Techstars Boston Pitch Night 2010: Beware HIPPOs

Last night, Techstars Boston had its second annual pitch night, where the graduates of the 2010 session each got eight minutes to wow the crowd of angels, VCs and other local tech luminaries.

I was a mentor to some of the teams again this year, and was thrilled to see how far they had each progressed during the program. Kudos most of all to Shawn Broderick, who runs the Boston program, but also to Bill Warner, Brad Feld, David Cohen and all the other mentors, as well as the teams themselves.

Xconomy has a great writeup of the event and the companies – so check that out here.

My favorite quote of the night was about the danger of HIPPOs, and the use of data to overcome that danger. Daniel Sullivan, CEO of Appswell, noted the problem of the HIPPO, the “Highest Paid Person with an Opinion”. Absent strong data (about whatever it is), the HIPPO will always get to make the decision (right or wrong). This is similar in some ways to the Peter Principle, that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”.

Even if the Peter Principle is in operation, HIPPOs do not want to look stupid, and will be swayed by compelling data. If your organization suffers from HIPPOs making decisions purely on whim, then make sure you have good data to present, so that you get to shape those opinions.