helpful?”

Starting today, instead, I will ask, “Are we here to talk about your company or about your presentation?”

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Written by Russell Brand

Russell has started three successful companies, one of which helped agencies of the federal government become very early adopters of open source software, long before that term was coined. His first project saved The American taxpayer 250 million dollars. In his work within federal agency, he was often called, “the arbiter of truth,” facilitating historically hostile groups and factions to effectively work together towards common goals


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