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Planning a Virtual Demo Day: a Careful Balance of Two Worlds

Puja Bharwani, Director of Antler, shares Antler’s experience of moving what is normally on a stage in a closed-door event format to a digital experience with live engagement.

photo: http://StellarEventsPhoto.com

Disclaimer: This article was written by a community contributor. All content is written by and reflects the personal perspective of the writer herself. If you’d like to contribute, you can apply here

Puja Bharwani is Director of Marketing & PR for Antler Southeast Asia. Puja​ ​manages ​Antler’s​ brand and media presence in Southeast Asia and works closely with the founders of their portfolio companies on their launch, communications and marketing strategies. Prior to joining Antler, she ran a content focused consultancy called ​What’s TheStory​ to build unique narratives for startups and brands with a clear and distinct purpose. She was previously a television journalist and producer with Thomson Reuters in New York and Singapore covering political, financial and lifestyle news.Puja is a regular contributor to ​Conde Nast Traveller, India​. She has been in the communications and content creation industry for over 20 years.

Founded in Singapore in 2017 by Magnus Grimeland and a team of experienced entrepreneurs and investors, Antler is a global early-stage VC enabling and investing in the world’s most exceptional people. With the vision to fundamentally improve the world, Antler aims to create thousands of companies globally that solve real problems. 

Antler Southeast Asia’s Virtual Demo Day is on July 16 @ 5 pm SGT. Attendees can register and join the live stream. 

In the startup world, the equivalent of a rock concert is Demo Day– this is the occasion where the startup founders present their freshly minted businesses to investors and the larger tech startup ecosystem, usually on a stage in a closed-door event format.  Some do it with a lot of fanfare and paraphernalia, while others choose a more formal, conference-like setting. Whatever the case, it is a milestone event in the early-stage founder’s fundraising journey.

For many of these founders, they train hard with coaches for weeks to present the perfect pitch to targeted VCs and an-investor focused audience. They usually have just about 4 minutes to speak. I have produced many videos and events in my career and this is my third Demo Day for Antler, but this was my first ever virtual one. Like much of 2020 and the experiences that COVID-19 has brought with it for all of us, this was unlike anything I have done before. As our work and the Antler program moved online overnight, we all knew we had to rethink Demo Day and how it would be executed this year.

As a marketer, storyteller and brand builder, my main concern when we started planning was, ‘how do we make this look as good or better than our offline events?’ Antler’s previous Demo Days in Southeast Asia have been full house events in theatre-like settings where lighting, music and interactions with the founders and teams during and after the event are open, accessible and personal. We wanted to bring some of that offline pizzaz online, and make it interactive.

As a tech focused global VC, we have a talented in-house tech team and they built a proprietary platform called Firetable, to showcase our Demo Days from around the world, given this is how things are going to be for a while in the new normal.  It gives the audience a fully interactive experience with branding, music and infographics in one place, with all the information carefully positioned for an ideal user experience. The customer journey starts from registration and is a simple step-by-step process till viewing, with each person receiving a unique link and calendar invite once they register through the dedicated site.

You get to watch the founders pitch, with a clear line of sight to their slides, a summary of their company and an interactive Slido box for viewers to ask their questions to each startup. It’s almost as good as the real thing and some say, even better.

Some questions we asked ourselves while planning–how the editing should be done and what should the overall look and feel be like? How much should we pre-record? How many transitions do we want in terms of movement on stage? When exactly and for how long should the focus be on the founder speaking vs the slide? How long do we want the pitch to be? What live segments do we want? A lot went into the planning process to what the final outcome is.

Danni Yu, Co-founder of PretePop, an online platform for live retail events. Image courtesy of Antler.

Lights, Camera, Action!

You could have a really good speaker in front of the camera, but if the screen quality and background is not bright and performance worthy, the audience will lose interest and it won’t look professional. The stage factor and sound quality is an important one to think of in an online event and speakers need to be even more enthusiastic for energy to transmit through a screen.

