As a startup founder, I’m often asked to “give my pitch.” I’ve spent countless hours honing pitches for all situations: the full 5-minute pitch, the 2-minute cocktail party pitch, and the 30-second elevator pitch. Although it’s useful to be forced to focus on clever analogies and key statistics, the process of creating and paring back these pitches can end up inducing myopia. I am more than “the Uber for [blah].”
When I was invited to give a different type of talk at the Pioneer Summit last year, I welcomed the opportunity to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Instead of using the same old stats and cliches, I dug into the scientific side of things. I spent hours poring over research papers written (in English and in Google Translatese) about similar technologies that had appeared years or even decades earlier. This research ended up becoming the foundation for my talk, which surveyed academic literature and analyzed our (and our competitors’) solutions for their scientific soundness.
As is often the case, the journey itself was as important as the destination. Through the process of creating this talk, I discovered a body of academic research that is highly relevant to our core technology, connected with researchers at top universities, and garnered national press coverage thanks to these new connections.
How did it all happen? It started out as I was digging into some quasi-scientific claims made by one of our competitors. After reading several research papers debunking these claims, I realized that academic researchers had been puzzling over various related questions—including some answered by our technology—for decades. I started emailing researchers and heard back from several who were indeed interested in our technology and the ways it might solve some of the problems that their research focuses on. One of the researchers even offered to do a study on our technology, using funding he’d already procured elsewhere.
Perhaps the biggest win was the press coverage that resulted. I’d been talking for months with The Atlantic’s Senior Medical Editor, who was interested in the scientific/medical aspects of our technology—but who hadn’t pulled the trigger on doing a writeup. Thanks to our newfound researcher friends, the editor’s interest kicked up a notch, and he wrote a great feature on BeeLine Reader for The Atlantic. As the old saying goes: nothing succeeds like success. Within hours of publication, we were contacted by a producer from NPR, who wanted to do an interview with me on a nationally-broadcast radio show. The next week, my NPR interview aired, and it ended up becoming one of the most popular segments the radio show had done all year. For us, this translated into tens of thousands of new visitors to our website—30% of whom installed one of our apps.
The Pioneer Summit is great because everyone there is thinking about the bigger picture. You’ll run into influential folks from your industry (and if you’re in edtech, you’ll run into them again at the ASU+GSV Summit), but you’ll also talk with founders and funders from other industries, who will share their perspectives and experiences.
Needless to say, I’m looking forward to heading back to the Pioneer Summit this year, where I expect to have more terrific conversations and discover more hidden opportunities. I hope to see you there!
Nick Lum is the founder of BeeLine Reader, whose literacy technology won the 2015 Tech Awards Education prize, one of the most selective international education technology competitions. BeeLine Reader’s apps and plugins have been adopted by the California Public Library System and are used in schools around the world. BeeLine Reader is funded by Intel Capital and is based in Woodside, CA.