Y Combinator Demo Day or YC Demo Day for short, is an exciting yet overwhelming time for startups. At YC Demo Day, startup founders have the opportunity to pitch their ideas and demonstrate their products, highlighting their unique value proposition and potential for growth. With some of the most innovative technologies and ground-breaking business strategies in the industry, the event serves as a platform for innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship.
As you prepare for the busy days ahead, here’s some advice from past YC founders on how to deliver the best startup Demo Day deck!
YC Demo Day pitches and presentation style
“When you start your pitch, work on the narrative first and leverage your data to tell a story about what the business has achieved and where it is going. Metrics are necessary, but they are too often shared without a narrative arc. Secondly, make sure you have all the metrics investors might ask for so you can quickly and accurately respond to their questions and keep the momentum going.” - Mathilde Collin, Front (S14)
“Make it relevant. Investors can live in their own world, so try to find an angle that they can relate to. For us with Weebly, that meant rebuilding each investor‘s website in 5 minutes at the beginning of a pitch—most had spent considerable time and money to get the site they had, and it was eye-opening for them to see that there was an easier way.” - David Rusenko, Weebly (W07)
“To prepare for Demo Day, one of the things we did was try and identify all the questions we didn’t want investors to ask us. Then we figured out the answers and when possible supported them with evidence or even a slide in the appendix of our deck. Investors are trying to gauge how you handle problems, especially the hard problems. This is a time you shouldn’t be underprepared.” - Sasha Orloff, LendUp (W12)
“I like to remind myself that even Bruce Springsteen still gets nervous before his concerts. But instead of letting that derail his performance, he tells himself that that feeling in his gut is nervous energy that he can harness to give the fans what they want. Remember that, and then try to focus on what investors want: First, not to be bored. Second, to get rich(er). So try to be entertaining or at least informative while remembering to appeal to their greed." - Ryan Petersen, Flexport (W14)
To summarize how to pitch to investors, put your focus on creating a narrative around the data you present. Don't forget to make your YC pitch deck relevant to the investors by finding an angle or metrics they can relate to when presenting a business idea.
Always anticipate and prepare for difficult questions investors may ask. Use your nervous energy to your advantage, and keep in mind that investors want to be entertained and informed while being presented with opportunities to make a profit.
Negotiation tactics and engaging with YC Demo Day investors
“Don’t confuse investor interest with product-market fit. You’re about to be on the receiving end of a lot of hype and FOMO; use it to your advantage by taking the money and then keep your burn and ego low.” - Jack Altman, Teespring and Lattice (W13 and W16)
“With the rush of Demo Day and trying to close quickly, it can be easy to forget that the investor relationship is something that can last 10+ years and is a permanent contract with the company. It’s important to pick the right investors that will be helpful but also that you click with because you will most likely work with them for a prolonged period of time.” - Immad Akhund, Heyzip and Mercury (W09 and S07)
“Remember that there is no “round” on seed funding because it’s made up of SAFEs and convertible notes. That is, each investor is signing an independent investment document, separate from all the others. That means you don’t need to corral them all to invest at the same moment in time. Just get one, then get the next one, and the one after that. This means that you can offer better terms to people who take the risk of investing sooner and raise the price later.” - Ryan Petersen, Flexport (W14)
“You don’t realize how small the Valley can be, and how connected and patient investors can be. Be respectful, be responsive, and don’t close doors. We had people pass on earlier rounds that invested large amounts of capital later, or introduced us to partners and investors that later were critical to the company’s capitalization and success.” - Sasha Orloff, LendUp (W12)
“Create relationships with potential investors before you need to raise money. This will help you save time during the fundraising process because you then wouldn’t have to spend so much time getting to know the partner who is going to work with you.“ - Mathilde Collin, Front (S14)
To recap how to negotiate and engage with investors during startup Demo Day, don't mistake investor interest for product-market fit. Choose investors carefully, as the relationship may last for over a decade, and pick those who are both helpful and compatible with your startup.
Seed funding is made up of separate investment documents, so there is no need to corral all investors to invest at the same time. Treat potential investors with respect and responsiveness, and maintain positive relationships even with those who passed on earlier rounds. Build relationships with potential investors before you need to raise money, so you can save time during the fundraising process.
After Demo Day
“Raising money at Demo Day isn’t a success. Getting the highest valuation or the most money isn’t winning. You will live or die by your execution. Get the money you need at a reasonable price and get moving again.” - Emmett Shear, Kiko and Twitch (S05 and W07)
“After YC, Alexis and I met regularly with our investors, Justin [Kan] and Emmett [Shear], which continued many of the benefits of YC—support, advice, friendship, accountability—long after YC left town. Looking back at this time, it was one of the most formative times of my career, after YC itself.” - Steve Huffman, Hipmunk and Reddit (S05 and S10)
“After the conclusion of Demo Day, here are my five pieces of advice:
(1) Don’t fundraise forever. Get back to work as fast as you can.
(2) Set weekly goals. Everyone should buy into it and hit them as a team.
(3) Also set a simple growth goal for the next 3 months. Assume that not hitting this goal will mean startup failure.
(4) Don’t burn a lot of cash. More people and a better office don’t necessarily mean it becomes a better company.
(5) Find 2-4 other founders you can count on and have dinner every 3 months where you can share openly.” - Suhail Doshi, Mighty and Mixpanel (S09 and S19)
“YC helps build support, hype, momentum, and excitement. But the day after Demo Day it is you and your co-founder(s) again, and it becomes real, real quick. While our batchmates were out celebrating the completion of YC, my co-founder and I were building a spreadsheet and trying to curate the right mix of investors to support our business and mitigate our risks, setting up meetings right away, and stacking as many as we could from breakfast to drinks. It ended up serving us well, and we were off to the races with capital, a support network, and started building.” - Sasha Orloff, LendUp (W12)
To sum up, getting a high valuation or the most money isn't the measure of success; execution is what matters. After Demo Day, focus on building relationships with investors and meeting with them regularly for support and advice.
Don't forget to set weekly and growth goals to keep the team focused, and don't burn through cash unnecessarily. Find a group of founders to meet with regularly and share openly. Most importantly, get back to work as fast as possible and start fundraising by curating the right mix of investors to support your startup.
Now that you know the pro tips for YC Demo Day, it's time to master the tips given by past YC founders, perfect your YC Demo Day pitch, and give it your best shot!