Never do a live demo! – We did.

Neuroflow cofounders Chris Molaro WG'17 and Adam Pardes GR'19, shortly before their pitch at SXSW.
Neuroflow cofounders Chris Molaro WG’17 and Adam Pardes GR’19, shortly before their pitch at SXSW.

By Christopher Molaro WG’17, Founder of NeuroFlow

Bill Gates famously crashed Windows 98 in a live demo.  In fact, there are numerous examples of such failures—no one is safe from a live demo disaster!  There is just so much that can go wrong that is out of your control, and if Murphy has anything to say about, he will make sure that if something can go wrong, it surely will.

The other week, the NeuroFlow team was headed to Austin, TX as we were accepted into the pitch competition at the SXSW Interactive Conference.  Two weeks before our trek to Texas, we were finalizing the specifics of the pitch—a pitch we have done for the last 10 months, probably hundreds of times, and were merely polishing.

Neuroflow SXSW Tweet

But this was SXSW.  The big stage.  Tens of thousands of people.  Investors.  Early adopters.  Partners.  I didn’t want to do our normal pitch. After all, these weren’t normal circumstances.  One of NeuroFlow’s value propositions is real-time monitoring of biometrics and stress levels, so I wanted to do just that—monitor my stress, in real-time, while on the stage presenting.  (In reality, we are measuring the power of various waves and other biometrics which are arguably “stress”—hence the purpose of our official academic study that is underway to validate this claim).

I proposed the idea to my team two weeks before the pitch.  To that point, we had a working software but it had only been localized on our personal computers—never streamed to an independent server, and never visualized on the web for everyone in the wild to witness.  One developer said, “no way.  We can’t get that to work in time.”  One developer looked hesitant but maybe that I could convince him.  I pushed back, and asked what it would take, what they needed from me and what were their chances?  They hesitantly said, “Yeah, it’s possible, I suppose.”

We were going to do it.  Two weeks, and live demo.  Silly looking back on it, given that live demos fail even when they are well vetted, tested and developed for months.

Two days before the pitch: myself and my co-founder, Adam Pardes, bio-engineering Ph.D. at Penn, were in Austin, communicating remotely with the development team.  It was working. Kind of.  It was buggy and would drop the data signal and the analysis was noisy.

One all-nighter.  Two all-nighters.  Kudos to the development team.

The morning of the pitch: we’re meeting with investors, shaking hands with partners, explaining our value proposition to early adopters.  All while in the back of our head, we had the pitch in a few hours, with a semi-working live demo.

One hour before the pitch, we put out through our newsletter and social media that the live demo would be streamed live on our website and Facebook Live.  No turning back now.  30 minutes before the pitch, it still wasn’t clear—would it work? We took a team vote over the phone with myself, Adam and two engineers—four “go-for-it” votes.

I figured, at this point, we had a half decent chance of it working, and worst case was the demo didn’t work, a little embarrassment ensued but a huge learning point and lesson would occur regardless.  After all, Microsoft has done fine after their epic fail with Windows 98.

The moment of truth—I walked up on stage and in the middle of the pitch state, “NeuroFlow is a software platform that measures biometric data in real-time to measure stress.  In fact, you all can log onto our site right now to see my stress, streamed live, right now.”

It worked.  A beautiful curve with my stress peaks and calm periods, appearing on the screen, updating live.  We ended up winning our category for the pitch, Health/Wearables, and walked away a little calmer and a whole lot more excited.

Neuroflow pitching live at the SXSW Accelerator Speed Pitch finals.

You can visit us at www.neuroflowsolution.com and stay in touch there for a product demo or our newsletter.  We are launching our beta version with performance clinics in late April.

Chris Molaro WG'17, Founder of Neuroflow, Penn Wharton EntrepreneurshipBio: Chris is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, and served for 5 years as a Captain in the US Army.  He co-founded Veteran literacy non-profit, Things We Read, and is now an MBA candidate at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, expecting to graduate in 2017.  He is the co-founder and CEO of NeuroFlow, a digital health company focused on improving mental healthcare through biometric analysis.  He lives in Philadelphia, PA with his wife, Erica.