Sooner or later, a startup has to get ready to make several rounds of ‘pitches’ to investors, partners, employees, mentors, advisors and competition jurors. Some of the audiences are local, others international; some will even be online pitches.
Having seen dozens of startup competitions and awards, here are my Top Ten tips for startups to make a successful pitch – especially inspired by the recent World Summit Awards for Mobile, which featured 40 mobile app development teams from around the planet.
A general rule of thumb is not to have more than one slide per minute of pitch. So if you have ten minutes for a pitch (a very common format), allot not more than one slide for each of the following tips. And if you have fewer minutes, use your discretion to shorten or skip some of the slides.
Take extra care with your slides if you and your audience have different linguistic backgrounds; they may not always understand your accent well, so spell out all the key information on your slides and in your visuals.
You may know your domain very well, but not everyone in the audience is an expert in this field – so spend some time explaining the context in which you are operating. It could be the size of the e-commerce market for travel, or augmented reality apps for medicine, or a wildlife mapping platform – explain the scope of the activity, target audience, transactional components, and user needs. At the same time, don’t get too carried away with describing the context – you should describe just enough to frame why this is important for your company.
2. Your Vision and Mission
Within the context you have framed, what is the entry point for your company and its offerings? What is your vision in this space – to be the No.1 player, or the most efficient, or the most innovative, or to dominate a niche? What is your mission statement and how will this be communicated to the target users? What brand elements does this translate into? This can even include your Internet domain name (and not just a generic Facebook page).
3. Founders: Personal and Professional Touch
Explain the educational and professional background of the founding team, and work experience. Also play up the personal element – what is it about your domain that turns you on so much, as compared to other domains? What was the ‘aha’ moment that made you devote yourself to this cause? This will help convince the audience about your deeper passions and commitment to the cause.
If you are going to scale up, you will need a team. Explain who your new team players are, and how you plan to hire them in future. How will you ensure they have the same passion that you do, or how you will bring them up to steam fast?
Provide a chronology of the key events in your journey so far. What does your timeline look like, and what are the key developments which helped you prove your point and validate your assumptions? What are some pivots that you made? Show the most recent demo of your product and maybe earlier versions as well, so the audience knows what progress you are making. Nothing is as convincing as a demo of a good product or service.
6. Numbers and Metrics
Go beyond the wishy-washy stuff and provide solid data and numbers on what the status is of your product or service. Don’t just talk about number of downloads or users, talk about the subsequent impacts: what processes get impacted, what new insights does this give, how does it affect the target users, and what is the bottomline in terms of profit, convenience or social impact?
Go beyond the numbers also – provide actual testimonials from customers and partners about the impact and value of your offerings. A few quotes on a slide would be terrific (many quotes and videos on your Web site would be even better).
8. Future Plans
Yes, plans can and will change wildly, but at least project some of your future signposts and scenarios – it will give your audience a sense of how you think and plan. And if you include success factors, de-risking techniques and competitive advantages, the audience will know you are prepared to handle uncertainties.
9. Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse!
The most common problem with pitches I have seen is that the startups never finish on time! Always rehearse your pitch to finish just within your time limit (one minute pitches are very different from ten minute pitches!). Make sure the demo works, make sure the videos do play on different projectors; have a backup in case the online connection drops.
OK, so your pitch did not win over the audience – but that’s also OK, just make sure you collect the business cards of the key stakeholders so you can stay in touch and inform them of updates. Maybe the investors were interested only in a finished product and not a demo – contact them afterwards once your product is ready, maybe they will be interested then.
[ Follow YourStory.in’s research director Madanmohan Rao]