Make your Pitch “Real” From Day One

 This is one in a series of posts about the skills, tools and prep work Founders need for success in an accelerator. 
 

What a Pitch Really Is

Raising money is a deeply complex issue for a startup. We won’t reinvent the wheel here and now and tell you whether you’re even ready to try doing it. But we will talk about your “pitch.”

Founders often enter the pitch under the false assumption that investors are looking for someone like them. Someone who feels like a peer, whose job it is to convince them. Paul Graham of Y Combinator wrote about this recently

“When people hurt themselves lifting heavy things, it’s usually because they try to lift with their back. The right way to lift heavy things is to let your legs do the work. Inexperienced founders make the same mistake when trying to convince investors. They try to convince with their pitch. Most would be better off if they let their startup do the work—if they started by understanding why their startup is worth investing in, then simply explained this well to investors.” – Paul Graham (Full Article here)

But your pitch is more than just a magical set of keywords that unlocks a golden elevator, filled with swimsuit models holding champagne flutes and suitcases full of money. The secret handshake theory of business is only attractive to those who aren’t sure who their customers are: investors or actual potential clients.

No, your pitch might be closer to your “identity,” as an early stage startup. Your pitch is not just your idea. That bears repeating. Your pitch is not just your idea: it is a demonstration of why you are a good bet. It’s also the first and consequently most important way that people will know you. VCs, angels, accelerators and even potential employees know you by your pitch. And avoiding the biggest mistakes, can be as key as making the best sounding pitch.

A Pitch is Creating a New Reality

One in which your product is real, and one in which it is something that customers need, and will pay for. This is why your pitch is not your idea. Your idea is plastic, and can change, but the reality you are pitching has to be real. Your product solves real problems.

And your pitch starts from day one. You should come up with a pitch that makes sense before going any further, because if you can’t sell your product, there may be little point in building it. This  ice-cream shotgun is still genius, by the way, but the pitch didn’t work out, so I’m waiting for the market to present a need before investing.

Ok... maybe not.

Ok… maybe not.

What’s in the Pitch

This is a “positioning template” first suggested by Geoffrey Moore in Crossing the Chasm, a modern day “bible” for technology marketing. See if the pitch you have at the top of your head addresses each of these points in a meaningful way:

For (target customers)
Who (have the following problem)
Our product is a (describe the product or solution)
That provides (cite the breakthrough capability)
Unlike (reference competition),
Our product/solution (describe the key point of competitive differentiation)

In this post we’re primarily concerned with the first half of this template.

Create the Problem

All products and innovations address problems, and this is the For, and Who, and Unlike, of your pitch. A person/company/institution with an issue/need/lack/goal.

When entering your pitch, you should have in mind a typical customer who has a common enough problem. This works for anything- you just need to be creative. You are not inventing the need, but you are formulating its basis.

Nobody needed an electric typewriter in 1924 when IBM obtained patents that would later be used in its first commercial models. But there were key deficiencies in the design of manual typewriters, that caused common, known problems. Problems that could be solved. IBM identified those deficiencies, and attempted to eliminate them.

There was no work not being done because of these deficiencies; nobody was sitting around waiting for the automatic typewriter, but companies and individuals still invested in the new technology, not because they were aware of how automatic typewriters would revolutionize business, but because it solved problems they knew they already had.

Here’s a pitch for the electric typwriter, in this frame (freely invented by me):

There are over 50 million typists, secretaries, students and amateur writers in America all grappling with the same issues. Current typewriters on the market have frequent jams, rust easily, cause pain in the fingers due to the difficulty of depressing keys, and create type which is often uneven, and illegible. Our new automatic typewriter solves all of those problems, using revolutionary new technology that prevents jamming, ensures even spacing, and is easy on the fingers. It produces clear, legible, even type, at a speed before totally unprecedented, allowing typists to work more productively, more quickly, and more happily. Better yet, it is cheaper to manufacture than a manual typewriter, accepting universally interchangeable parts.

You’ll find every element of the above template present. Who the product is for (and size of the market), what their problems are, what the competition offers, what our product is, and how it solves all of those problems, along with a litany of killer features, and even a case for profitability. It presents the investor with a world that is broken (typing sucks and it’s expensive), and then presents the solution (typing made easier and cheaper).

That is the sort of pitch that grew IBM’s revenue by a factor of 20 in 20 years, and its profits by a factor of 7 in the same time period. All based on solving basic deficiencies in its marketplace.

Not all products are as glamorous to you and I as the automatic typewriter. But think about the executives who funded its development in 1925. They didn’t touch typewriters. They had secretaries who did that, and they dictated letters or scratched notes on paper. Typewriters were manual labor, and beneath their pay grades.

It was a dark and stormy paperjam.

It was a dark and stormy paper jam.

Give the Solution

These people had to be convinced that a problem existed, and that others, office managers, schools, and institutions of government, would buy the solution, before they invested in buying the patents and funding its development as a commercial product. The pitch provides the investor with a reason why the product is needed, the evidence that there is a market for it, the evidence that the market will accept it, and the evidence that this will be a profitable venture.