How do we build a stage or have a TV studio like setting in the time of a pandemic? There were so many moving parts, changing regulations, and evolving situations, such as: what is considered essential to film during these times? How many people could be on camera at one time unmasked? How many people could be in a room together? TV studios wouldn’t confirm bookings due to social distancing measures and the liabilities involved with having more than 5 people in a place together.

So we had to get creative. We tailor made a stage and a bold backdrop and ordered carpets to ensure sound was absorbed. Huge spotlights were added to the pitch stage to ensure it had a theatre-like feel. We hired a production crew to set up a makeshift studio in our office and we controlled the number of people who would be in and out to ensure it was COVID safe. Everyone was always masked, unless they were on camera speaking.

A Balancing Act

There are certain key ingredients for good events, both offline and online. Compelling speakers presenting relevant ideas to solve real world problems is one of them. Then there is the audience experience factor and how connected they feel to what they are watching and how engaged they are. These elements go into both formats.

What could be more compelling than hearing how really bright and experienced individuals built a business during a pandemic and lockdown? That’s pretty much what these exceptional individuals did. These founders had grit, passion and drive when they started Phase 1 of the Antler Singapore program in January 2020. Through the year and the unforeseen challenges that came along with it, they have definitely shown stoicism, agility and just plain old hustle to build their startups and get them off the ground.

Their pitch to Antler’s Investment Committee was done remotely and they clearly gave it all they have got, as they succeeded to get to Phase 2 of the program, where they had to rapidly build an MVP and business in three months. What followed next was a process of clever navigating and adapting as Singapore and much of Southeast Asia went into complete lockdown for two months. Here’s what the founders who have built startups in the realms of SaaS, Fintech, Proptech, Pet Tech, Agritech, Gaming, Regtech and more had to say about pitching in this virtual format.

Danni Yu, Co-founder of PretePop, an online platform for live retail events

“In physical events we build a relationship with the audience when we go on stage, and this is difficult to replicate in a virtual event. We practiced excessively how we smile and speak in the very first 7 seconds of our pitch to try to engage the audience.” 

Srihari Govindarajan, Co-founder of VikRee , a B2B SaaS for Ecosystem Engagement

” The Antler team worked closely with us in the lead-up to the demo-day with pitch coaching, rehearsals, practice sessions and more practice sessions. Their enthusiasm made up for the lack of an audience while recording and the entire setup – the crew, the stage – and the execution were flawless, something we’ve come to expect from an Antler event. We were in the audience at the last demo day and the pitches were received with applause, cheers and encouragement. I definitely hope to get virtual cheers this Thursday.”

Sidarttha Bezbora, Co-founder of Skibre,  a social esports platform

“The virtual format of pitching was very cool and innovative.  It gave us enough opportunity to prepare and make the pitch well suited for the virtual audience. I was able to focus on confidently delivering our story with proper emotions and to highlight more effectively the promised land we want to deliver to millions of casual gamers worldwide looking for a home.”

Gajendra Babu, Co-founder of Chloropy, making farms smarter with computer vision. Photo courtesy of Antler.

Gajendra Babu, Co-founder of Chloropy, making farms smarter with computer vision

“It was my first experience being recorded professionally on a studio-like set up. I can still hear: Camera 1 rolling……camera 2 rolling……..3….2…..1……… then …….cut! I was slightly nervous in the first few takes. With the encouragement from Antler staff and the crew I felt relaxed that made the delivery easy. Overall it was a new experience and was enjoyable.”

The Future of Events

We have to now think of events in a different way, and find a happy marriage between the two worlds and formats. New technology will play a big part in this process, but some old world charms such as dramatic backdrops, lighting and great transition editing will still be integral parts of creating memorable and experiential events.

Here’s how you can watch Antler Southeast Asia’s Virtual Demo Day on July 16 @ 5pm SGT:

  1. Go to the Virtual Demo Day event page: https://bit.ly/Antler-KrAsia
  2. Enter your details and add the event to your calendar when prompted to do so on July 16 at 5:00 PM SGT (9.00AM GMT), tune into the live stream.
  3. Ask questions, contact the team, or request a pitch deck during the live stream using the tools found on https://demoday.antler.co/singapore (these will become visible once the event starts)
  4. Enjoy the show!