How to pitch your early stage startup idea?
How to win the startup competition game?
It is easier to win the game if you know what they give points for. Many startup idea competitions have evaluation criterias and point sheets for jury members. In many occasions the assesment criterias are as follows:
- Opportunity – is there a significant problem that can be solved?
- Traction – are people signing up to use the solution and buy the product? (not just your friends giving it a “like”, but actual potential buyers)
- Scalability – how will this business model work out on long run?
- Team and execution – do you have the right people to make it happen? Including team dynamics: are they right fit to work together?
- Presentation – is it effective, clear and on time? Does it make me want to learn more about your startup?
Be sure to check out which evaluation criterias your startup pitch competition has.
What are the investors and jury members looking for?
In general investors want:
- Invest in products that people actually want to buy – can you prove that there is a significant market and people shouting “take my money and give me your product?”.
- To get their money back with good return – so they are looking for teams who are actually going to make it happen. There is no point in putting your money into a team, that just wanted to have some fun team-work exercise for the weekend. As an investor you want to bet on those who are ready to put years of hustle and grind to really bring their idea to life.
- Protection for their investment – some call it “moat“* some call it “unfair advantage“. They want to see that you can do something valuable that no one else can copy.
*(A moat is a deep, broad ditch, either dry or filled with water, that is dug and surrounds a castle, fortification, building or town, historically to provide it with a preliminary line of defence)
But the final decisions are often not rational, but rather emotional.
I see something in you, but I don´t know what it is.
And that emotional part makes it more complicated, because different investors can have different motivations that they are seeking for their current portfolio.
- Social impact – does this thing make the world a better place?
- Their area of passion – do they relate to the problem you are solving or technology you are using?
- The “wow factor” – they just want this cool idea as part of their portfolio.
- Determination – the absolute certainty of the founders that this idea needs to executed. Even if no-one backs them up, they are still determined to make it happen and become best in the field.
Keep in mind that humans make the final decisions to pick the winner. And humans have emotions. And to most people emotions override rational numbers. So build the emotional connection and make your pitch unforgettably great.
So what is it that you want to be remembered for?
The human memory is selective, it likes things that have emotion in it and that are connected to existing things. So if you want to be remembered – be relevant and tap the emotions of the listeners.
As the rule of golden circle says: people don´t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
Why are you doing this startup? Clarify these 3 elements:
- WHY (mission) – what is the impact you want to create and in which way do you want to contribute to the world?
- HOW (values) – what are the values and principles that guide you in you activities?
- WHAT (product) – which activities will actually help you attain that impact?
Do check if your startups social media, website, communication and all other elements are in alignment with your mission and values. In ideal case, your idea pitch should reflect those principles even without verbalizing what your mission and values are.
Don´t just talk about your mission, embody your mission. Let the listeners feel your mission.
Why, to whom and how to pitch?
Before you rush designing your slide deck, get really clear on those 3 questions:
- Why do I speak? What do I want to get as a result of my pitch? (is it validation for the idea, mentoring, feedback, new users or partners or … ?)
- To whom do I have to speak to get it?
- What do I need to show or persuade, so that they would give it to me?
Is this pitch competition actually the right place to get what you want for your startup?
What is the core message you want to deliver?
Clarify these questions:
- How are we going to disrupt the ____ industry?
- What makes us special compared to ____ or ____?
- How do we want the listeners to remember us after the pitch?
The listeners won´t propably remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel. With that in mind – it´s not about cramming all the information into a pitch, but it´s about figuring out what is the main thing that we need to convey.
Even though I ask a lot of questions in this article, you not have to cover all the answers in your pitch. But it does help you clarify what is the important thing to focus on.
How should I structure my pitch?
Your pitch should answer these 3 questions:
- What? – what is it that you are actually doing?
- So what? – why should we care? What´s in it for us? How will it improve our lives?
- Now what? – if I like your idea, what should I do next?
A more thorough classical structure could be to cover these points:
- Problem or opportunity – what is the problem you are solving or an opportunity you are bringing to the marketplace?
- Solution and use – showing how your solution solves the problem for the customers.
- Competition and uniqueness – comparing what are the existing alternatives that currently reduce or solve the same problem that you are solving. Also pointing out how your solution is better than others in aspects that are actually important for the customers.
- Business model – how are you going to make money? How can you sustain the growth and profit on the long run?
- Current status – what have we achieved so far?
- Team – who is in our team and what valuable skill each team member is bringing to the team to help this idea succeed? Are all the necessary skills covered?
- Next steps or strategy – what is our plan for further developing our startup? Important milestones and projections?
- Summary, ask or call to action – remind the listeners who you are, what you are doing and what makes your idea special. Your call to action, if you have one.
