So you’ve got a startup. How sexy of you, how innovative, how new. Well I hate to burst your bubble but startups are a dime a dozen these days, it’s the new black and wearing it doesn’t make you special. In such a competitive sphere such as the tech scene (in Africa or around the world) being a startup isn’t enough, you have to figure out how to stand out in the crowd. One way to do just this is to present your company, your idea or product, to whomever your audience member(s) might be at any given time, with confidence and passion (and some panache never hurt anyone). You need to know the art of the pitch.
And pitching is an art. Public speaking is tough enough as it is, throwing in a request for money doesn’t make it easier. Startups need to realise that a pitch has to contain certain elements, such as a business plan, market analysis, etc. But the art of the pitch is in the who (is listening), the how (you are contacting them), and the manner in which you do so. So let’s consider this post The Art of Pitching 101. Registration is free, all I ask is for your attention for a few hundred words.
The Who (is listening)
You can’t just have one version of your pitch. Different ears have different priorities. A VC or Angel will look for something completely different to what a journalist does for example. Tailor your pitch for your audience.
Investors, at the bottom of it all, are looking for the money. How much risk will they have to take, for how much return? Ensure you answer that. Communicate the problem you are solving, why it exists, how big the opportunity is, and give your solution – your value proposition – without this, you could come across as not knowing your market. Even if your numbers end up wrong, you’ll show that you are a thinker, and that can go a long way.
Journalists want the story. What makes you unique? Make them care by giving the ‘why’ (you are trying to solve this particular problem). Ideally make it personal rather than focused on your product or service, and keep it short.
Pro Tip: Be specific. Research a particular investor or journalist before pitching. What do they look for? Do they have a mobile bias, or a maverick bias? Does this investor actually suit your company? If you think they do tinker your pitch to suit their preferences.
The How (you are communicating)
Every point of contact is important. Whether its email, in person, to a group or an individual, you need to recognise the tool you are using to communicate and play to its strengths.
Most pitches are done by email, and you really don’t want to see a VC’s inbox. So how are you going to stand out? You can start off by at least having a succinct and relevant subject line and don’t even think about NDAs. Due diligence exists for a reason. Read this for detailed email tips, but remember email is the coldest form of pitching – ideally find a way to get that face-to-face meeting.
Don’t underestimate the deck (or slide show). Keep the number of slides under ten, and don’t cram each one full of information. The slides are the base information that your words colour. It might be worth getting a designer in for help here; attractive, eye-catching slides can only help. Alternatively, if you can demo your product even better, even if it is just a mock-up.
Pro tip: Have you considered a video? Videos (especially explainer animations) are engaging, and bound to keep someone’s attention for longer than slides.
A beginning, middle and end
You are telling a story, and every good story has a beginning, middle and end (before pesky post-modernism got in the way at least). Make your story personal, after all you are person speaking to another person (or people). Say who you are, and what motivated you to get involved in the market or want to solve this problem. Get the audience invested (yes that happened) in the tale of your company, and you’ll be surprised by the results. The pitch is potentially the start of a new relationship, you want to win their trust, and the best way to do this is by being human. Humour them, drama them, challenge them even – make them feel something. Importantly don’t leave anything out. A good story has a hero (you), allies (your team), a villain (your competitors), and a problem to overcome. Just don’t forget to offer your solution (value proposition) at the most dramatic point.
Pro tip: Always show, don’t tell if you can (with a demo, video, visual representation).
There are a plethora of tips for pitches out there. We’d love to hear in the comments from startups and investors alike which pitching tips and techniques they value most.