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So You’re a Startup: How to Pitch

Today marks the first installment of our So You’re A Startup series! We will be posting a blog every week answering your most pressing questions and giving you some insight into how to startup and (hopefully) be successful. This week’s topic: how to pitch.

Pitching is an art – most of the time you’ll only have a few minutes to catch the attention of an investor, VC, or potential customer. It will seem like there are so many things you need to cover and if you don’t have a solid pitch planned, you’re bound to spit out a lot of things that you think are important but that may not make complete sense.

See what you can learn from this candid, super realistic conversation…

Mentor enters the meeting room wearing a plaid shirt and relatively nice shoes (startup uniform). He walks over to Pitcher, who is sitting at a desk, wearing an obviously unwashed t-shirt and flip flops (unfortunately also startup uniform). Mentor sits down, across from Pitcher.

Mentor: Hey Pitcher, how’s it going?
Pitcher: Good, I guess… (said with extreme lack of enthusiasm)
Mentor: What did you do this time?
Pitcher: You know the VeloCity Venture Fund finals?
Mentor: Of course I do, I’m your mentor.
Pitcher: Well we did our 3 minute pitch and it was a piece of crap. We lost.
Mentor: Man that sucks. Too bad your groundbreaking idea of Facebook for Cats isn’t going to get funded. (said with complete sincerity) What did you say?
Pitcher: Well we started off with how our -insert complicated web platform here- was revolutionary and how we combined HTML, javascript and –
Mentor: That was your first mistake.
Pitcher: What do you mean? Our technology is amazing and everyone needs to hear about it right away so that they’ll be super impressed with us.
Mentor: That would be great if anyone actually knew what you were talking about. You need to start your pitch with something gripping. Your audience has to relate to the problem you present in order for them to ever start caring about your solution. Tell your story, it’s usually the most interesting part of your startup. Did you talk to a cat about how it wanted to connect with other cats? Did your idea come from a dream you had about a vampire? If it’s interesting, tell your story!
Ok, that makes sense. When do I get to start actually talking about Whiskerbook ©?
Mentor: After your audience cares about your problem, they’re going to want to hear about your solution right away. How did you explain Whiskerbook?
Pitcher: I just said it was a web-based platform connecting cats with touch screen heat censoring technology.
Mentor: Did you every just say, “It’s Facebook for Cats”?
Pitcher: But it’s not just that, there’s so much more to –
Mentor: But no one understands what you mean. You need to explain your idea in a way that a 10-year-old could understand. If someone is trying to get a handle on what you’re startup actually does the entire time you’re pitching instead of actually listening to your pitch, you’re doing it wrong. What did you say about your market?
Pitcher: So… I said, there are a lot of cats in the world and they probably… maybe have owners with computers.
Mentor: (deeply sighs)You have to be passionate about your product and confident that your idea is going to work. Have a clearly defined market that’s interested and know everything about them. No one wants you to waste their time on something that both you and they do not care about.
Pitcher: Okay. I really do love Whiskerbook, I guess I have to start acting like it!
Mentor: Agreed. Now what did you say about yourself?
Pitcher: I’m supposed to talk about myself?
Mentor: Of course you need to talk about yourself! It’s great if you’re confident and act like you believe in your company, but if the investor/VC/audience doesn’t know who you are or why they should be listening to you, they won’t. Talk about your background and why you are the perfect person to get your solution off the ground.
Okay, cool.
Mentor: Did you mention how you make money?
Pitcher: …no.
Mentor: That’s one of the most important parts, especially if you’re asking for investment! If you’re not going to make money, no one is going to give you money. You need to tell investors about your potential users, your actual users, if you’re going to make people pay to use your service, why they’ll pay, and how you’ll use ads or whatever else you can think of if they won’t.
Pitcher: Anything else I should know?
Mentor: (looks Pitcher up and down) First of all, do some laundry. And just be enthusiastic and go for it, have fun with it! This is your product, your million dollar idea, and if you don’t act like you care, no one else will either. Having passion that is contagious is so important – it’s infectious and people will have a hard time ignoring your stalker love for your startup.
: We probably should have had this conversation before the Venture Fund finals…
Mentor: Yeah… You can always apply to VVF again, it happens every term.
Pitcher: True, thanks man.
Mentor: I’m off to talk to Startup Guy about his intuitive toilet for birds, see you around!
Pitcher: Peace.

Mentor gets up from the table, thinking about how to innovate the avian excrement process. Pitcher ponders everything he now knows about pitching and also decides not to do laundry.

A huge thanks to @mikekirkup, @bashome and @mmcauley for their pitching protips!

Did we forget anything? Have some insight about pitching you want to add? Comment below!