But be aware, that this structure might not be suitable for shorter 2-3 minute pitches. Also be aware that you do not need to give equal amount of time for each point. Only give time to those that really matter in persuading the listener to support your team.
Most importantly: if everyone is going to have the same structure, it will be boring for the jury members to listen. Therefore you to choose the key elements and cover them in your unique and engaging story. Save the details for Q&A.
Don´t just tell me, show me – the power of visuals
Elevator pitch has limited time – we want to maximize the impact of those minutes. So instead of giving a long talk about your business model or strategy, just show it with a visual.
Not all slides are created equal. Here´s the checklist for good pitch slides:
- Delivers a clear message – does the viewer understand what you are doing, what makes you special and why they should care?
- Only the essential information – don´t try to cram all the information on the slides. On each slide ask “Is it necessary to have these sentences here?”. If not, you might want to remove it, because long complicated text could mislead the listener from the important stuff. You can actually have more advanced slide deck that you send as handouts for investors, if necessary.
- One point at a time – listeners read faster than you talk, therefore if you have a long list of things, use animation to bring each element in when you need it or separate the big ideas on separate slides (slides don´t cost a dime!).
- Text is well readable – tiny text might look nice on a laptop screen, but will the people on back rows be able to read it? The minimum font size should be 24pt, or even better 30pt.
- Test it – do the fonts work on presentation computer? Are images and texts in their right places? Do the animations work properly? It is recommended to have your slides saved in pdf format, to avoid “surprises” on stage. If you use videos or animations, then especially make sure that they would work properly on presentation computer.
For pictures, design tools and free PowerPoint templates, check out this list: Free tools for designing and marketing your your ideas.
For a wider selection of well-designed paid PowerPoint templates check out Graphicriver under “Presentations” section.
In general, if you´re not sure what you are doing, then just go for widescreen slides with black background and white text with keywords. It won´t impress, but it will help you structure your talk and help listeners to comprehend the important stuff.
The pitch does not have to answer all the questions about your startup. It has to get the listeners interested to learn more about your startup.
Don´t waste a good real estate – use the final slide wisely!
Too many presenters finish their pitch with a “Thank you for listening” slide and head for Q&A. Instead, you should put your core message, mantra or call to action on the final slide, so that it would be visible during the Q&A.
With so many teams pitching and a long day behind, it could be that a jury member can´t even remember what your recently presented idea was about. Make it easier for them to provoke good discussion.
Also make a good use of your first slide – can it start building the story and arising curiosity even before you arrive on stage?
How to master the Q&A?
You want to feel confident when addressing the questions. How to develop that natural confidence? By being prepared for tough questions.
Here are some questions that investors and jury panels are often asking:
- How did you come up with the idea?
- What makes your product different than the other similar one?
- What is your market size (number of potential buyers you are going to address)?
- What is your go to market strategy? (how are you going to get first clients?)
- Why do you believe now is a good time to enter market with that idea?
- Why should I invest in your startup?
- What is your previous track record and experience in this field? What have you learned from that experience?
- If I were to invest in your company, what are the next specific steps you are going to take with the funding?
- What will quarantee that your startup will succeed among other similar players in that field?
- How is your intellectual property protected?
Brainstorm all the questions that listeners might have about your startup – including the tough ones. Write them down into Google Docs file and together with all team members have written answers for all questions.
Rehearse your pitch, record it and ask for feedback
By rehearsing your pitch you develop a better fluency – you verbalize the key ideas and develop a better clarity of what and how you want to say.
Videorecord your rehearsal, watch it. Ask what went well and how can I increase the effectiveness of the impact? What can I leave out, how can I use metaphors or examples, better wording?
Improve it and do it again, but better this time (don´t seek for perfection, if you mess something up, repair it and move on). Once it no longer sucks, show it to someone who can give you honest feedback.
You might ask feedback for these elements:
- Attention – did I get and keep your attention? Were there moments you got a little bored?
- Contact – did you feel engaged as a listener?
- Impact – did the talk succeed in bulding an interest for the idea?
Bonus for more detailed feedback on the performance:
- Explanation – were the visuals clear and helpful?
- Voice – Did I sound natural?
- Gestures – Were my body gestures natural? Did they support my message?
If not, then how can I improve?
In some occasions you might even be able to access the very stage that the pitching takes place. Use this opportunity to get a feeling of the stage – its size, screen and equipment placement, location of the jury etc.
And one more thing: remember to get a recording of your real-stage final pitch as well – this way you can learn how you actually perform on stage and it could be a nice resource for future use.
Speak to inspire
Remember, you are on the stage to inspire listeners to support your cause. You already believe in your startup idea. Now is the time to step on the stage and inspire them to support your startup.