And this kind of pitch can be given in 30 seconds, or in 30 minutes. If it makes the problem and the solution real, it can win an investment.

So however tedious the problems that you’re solving are, if you believe there’s a market for the solutions you offer, you have to make those problems real to investors. Presenting a killer solution, even when the status quo still works, is the key to making the problem real for an investor. Make that investor see the current state of affairs as a net loss, instead of a zero sum.

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AirCharts.co – StartupYard’s Company of the Week

“It is much easier to be disappointed in the first month than the second year.” This is the opinion of Aircharts.co’s founders from Moravian New Jersey. They made U-turn and pivoted in first month of the company. Meet Aircharts.co, in-page analytics, the solution for analysts to immediately get the metrics on his/her website.

Image

Lukas Haraga and Jiri Otahal after their pivot.

How did you three guys get together?

LH: I was trying to get a part-time developer for one of my previous projects so I put an ad on the VUT Brno portal. Jirka was actualy the only guy who had responded :-). We met in a restaurant and I realized he is someone I’d like to work with on a long-term basis. And he proved it was a good bet. It was quite the same with Michal who I met when he was on the high school. After a while I came with HowDoI Tutorials idea and brought both guys to work on it.

JO: Apparently nobody but me saw a potential in Luky when his ad appeared in our school portal :-).

MP: I met Lukas on 2010. I was studying second year on the high school and I was bored. I needed some activity and my classmate Kristian Holub gave me a contact to Lukas who was looking for someone to cooperate with on his project. Later, as we started to work on HowDoI Tutorials I met Jiri.

How did you come up with the idea of your in-page analytics?

LH: The first weeks in the StartupYard were quite busy. We met tons of mentors and they were giving us various feedback. We started to realize that HowDoI Tutorials is a nice technology but not nice enough to sell it in a ways we wanted. Milos Endrle, one of the mentors, was the one who wasn’t so passionate about the HowDoI Tutorials so we started to brainstorm how to make it more attractive. Our thoughts went to the analytics – if you’ll show the tutorials, the customer would want to see the stats anyway. And then the bulb just light up and idea of the Aircharts was born.

You pivoted so soon. Why?

LH: According to the previous answer we started to pitch HowDoI Tutorials and Aircharts as well. The feedback we were getting was “Aircharts positive” – we realized the potential of the Aircharts is bigger than HowDoI Tutorials. It wasn’t an easy decision but we are convinced it was the right one.

Where do you see yourselves in 2 years from now?

LH: Standing in front of the StartupYard 2015 teams and giving them “lessons learned” :-). Besides this we want to bring a fresh air to the analytics world – make what GPS did with the paper maps navigation industry and set new way how all web analytics data will be provided to the users… using aircharts.

JO: I just hope I won’t think about this question anymore 🙂

MP: I believe Airchars will be successful, the Internet business is growing and analysis is more and more necessary. I hope at least I will graduate from college :-).

What do you do in your free time?

LH: I am a scout leader so I love nature, hiking, camping. I also try to keep my body in shape by playing badminton at least once a week. But in summer it is my small convertible car what makes me really happy :-).

JO: I like to play football, play with my camera and a lot of time I spend with my girlfriend.

MP: I spend my free time by developing, bicycling, watching TV shows and with my girlfriend :-). I like the mountain biking as well.

Works.io – StartupYard’s Company of the Week

Do you know artists who are not fond of technology? Yeah, there’re many. We met two guys a few months ago who want to turn artists’ unappreciation of technology into ‘like’. The Canadian and the Swiss are building ‘LinkedIn + IMDB’ for contemporary artists, enabling them to keep portfolios and CVs up-to-date with ease. Works.io.

How did you two guys get together?

AH: We first met when we were trying to take over the world – on a hilltop in a Budapest park, playing “Risk”. Actually, Patrick won.

How did you come up with the idea for Works.io? 

PU: Abe’s wife is an artist and I am a gallery owner –  it was just about scratching our own itches, or even more urgent, a wife’s itch.

Where do you see yourselves in 2 years from now? 

AH: Only a few of months ago, I never would have imagined that I would move to Prague with my family, and be working full time on my own startup. I have no idea where I’ll be in 2 years, and actually like it that way 🙂

PU: Running a successful Gallery that naturally implements works.io into the daily business – since it became the standard for contemporary art.

Who are your favourite artists and why? 

AH: Marina Abramovic, because she does more than create art, she also inspires and enables other creators. (check out this new initiative: http://www.marinaabramovicinstitute.org/ ). Yoko Ono, because she is just so honest in her life and work. She is also accessible; just ask her a question and she’ll answer it. Every friday. (check answers here)

PU: just check www.works.io

 

StartitUp – StartupYard’s Company of the Week

One month down in Spring 2013 StartupYard program and some projects have great traction. Look at StartitUp.co and Ed with Yitao, co-founders. StartitUp.co is a step-by-step startup guide with action items based on the Lean Startup, Growth Hacking, and startup secrets from experts. The mission of StartitUp is to create a virtual incubator/accelerator that helps startups build, grow, and excel.

How did you two guys get together?

