Make your pitch – but avoid a horror show

Make your pitch – but avoid a horror show

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Cringe-making, toe-curling, awkward, confusing, arrogant, shabby, disorganised, unbelievable, deluded … all words that could be used to describe the worst business pitches. And most of us have been there, at one side of the table or another. If you want to avoid pitfalls with pitches, then read on …

First up, I don’t consider myself to be a ‘pitch guru’. However, over the years, I spent some time in the vibrant start-up London ecosystem, and have mentored start-ups in the UK and across the channel.

I come across pitches a lot – and I’m usually in the audience or watching from the wings. Sometimes it’s on a one-to-one, confidential basis. Other times, it’s at so-called pitching events. The latest one was the PitchFire event, which was part of the RoboBusiness Expo in Milan earlier this year. It was interesting and well organised. Well done to them.

This experience prompted me to clarify some thoughts about pitching. I haven’t provided any ‘general rules’. But this article might prove helpful as a checklist when you’re preparing your next pitch. These points are based on what I’ve actually heard before at pitches, time and again.

5 things you need in a pitch – but what’s often said

1) What you do

Q) I didn’t understand what you do

A) Well, the timeslot was too short to talk about our business model

If you can’t articulate what you do in a pitch to potential investors, partners or others, then how will customers have any a chance of understanding? Be very clear at the outset. You should be able to give anyone a good idea within 30 seconds.

2) Unique selling point (USP)

Q) What is your USP?

A) My what … ?

What makes you different? Why does the marketplace need your products or services? Three reasons are ideal. Make them clear, compelling and unique. And show you know the TLA! (That’s a three-letter acronym standing for ‘three-letter acronym’! 😉 )

3) Competitors

Q) Who are you competing against?

A) Oh, we have no competitors

Unless you’ve designed the world’s first teleportation machine or pizzas that deliver themselves, then you will surely have competitors. But even in that case, you have substitutes or at least one competing technology, maybe from adjacent industries (for some time, bicycle would be a competitor to teleportation to me!). The answer above is naive. Prepare for this question. Research competitors, even if their offering is slightly different. Know their strengths and weaknesses. Work out if your advantages are sustainable.

4) Your team

Q) Tell me about your team

A) We have known one another for so long and have very diverse skills – pretty unique

So many people respond this way. But we are all unique in some way. This kind of answer also points to a slightly unhealthy inward looking approach to the business that could be viewed as self serving. Much better to explain the business benefit of each individual, which might be their experience, contacts, etc. Then your ‘stock’ will grow in their minds of investors. After all, they are investing in your team. So why should they?

5) Finance

Q) What will you be using the money for?

A) Mainly product development. And BizDev. Oh, and people.

This is where many pitches come unstuck. Until now you’ve been talking about ‘your world’. Now you’re firmly in their territory. And they are the experts. Make sure you have the right answers and figures to back up everything you say – otherwise your pitch will unravel at this point (if it’s still intact). Be detailed about what you’re using the money for. Use an expert to help you with this – so you’re absolutely confident in all you say.

Other points

There are plenty more I could add which are important too: trademarks/patents, working capital, return on investment, and exit strategies … to name a few.

Then we could get into all the detail beneath of each of these, which is really crucial because your audience may push you for more information. The conversation could take all sorts of twists and turns. But each pitch will be so unique for every company that a single article can’t do the job.

Parting advice

I have mentored many start-ups in different sectors (telecoms, IT, agriculture, maritime, tech manufacturing, fin-tech, and more). But when it comes to pitches, many of the ground rules are exactly the same and they all need to work towards answering a single question: Is this a viable business worth investing in?

What I hope you’ll take from this article is the need to be 100% prepared for your next pitch. Work with someone who will give you clear, honest and constructive feedback. Much better to take it from them and work together on making it better, than emerging from a pitch with your dream in tatters and a potentially brilliant business plan that’s failed at the first hurdle.

 

This article was also published on London Business Matter, sign up to  our newsletter here if you liked it.

Why falling in love with your product can be fatal

Why falling in love with your product can be fatal

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As Director of Eggcelerate, I’ve met companies at different stages of product development. These businesses have ranged from early-stage start-ups to SMEs, mid-sized companies to corporate enterprises. They’ve been in different vertical markets: telecommunications, IT, fin-tech, energy and manufacturing. Yet, they’ve had one thing in common – technology has been at the heart of their new product or service.

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not against technology. Quite the opposite. I have a technical background and I love technology. Every time some new gadget or innovative service is launched, I’m fascinated.

But this is a warning about the dangers of falling in love with your product – not one that belongs to someone else.

