Startups Need Stories

by on June 12, 2009 at 6:38 pm

The final panel at The Israel Conference crowded themselves onto the stage, three judges and five digital entertainment start-ups in a simulated Hollywood pitch meeting.

Photo of last panel

The most valuable lesson was the insight into how ideas are sold in the entertainment industry.  Apparently, the people who write the checks have attention spans that make Twitter seem like Tolstoy.   Or perhaps it’s just that in Hollywood pitching stories is the norm, so people need a narrative.

Like the rest of us, really.  When the judges looked bored their expressions were matched by the members of the audience.  One of the threads woven through the day’s panels was that we need to tell good stories.   The themes of Israeli character were brought up again and again, usually in the context of a story.  The conference included a surprise visit (and story) from Lou Lenart, one of the heroes of Israel’s war of independence.

Perhaps the most illustrative example on the panel was when Yosi Glick pitched Jinni, a movie search engine that helps you choose films based on search terms that have meaning and texture rather than flat keywords with no emotional content. Think – “I’m in the mood for…” instead of “Where are your action movies?”

Here’s how Glick, the company’s president, started: “I don’t know what movies my wife likes and I’ve been married to her for 24 years.  Plus I have no idea what her mood is.  So I have a challenge, because I want to save my marriage.”   His business idea was going to be the cavalry in his life’s own romantic comedy, and we were ready to buy tickets.

Shortly after he went to the slide presentation we started to get lost.  Most demos can’t avoid the PowerPointed details, but it all should feed the story – one of the judges, David Wertenheimer of USC’s Entertainment Technology Center, even suggested that he have some slides at the front and back of the presentation, at first fighting over a movie choice and at the end watching happily into the sunset. 

The other presentations are in streaming video available at the conference link above.  It’s worth a look, both for the content of the pitches and for the process itself.