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, and the London Business School’s StartHub.

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