If you’re bringing a technology-based product to market, then you could be at risk from this malady. It’s something I’ve witnessed again and again.

So what are the signs and the dangers? Self-analysis is always difficult when you’re so close to something to get perspective. But here are three areas where you can test yourself to see if something is going wrong.

Symptom #1: You’re looking for perfection. You keep adding new features and tweaking the product before it’s launched.

This is the problem of over-engineering. The consequences are serious: longer and longer time-to-market and overspending on a product that hasn’t started bringing in any revenues. In the meantime, the window of opportunity is closing. You’re also locking up valuable resources (people, time and money).

Symptom #2: You’re dazzled by the features of your product and can’t stop talking about them.

This is where an understandable passion for your creation mutates into excessive product focus. Damage occurs when you start reaching out to potential customers: You talk about yourself and your product, not the benefits you bring to customers. Excessive product focus can also weaken your marketing proposition. You become too distracted – caught up in feature-by-feature comparisons with other products and pricing discussions.

Symptom #3: When it comes to budgets, you’re only willing to spend if it makes the product better.

At first, this sounds like good business sense. But it’s really a misallocation of resources. Suppose you spend 95% of your budget on the product, but you refuse to spend 5% on Marketing and BizDev because you believe that money may be enough ‘to improve the product’ that tiny bit more? Without spending on these other things, you’ll have no first-day clients. In fact, it could take weeks and months to create demand. Really, you should be investing in developing the commercial proposition much earlier – while the product improvement phase is happening.

What’s the antidote to product love?

I’m tempted to say the answer ‘product loathing’ but that’s the worst outcome of all – if everything goes wrong.

Rather, the best approach is to always focus on your clients – and how you can help them to tackle their business challenges in a simple, effective and profitable way.

Build a prototype/MVP as soon as you can. And if you don’t have capabilities, time or the right focus, rely on experts (not consultants! See my previous blog) to help you.

Technology is a means to an end. We should always reflect this in the way we define strategies and approach clients. Their challenges need to be at the top of the agenda. Technology follows.

 

This article was also published on Realbusiness.co.uk, sign up to  our newsletter here if you like this post.

High-flyers: loose cannons or your greatest asset?

High-flyers: loose cannons or your greatest asset?

Stefano Maifreni, founder of business expansion consultancy Eggcelerate, found himself wondering what to do with something of a high-flyer when he appointed a new expert in operations and enterprise resource planning (ERP). “It was a pretty rare skill set in our arena,” says Maifreni, “and the person we hired immediately wanted to restart our ERP from scratch and also take over key financial operations. Showing initiative was great, but his ambitions were all a bit ‘too much too soon’ and potentially disruptive.”

Maifreni’s solution was to challenge the new hire with objectives that were slightly out of his comfort zone. “I also had to balance a collaborative and more direct style of managing him,” he says, “and ensure that there was a continuous review of the projects he was working on.” It worked – this approach channelled the employee’s energy and drove positive change for the company.

Read the full article on Natwest Contentlive.

How SMEs can cross new frontiers and boost revenue

How SMEs can cross new frontiers and boost revenue

Imagine zooming all the way to Mars, only to realise you’ve left your spacesuit at home. It sounds absurd but it is happening with SMEs in the tech sector. After coming a long way, some are unable to take the next step. It’s all because something vital is missing – and it’s time to cross new frontiers.

Read the full article on Real Business.

Winter 2016-17 Survey: the results

Winter 2016-17 Survey: the results

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A Survey on 200+ European Business shows 20%+ of UK-based have been impacted by the vote to leave the EU

DATA

  • 202 EU-based SMEs
  • Of which, 126 UK-based
  • Of which, 30 (23.8%) had at least one project impacted by the vote
  • These companies said at least one on-going project was stopped 10% of the time (3), a budgeted project was put on hold 23% (7) and authorisation delayed 67% (20) of the times
  • Of these businesses,
    • Almost half (14 or 46.7%) are Established SMEs
    • Almost three quarters (22 or 73.3%) have a turnover <1M
    • Around half (16, 53.3%) have less than 5 employees
    • Almost all (28 or 93.3%) serve other businesses
    • Around 30% (13, 29.6%) provide professional services
    • Almost a quarter (7, 23.3%) do not trade internationally

OUR VIEW

Businesses are experiencing uncertainty at an unprecedented level. At a glimpse, figures are worrying, considering established SMEs and businesses not trading internationally have been impacted.

However, there is a deeper level of data to consider: those who said they weren’t affected by the vote also said their main issues were business development, marketing or funding. On the other hand, those who said they were affected, also said their main issue was product management.

