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SIEGE 2014 Investment Conference Lessons and Feedback

The Southern Interactive Entertainment & Games Expo is one of the largest events of it's kind in the southeast. As a participant in this year's Investment Conference event, I'm about to provide you with some of the lessons I learned during my first pitch.

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Yes!  SIEGE was such an amazing experience this year, and now that it’s over, I am excited to share with you my experience pitching at the event’s Investment Conference!  This is gonna be a long one… lots of info and feedback to cover!

For the uninitiated, the Southern Interactive Entertainment & Games Expo, or SIEGE, is held the first weekend of October in Atlanta, GA, each year.  SIEGE is a service of the Georgia Game Developers Association.  This was the 8th annual conference, the largest of it’s kind in the southeast, and it turned out to be one of the biggest and best yet.  One of the events during SIEGE is known as the Investment Conference.  This is essentially a major opportunity for developers to get themselves in front of angel investors and venture capitalists, in an effort to obtain funding, earn feedback on their pitches, and network with some highly influential people in the Atlanta area.

I’m about to walk you through how to be a part of the SIEGE Investment Conference, and what you’ll need to put together to be successful, and then provide you with some of the lessons I learned this year.  Before we get started, know that no one is guaranteed investment through this event.  Pitches are judged and there is a winner (think of it like “Best Pitch” award or something), but they may not necessarily get funded.  (Disclaimer:  Soverance Studios was not funded during this event.)  What you are guaranteed to get, though, is invaluable feedback and experience.  So let’s get started!

Mixing-and-Mingling

The One-Page Teaser

In order to get the opportunity to pitch during the Investment Conference, you must first simply apply.  You do this by submitting a one-page investment “teaser”.  This is just a simply formatted overview of your company, what you’re doing, and how much you’re looking to get.  This teaser gets passed around to all of the investors and judges prior to the event, and it’s generally their first impression of you and your company.  It allows those guys to do some preliminary research on your company, if the teaser catches their interest.  The Investment Conference leaders don’t select everyone who applies, obviously, so your teaser should be awesome.  My position as the GGDA’s webmaster (I build all their websites) may have given me an upper hand there, as they already know who I am.  I’ve embedded my teaser, below.  You can also view it in a new window.

The Pitch

This is obviously the meat and potatoes, and you should do everything you can to make this as good as possible.  This is a presentation as much as anything, so you’ll want to have visual aids to go along with your speech.  This year, we were given approximately 15 minutes to conclude the pitch.  This meant about 8 minutes to pitch, and another 7 minutes or so for questions.  I’ll be the first to admit that 8 minutes is not a lot of time to pitch your company and get across all of the information that may be necessary for investors to understand.  It flies directly in the face of Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule for PowerPoint presentations, so you’ll need to cut some stuff.  I ended up going with 7 slides in about 8 minutes of talking.

My slides and speech outline are embedded below.  I’ve modified the outline to be more readable, so it’s closer to what I actually said rather than just nonsensical bullet points.  You can also view it in a new window.

Feedback and Takeaways

Overall, pitching at the SIEGE Investment Conference was an awesome experience for me.  It’s definitely something I’ve never done before, so the information, experience, and feedback I received proved invaluable.  Mine was surely not the best pitch at the conference, and I was not funded.  Some of the other companies that pitched had already raised a lot of money, and some of them were showing really strong traction in their target markets.  Despite that, I feel I did pretty well, even if I did make some mistakes.  So below, I’m about to outline some of the most glaring pieces of feedback I received, in the hopes that you won’t hit the same pitfalls I did when it comes time to pitch your own project!

First and foremost, GET A CO-FOUNDER.

Investors rarely fund something based on the idea or product.  Almost always, investors will tell you they want to invest in a team.  While there are exceptions to this, being a solo founder is significantly more difficult, and it does not inspire confidence in your company or product if you have no one else that believes in it.

This is a particularly sore point for me, as I totally had a great co-founder with skills complimentary to my own when I first applied to the Investment Conference.  Over the next couple months, despite his words, I watched his priorities change.  All of his work on our company effectively stopped, and just weeks before the conference I was forced to resubmit the company as a solo founder (in addition to once again taking on all aspects of development myself).  This was a huge blow to my confidence and motivation, that ultimately did me a major disservice when pitching for investment.

