Startup Jackpot: Not Your Typical Pitch Competition

This past weekend, a room full of people became investors at Startup Jackpot, a startup event raising seed money for other startups. Fifteen local DC startups went head to head for a cold hard cash prize of $10,000 at Canvas, a quirky coworking space nestled in the heart of Dupont. Rather than the usual panel of judges, the winners were chosen by votes from the crowd. The challenge: explain why your startup needs $10K to a room full of corporate executives, DC tech innovators, and dozens of entrepreneurs. No slides, just you and a microphone.


The top 5 startups prepare for crowd Q&A before the final voting

Before the afternoon pitches, seven seasoned entrepreneurial veterans gave their two cents on what not to do when starting up. In a decidedly not-for-Disney series of stories, the crowd got a unique glimpse of how startups fail fast and hard. Here are a few of the recaps:

Timing is key when you’re deciding to sell or not to sell. We sold our company to Twitter because it was a unique point where no one would offer this much [for our product/service].
– Marty Ringlein, design manager at Twitter | @smarty

The hardest things in the world are steel, diamonds, and knowing yourself. Hire the best team that complements you.
– Maria Thomas, former Etsy CEO | @pesmou

“We’re a data driven company. We use Google Analytics,” said no good company ever. Use data from academic resources and sites like to pull your insights to really make a good case for your idea.
– Eric Koester, cofounder of Zaarly | @erickoester

The hardest part about marketing is not selling a product, it’s convincing someone to change their behavior on something they’ve been doing for years.
– Caesar Layton, SVP marketing and sales, Relay Foods | @RelayFoods

The most important thing about an accelerator isn’t necessarily the mentorship, but having three to four months of working 18 hours a day. Have a deadline to pitch to big investors. Time is the most valuable thing we have.
– Zvi Band, CEO of Contactually, cofounder of ProudlyMadeInDC | @skeevis

Startup Jackpot speakers and organizers also stressed the importance of building a strong network and community in the District and its surrounding regions. “The difference between San Francisco and the DC area is the level of weirdness. Everyone in San Francisco is so weird it’s normal,” explained Ringlein. “Until everyone in the DC startup community knows each other and can support each other, we’ve still got a ways to go.”

Out of 15 startups, three winners emerged: Macaw, a Photoshop-like platform for web prototyping and design; TouchDome, a watch manufactured for the blind; and HelpCloud IO, an app for Google Glass.

Keep an eye out for @StartupJackpot; it may just be coming to a town near you.

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Written by:
Stephanie is Lead Designer and co-founder of Landmark, a navigation app for walking directions based on photos of buildings and landmarks. Stephanie was a guest at Y Combinator’s prestigious Female Founders Conference and was profiled in The Washington Post. Actively involved in the DC community, she is a co-producer of the DC Tech Meetup and is actively involved in encouraging technology education and mentorship for women. Follow her on Twitter @nguyenist.
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