Wednesday, January 2, 2013

pitching (thoughts for StartMate 2013 teams)


  • pitching is a Darwinian skill. You need to be great to take the next step in company evolution. Otherwise greater chance of extinction.
  • be prepared to lose 4+ hours/week to pitching
  • don't assume that one team member (not you) will pitch
  • pitching is a muscle you build
  • you are pitching a company - not a product
  • your business is not your product

One of the best things about being a StartMate advisor is the alumni mailing list. As opposed to skynet, it started self-aware (mostly) and continues to evolve its intelligence (at a less than exponential rate). 

Everyone on the lists gets smarter from the collective insights.

Last month - with the 2013 group selected, the alumni kicked-in with practical advice about matters of housing/accomodation and what the StartMate experience will be like. For example: great posts here from Chris and Jindou:
(this tip is gold: "getting all the features done before Startmate commences!")

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the alumni email list also started to crank away with tips and advice. A standout example: Stuart Argue from 2011's Grabble*** produced a great list of 24 points (which I won't leak), but here is one that I wanted to cover in this post:

"16. Keep refining your pitch deck when in pitch mode"

This is the main point of this post. You pitched pretty well to get into StartMate....but its not good enough. When you hit the US, you will be getting one shot to amaze potential investors - you want to make those few minutes count.

I can't guess how Niki will run the 2013 schedule, but its likely ALL Tuesday afternoons will be allocated for team pitching. Its an unspoken rule that ALL teams (and ALL team members) show up and support each other. Different mentors will come in each week and give feedback on pitches - generally diametrically opposite to the previous weeks advice :)

In StartMate 2011, we were too relaxed - we just had a quick update and elevator pitch.
In StartMate 2012, teams pitched every week their full pitch deck (5+minutes). Then got feedback.

The result is that teams of 2012 were far superior in understanding the business aspects of their company and preempting objections from potential investors. Just like hitting the gym; through repetition and feedback you build a muscle that technologists don't usually have. (StartMate is biased to selecting technologists).

An example of 2012

ScriptRock had a very specific valuable enterprise product but the team had no clue how to communicate the value to people outside their sector (most technologists start by describing features not benefits - then words like "awesome" and other purple farts*****). This was a major fail because NO INVESTORS will understand your business - nor can you educate them (bottom-up) in 3-8minutes.
So ScriptRock iterated a lot and got massively better. The "a-ha" moment was when Alan (coder) took the lead in pitching from Mike (hustler) - it had velocity, clarity, crispness and attitude.****
The important thing here is not WHAT evolved but that they listened, iterated and evolved. They weren't afraid to try new things and they developed pitching muscle.

Alan from Scriptrock let me know that point #8 in his own post is pretty relevent. Thanks Alan!

"Competition drives excellence"

Entrepreneurs are competitive, so when teams see others getting better and better (in a collegiate environment), friendly competition emerges. So the net result was some pretty funny creative theft of pitching ideas (more flames!) and all teams increased their skills.

Pitching ain't stealing time from coding

Its likely that some of you will resent losing 4+ hours weekly to pitching when there is so much pressure to work on your product. This is natural: the geeks and product guys think that the product will sell itself. The twisted logic in a coder's mind is like: "If I just sort out this UI issue, then we will have solved world hunger".  But:

Your business is not your product.
Your business is: product + recruit customers + make them pay.
Think about this - the best way to get across your business is by getting brutal feedback fast and often - so pitch weekly but also pitch people on the train and bus. Get used to describing the business in 20 words, 1minute etc. I'll do a separate post on selling pitches vs validation and "listen but don't obey".

Where to start

There's a bajillion pitches to view on the web and different approaches (e.g "tell a story", "problem/solution", "product/traction/team" etc) but just for simple discipline of knowing the answers to questions investors will ask, then Pollenizer's Universal Pitch Deck is a great start point.

Collegiate Environment

a quick side-note: By far the standout difference of 2012 (in comparison to 2011) was the collegiate environment created at ATP via the generosity of Hamish and Andrew (they are much cuter than their profile photos). ATP supported 2011 as well but for some** reason(s) the teams did not commit to the location and largely worked independently. Working together just seems to accelerate quality of all the teams - the value of easily sharing technical and business savvy is often underestimated.

** some lessons we learned are now part of the StartMate filtering process.
*** Anthony used this headwear for negotiations will WalMart.
**** I don't know how they pitched in the US. Recently I saw Mike pitch and he was even better :)
***** “purple farts”—adjectives that sound impressive but carry no substance. Guy Kawasaki


  1. Lots of good stuff. The other thing I'd add is that the type of pitch that works well in Australia seems to be quite different to the type of pitch that works well in Silicon Valley (although Australian investors are slowly evolving to be more similar to valley investors).

    Almost every Aussie company I've met that has come to the valley to pitch (and I've met a lot) needed help turning their pitch into 'valley style'. So it's important to get feedback from valley locals before pitching to investors out here.

  2. Very good point Ryan!

    My observations are:
    OZ investors want to hear about your full business model and (*sigh*) how you've already nailed the "CPA < LTV" equation.
    SV Angels are more interested in traction/adoption.