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Since getting taken over by Gawker founding editor Elisabeth Spiers, The New York Observer has shown a real eagerness to explore the web’s potential — which includes the launch this spring of Betabeat, a tech blog devoted to covering the burgeoning New York startup scene known as “Silicon Alley.”
And because you can’t have a tech blog these days without some sort of video component, this fall Betabeat has launched its first original web series, The Pitch, which does that show-not-tell thing to illustrate the process of pitching a startup concept to venture capitalists.
Essentially a competitive reality show with a strong documentary influence, The Pitch focuses on eight “Silicon Alley” entrepreneurs, who get the chance to pitch venture capitalists Ben Lerer and Jordan Cooper of Lerer Ventures with their apps or services.
In the current phase of the show, each episode introduces one of the startup ideas in contention, as well as the team behind it, who are then filmed pitching to Lerer and Cooper. Lerer and Cooper give their honest feedback on the idea both directly to the startups in an interview segment. Later, three finalists will be selected not only for potential investment, but a cash prize — the value of which has yet to be determined, though Betabeat editor Ben Popper, in a phone interview, says it’ll be “substantial.”
So far, the profiles, while maybe a bit too slow-paced, are a nice mix of technology proposal and personal details — the guys behind Olapic don’t want to say much about the Vegas trip that inspired their photo-sharing application, while the duo behind a gamification concept tell the story of they met via their respective blogs. And the VCs themselves seem very comfortable doing what they do for a living on camera.
Because, in a sense, they are doing what they do for a living — listening to and judging startup pitches they might potentially invest in; Lerer and Cooper are even continuing to follow up on some of the pitches they’ve heard. The only artificial element of The Pitch, according to Popper, is the selection of the contestants, which he and director Brian Spinks picked; otherwise, the show is just there to observe what happens.
While The Real World seeks out drunken crazies to create conflict, Popper’s focus in casting the show was to find early stage companies that seemed innovative, and also reflected the geographic diversity of founders now living in New York. Of course, when you consider how many startup founders are gambling everything on this one idea, there’s really no need to add additional drama.
Popper said that narrowing the field from over a hundred submissions to the featured eight meant he “got to practice being a VC.” Which brings up an issue that’s been debated recently in the tech blog world — specifically, the overlap between journalist and venture capitalist, highlighted by Michael Arrington’s dramatic departure from Techcrunch to found CrunchFund, and Techcrunch writer MG Siegler joining Crunchfund as a VC shortly after.
The Pitch, of course, is merely documenting venture capitalists at work, but from his point of view, there’s still an overlap. “Being a journalist and a VC aren’t so different,” he said. “We both want to know about new companies first.”