YS: Ed was managing my brother at Groupon.  He mentioned that Ed was looking for a co-founder to work on some cool projects, and the two of us should meet.  So we met in a coffeeshop and talked for 3 hours one night.

How did you come up with the idea of your guide? 

EL: We were working on a project just before this, and while we were brainstorming on what we needed to do next. I had all my bookmarks and notes out, and I realized that it’d be great if there was a guide that had all the best information organized in a way that startups could just follow and get the best results.

Where do you see yourselves in 2 years from now? 

EL: Doing startup education and helping startups succeed. Making a bunch of money while I’m at it.

YS: Running the technical arm a profitable enterprise.

What do you do in your free time? 

EL: Watch movies, play computer games, read novels, and work.

YS: I play basketball and video games when I’m by myself.  I also like to cook with my wife.

 

Hlidacky.cz – StartupYard’s Company of the Week

You know the websites, but who are the people behind? We want you to get you to know who are the StartupYard Spring 2013 teams. Who’s gonna be the first? Petr Sigut and David Hrachovy and Hlidacky.cz/Jellysit.com.

Hlidacky.cz provides caring parents with a seamless, reliable and trustworthy babysitting service by enabling them to choose a profiled and recommended babysitter, book online within a minute, leave their kids in safe hands, relax.

You two are young, no kids in sight – how did you come up with the idea of Hlidacky?

PS: One morning I just realized that if my interest in girls will continue in the same way, statistically speaking I am going to have a kid one day. And I’m really bad at taking care of them and I do not want my future wife just locked up at home and tired of taking care of the kids. So my perfect future? Some super hot girl + me + many kids + awesome babysitting service, so she got time for me. That’s why I am building Hlidacky.cz:). Moreover, the babysitters are a cool segment, definitely more interesting than making something for programers for example:)

Trustworthiness of your service is obviously a huge issue. How are you going to tackle it?

PS: We are designing a tool for parents to find a reliable babysitter as fast and simple as possible. This is a challenge for us since we know that children are the most precious thing in parents’ life. Thus, we would like to offer maxium trust to parents we are capable of.

We do background checks for example – we meet babysitters personally, check their ID and talk to them to make sure they are safe and reliable. To make it more scalable we are thinking of a third party service to do the verification for us.

Parents usually want good references before they hire a babysitter so we show reviews on the babysitter from existing parent users. If 10 parents say the babysitter is great, you can be pretty sure the babysitter will do a good job. On top of that, we can recommend you babysitters trusted by your friends, thanks to Facebook.

From the profile itself, parents can see how well a babysitter is suited for their kids.  Does she have pedagogical education? Can she manage small boys? Does she have exeperience with asthma? All these things can help parents choose a babysitter that works the best for them.

We are also experimenting with other possibilities – insurance for parents, a web camera so that they see what is happening at home and so on.

Who is your entrepreneurial guru and why?

PS: To be perfectly honest, I really do not have knowledge about famous startup entrepreneurs, I had to look up who Steve Blank was, since everybody was talking about him here:) Anyway, I really like how Time Ferris does business.

DH: I like Jen-Hsun Huang, Nvidia CEO, and Steve Jobs for their awesome presentation skills. I can spend hours watching them! Another man I like is Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO, Tesla Motors co-founder. Smart as Iron Man, doing cool things like manufacturing electric cars and planning trip to Mars.

Look at Hlidacky.cz presentation

Welcome 6 New Teams for 2013 Spring Program

It’s been long. A long selection process, 6 weeks. But we’re proud now to announce 6 amazing teams. We accepted applications from 12 countries and selected 6 startups from 5 countries. The third cohort begins their 6-month acceleration program on March 11 in Prague.

Who are our StartupYard Spring 2013 heroes?

Hlidacky.cz
We help parents meet the most reliable babysitters. Hlidacky.cz operates in the Czech Republic now.
Co-founders: David Hrachovy, Petr Sigut and Vaclav Kuna (Czech Republic)
Web: www.hlidacky.cz

HowDoI Tutorials
Interactive tool for website owners to create tutorials and guides in a few minutes.
Co-founders: Lukas Haraga, Jiri Otahal and Michal Pustka (Czech Republic)

 

Web: www.howdoitutorials.com

StartitUp
Step-By-Step Startup Guide with action items that will help entrepreneurs get their startup from idea, to product, to traction, and to funding.
Co-founders: Edward Liu and Yitao Sun (USA)
Web: www.startitup.co

Travelatus
Event travel made easy. It helps visitors of concerts, festivals and conferences to plan their trips.
Co-founders: Valentin Dombrovsky, Vitaliy Korobkin and Denis Volkov (Russia)
Web: www.travelatus.com

works.io
The essential career tool for professional fine artists, keep portfolios and CVs up-to-date with ease.
Co-founders: Abe Han and Patrick Urwyler (Canada, Switzerland)
Web: www.works.io

Yummy Food Delivery
How to eat healthy at your desk. Its focus is B2B delivery.
Co-founders: Kristina Sediva and Tomas Netrval (Czech Republic)
Facebook page Yummy Food Delivery