Therefore, we think the way the vote has affected these businesses is not an absolute: it depends on where they were in their journey, and those more resilient were less affected.

So, what should businesses do? There are two options – one is to see Brexit as an opportunity and the other is to baton down the hatches and make cutbacks in anticipation of a downturn.

Both could be the right option for any business and it’s possible to feel paralysed by fear and uncertainty. The danger is, however, that companies end up doing nothing and lose two or more years of pondering time while their competitors drive forwards.

The unstoppable march towards pay as you go services, for everything from staffing to vehicles, offices and virtually all IT support, make it easier to grow without risking huge amounts of capital.

Overall, we’re advising companies to invest carefully, rather than cut back – whether they should invest in expansion or in innovation and getting ready to grow again. But to do it in a flexible, focused way.

 

This article was also published on London Business Matter, please sign up to our newsletter here if you liked it.

Should I invest in growth or focus on profit?

Should I invest in growth or focus on profit?

“Broadly speaking, young businesses usually look for growth rather than profit, because they need to get known, and are maybe challenging established players, if not industry assumptions.”

“However, focusing on growth or profit, does not mean that the business model shouldn’t be profitable, nor that it should give its products or services away for the sake of reaching as many customers as possible.”

“I’ve seen profitable businesses go bust because they didn’t manage the cashflow. [The business needs to be] profitable or not, cashflow positive or not for the business itself, not for investors.”

Read the full article on The Guardian.

How to beat the crowdfunding blues

How to beat the crowdfunding blues

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How can you put the ‘fun’ back into crowdfunding or, more to the point, the millions of missing micro investors needed to make it work? Recent problems have dampened this fledgling financial marketplace. But small firms needing cash shouldn’t despair.

 

A few years ago, crowdfunding was seen as a ray of hope after the world-wide financial crisis. Why look to the banks — if masses of micro investors are queuing up to help, each waving £10 in your direction? People liked the concept and a number of equity crowdfunding platforms were launched and scaled up.

But then came disillusion

Just recently I attended a CSFI (Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation) roundtable called ‘Fin-Tech for Breakfast’. It touched on several interesting topics such as regulatory developments, payments, digital banking, blockchain and P2P. But then we couldn’t avoid discussing the industry shockwaves emanating from LendingClub.

I won’t cast any judgment or go into the details, aside from saying it’s been reported that sales to a single investor of $22 million in near-prime loans failed to meet that investor’s terms (you can read the full story here). At our roundtable, someone commented that this made LendingClub look more like a non-bank lender rather than a loans marketplace.

This made me think about the broader crowdfunding industry, within which I worked at Code Investing, and which I have had the pleasure to discuss at The Pluralists Club. The question I’m asking myself is: does the ‘crowd’ in ‘crowdfunding’ really exist in this sector today?

What’s changed?

After the initial optimism and excitement, it’s clear that the crowdfunding industry is consolidating and making adjustments:

  • The demand for funding is definitely there, but what about the supply? In most cases there are a few large investors (usually angel investors) providing most of the funding.
  • Small and medium-sized investors exist but probably not in large enough numbers for these platforms to scale up. And stories like LendingClub won’t help.
  • Some platforms are branding and repositioning themselves almost as niche investors’ clubs. We are seeing now the first exits.

With these things in mind, the crowdfunding arena could be shrouded in gloom for some time to come. And in the unpredictable Brexit era, investors of all sizes may be looking for safer, more traditional investments in the short-term at least.

Crowdfunding isn’t gone for good

Even though crowdfunding has taken some knocks, it’s still a valid business model.

As long as interest rates are low and other investment opportunities remain uncertain, then a compelling crowdfunding deal can be just as good (if not better) than anything else you’ll see — and will attract investors of all sizes.

But the bar has been raised.

And that means that any small businesses venturing into the world of crowdfunding need to up their game. Here are three suggestions:

  • Stand out from the crowd: Present your core proposition in a bolder way. Find a business expansion expert with a technology/finance background who will help you to cut through crowds of cash-strapped companies.
  • Don’t be afraid to re-price and re-package your services: A trusted outside adviser may have a better idea of who you’re competing against – and how to give you an edge, so you can push your way to the front.
  • Show you’ve got investors already: Mobilise family, friends and other contacts to raise you up on their shoulders — and boost your crowdfunding chances. Hit the magic 30% funded mark from these people and you might find that’s the tipping point that gives you traction with other investors.

But if that all doesn’t go to plan, then there are other financial backers out there. And you don’t have to go all the way back to the bank. We haven’t gone full circle!

 

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