Ten early-stage entrepreneurs faced a distinguished panel of investors and successful business founders in a rapid-fire pitching competition in Sydney last night.
Only one emerged with the StartupSmart “So You Think You Can Start-up” first prize – free access to business services and mentoring – but all benefitted from judges’ honest, open feedback about their three-minute presentations.
Here were their top tips:
- Clearly identify the problem and target customer in your presentation
From entrepreneurship coach Jana Matthews, who is managing director of ANZ Innovyz START: “Is this a big enough problem; is this global? Can you convince me that we’ll have a huge market for this?
“And who, in particular, is the target customer? You can waste a lot of time doing what we call ‘boil the ocean’. But who is the first target you’re going after?”
Matthews highlighted LegalVision, which is building a curated online marketplace that matches lawyers to customers. LegalVision won third prize in the competition.
“Are you going after everybody who’s interested in legal services, or no, are you going to go after small businesses, women-owned business, businesses that are over five years old?”
- Demonstrate evidence that your business has market traction
- Be prepared to talk about your team
- Talk about your growth strategy
- Address judges’ questions
- Use a slide deck to keep the audience focused
- Don’t confuse the audience with superfluous comments
One entrepreneur ended his presentation with the comment, “we also accept BitCoin”. Matthews questioned the relevance of the statement, warning that it could lead people off topic, instead of keeping them focussed on the core business plan.
Another business mentioned a potential IPO, seemingly in passing. Matthews said judges were unsure of the commitment, recommending that it be qualified with backing statements.
- Talk about performance metrics and use meaningful facts and figures.
Judges were particularly impressed with how runner-up WeTeachMe shared its marketing and sales metrics. Co-founder Kim Huynh said the educational course listing service cold-called potential customers, converting 6 in 10 of those calls into meetings and 4 in 10 into sales.
Matthews warned that any figures needed to be relevant and meaningful, highlighting one presentation that boasted of 24 per cent revenue growth without revealing the starting point. “What did we start with – one dollar?” she asked.
- Know your audience – don’t be too smart
- Practice, practice, practice to make sure you can deliver within a time limit
Presenters used every last second of their three minutes, with most running out of time before even touching on some of their talking points.
Matthews said entrepreneurs needed to be able to deliver short, sharp presentations on demand to make the most of any unexpected opportunities.
“Use of time in your presentations is really important. You should practice three-minute pitches, six-minute pitches, with slides, without slides. Because you’ve got to be prepared on a moment’s notice, in an elevator, anywhere,” she said.
“When someone says, ‘What do you do?’ you’ve got to convince me and I’ve got to go, ‘Really, that’s a great idea, and maybe I’d like to go and have lunch with you and maybe I will invest.”
Many business founders included in their presentations a prediction of how much money they saw to be up for grabs in the market.
But some neglected to demonstrate proof that customers were actually responding well to their idea.
“Let’s see some traction; let’s see that when you come in to present to somebody, not that you have an idea or a concept but you actually have some customers, revenues, eyeballs or a steady increase,” Matthews said.
For most investors, a successful business is more about the people behind it than the idea.
But some businesses in last night’s pitching competition neglected to introduce the founding team, or glossed over individuals’ credentials despite being asked directly by judges.
“Do I see in the team the passion and persistence and willingness to execute?” Matthews said. “[I’ve heard] a lot about ideas, but business is about executing on an idea, finding the market, making sure you have a product that they want and are willing to part with money for.”
Many founders spent their allotted three minutes talking about the perceived need for their product or service. Some expanded on what they had done so far.
But few made any mention of the way forward.
“What I missed a lot was any evidence of your growth strategy,” Matthews said. “What are you going to do from here – do you not know yet, because you’re still in beta test?
“[The start-up phase] is a giant beta test but let’s get through start-up as quickly as possible so we can choose a market and grow and grow forward.”
When asked about his team, one founder responded with the number of people on board, and had to be prompted again to provide a quick run-down of the first names of his colleagues and their professional backgrounds.
“When anyone asks you a question, take the question seriously,” Matthews said. “Say, ‘this might be a problem, I might not have presented it well enough’.”
Bookkeeping technology provider Bocastle won the pitching competition with the only three-minute presentation that featured zero slides.
Matthews acknowledged that some people preferred presentations to be delivered without slides to avoid any visual distractions.
But she said slides would have been useful to highlight key points that judges should focus on. “You missed that opportunity,” she said.
Most judges had some difficulty understanding finalist Enarah’s product, which is software designed to boost productivity by neuropsychologist and co-founder Patricia Martos.
Co-founder and former aerospace engineer Ethan Glessich pitched the product as an app that would recommend tasks from a to-do list based on the amount of time available (for example, a 5-minute taxi ride), and the user’s energy level.
On the judging panel, Ruslan Kogan seemed impressed but Servcorp executive Marcus Moufarrige said he had difficulty understanding exactly what the product would do.
“I don’t understand what that means,” Moufarrige told Glessich. “You are way too smart to be pitching.”