I cannot recommend highly enough that you find someone who shares your vision to take this journey with you.  Starting a company is hard, getting a product to market is much harder… and without a focused, dedicated team around you to make it happen and keep you motivated, it will be exponentially more difficult in every way.

Second, SHOW A VERTICAL SLICE!

Yes, a video.  The trailer for your game or product.  Just find some way to show them what you’re building, so the idea is much more clear in their heads.  If you can convince them to play the thing afterwards, you’re a winner.  They say seeing is believing, and for a video game, this will be a million times more effective than your words will ever be.  For me, this is doubly true as I work inside virtual reality.

This was a technical conundrum.  Because I do not own a laptop, I became dependent on unknown hardware to give my presentation.  I knew I’d at least have access to a computer and a projector, but I wasn’t sure if I’d have internet access.  Therefore, I chose to keep it simple and just show images instead of dealing with large, local video files.  THIS WAS A HUGE MISTAKE.  As my videos are all on the Soverance YouTube channel, I wrongly convinced myself that the investors would look at my one-page teaser, and then check out my websites where they’d see all the videos.  While I’m sure maybe some of them did that, it’s a stupid assumption to think they all did that.

Find a way to locally embed them into the presentation.  Alternatively, just buy a laptop so you can ensure your environment.  It’s probably stupid not to have one as an indie, anyway.

Third, BUILD YOUR COMMUNITY FIRST.

This might seem obvious, and it is, but investors love to see people actually using your product.  Alan Wilson, Vice-President of Tripwire Interactive, tells me that when he looks at game companies to invest in, he’ll hop on their forums and look to see if people are playing and talking about their game.  If the forums are dead, like the Endless Reach subreddit is… it’s not a good sign.

Endless Reach is a difficult game to build a community around right now.  Being made for virtual reality, there’s only so many people on the planet that are capable of playing my game right this second.  That pool shrinks based on the game’s genre, quality, replay value, and inherent difficulty.  I’ve had a lot of people tell me it’s cool, but very few are talking about it outside of the conversations they have with me.  So I ask Alan how best to build a community.  He gives me this hilarious anecdote about how they used to hop on Call of Duty forums in order to promote their first game, Red Orchestra.

While that tactic is a little invasive for their company today, it was perfect for them when they were unknown and just starting out.  It was a direct line to the exact market they were trying to gain users from.  Such things are ideal for a small, unknown indie like myself.

Finally, NETWORK.

No shit, right?  I mean it’s like 90% of the reason you went to one of these conferences anyway.  I’m an introverted person, and I’m a million times more comfortable behind my computer screen than going out in public.  It’s somewhat difficult to get up and speak in front of all these people, much less have a one-on-one… so I feel your pain with fears of networking.  But seriously, just force yourself to do it.  You’ll be happier that you did.

I did make a point to briefly meet with Alan Wilson, and again with Todd Harris (Co-Founder and COO of Hi-Rez Studios).  I chose them specifically because as leaders of the two largest game studios right here in Atlanta, I felt they were best equipped to understand my situation and provide me with the best feedback.  They were awesome, and I’m super grateful they took the time to hear my pitch and speak with me afterwards.

Unfortunately I did not make a lot of time for many other investors around the room.  This was a huge mistake, and I should have totally made it a point to speak with each and every one of them.

Conclusion

Overall, the SIEGE Investment Conference was an amazing experience.  There are few places where you can get such intimate feedback from people with clout.  I feel blessed to have been a part of it this year, and hope to participate in some fashion again next year.  A huge thanks to Rob Hassett and Jay O’Toole, the Investment Conference Coordinators, for putting on such a successful event, and to Andrew Greenberg, President of the GGDA, for making SIEGE what it is.  Another big thanks to all of the investors and judges that came out and listened to us pour out our visions.

Hopefully what I’ve written here will prove helpful to those of you looking to get through your first pitch.  It’s worth the effort!

If you enjoyed reading this, be sure to follow me on Twitter, or check out Endless Reach on Oculus Share!

You can learn more about the Southern Interactive Entertainment & Games Expo (SIEGE) on their official website:  www.siegecon.net

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