A highlight of 2013 was being named one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs. Most of the programming at the event focussed on the big name leaders of established companies like Marissa Mayer, Ginni Rometty, and Sheryl Sandberg. There was also a great deal of deserved attention for groundbreakers in other areas like Diana Nyad, Chelsea Clinton (my favorite interview, among a very tough field of great ones), Senator Susan Collins, and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.
But one of the most enjoyable events was an “American Idol” type of showcase of four entrepreneurs pitching their business for five minutes, followed by panelist questions. And who were the judges? None other than:
- Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway
- Cathy Coughlin, Senior Executive Vice President and Global Marketing Officer, AT&T Inc.
- Theresia Gouw, Partner, Accel Partners (she recently left and co-founded Aspect Ventures)
- Erica Landry Scheik, Chief Brand Officer, Care.com
- Moderator: Jessi Hempel, Fortune
The pitches were superb. They were a product of excellent presenters, good business ideas, and great preparation. It is excruciatingly difficult to describe a new ground-breaking business in five minutes. Amusingly, Warren Buffett seemed the most stressed about the format: he clearly found it excruciatingly difficult to assess these businesses so quickly.
I noticed that a lot of the audience was sympathetic to the presenters and considered the format harsh. I heard famous figures say they could never do what those four founders did.
I have to admit the event seemed totally normal to me: ie. to be forced to perform at such a high level, in front of an intimidating audience, in a (seemingly) life or death type of pressure cooker. Most entrepreneurs have done it dozens if not hundreds of times, via pitch competitions, sales calls, and meetings with potential investors.
But few of us come out of the gate as strong as these four founders.
- Jessica Banks, Co-Founder, RockPaperRobot.com
- Hannah Chung, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Sproutel
- Anica John, Co-Founder and CEO, Mashgin
- Aarthi Ramamurthy, Founder, Lumoid and Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Battery Ventures