October 9, 2012
What are the most important points for a startup to deliver when pitching? That of course depends on the format of the pitch, the audience, and the judges in the case of a pitch contest. Context is always key.
Distilled Intelligence 2.0, the two-day event where 50 companies compete per day for a total of $100K, takes place this week, and I’d like to share some of the counsel that our team at Fortify.vc provides to the presenting founders. We’ve just completed over 75 practice pitch sessions (100 companies will present) and our advice is based on the following pitch event format:
- Round One – 50 companies, 60 seconds each to deliver their pitch, with a microphone and a displayed logo.
- Round Two – 20 companies, three minutes to deliver their PowerPoint deck on the same stage as Round One.
- Round Three – 10 companies, five minutes each to respond to Q&A with judges.
Imagine being the founder on stage with a microphone in hand, supported only by your logo behind you on a huge screen, a timer in front of you counting down the seconds, and most importantly there are five judges in front of you in an auditorium full of investors. At the end of the day you might be competing with 49 companies for the title, but at the moment it is you vs. the clock.
Round One: Founders have 60 seconds to deliver their pitch and entice the judges to invite them back for Round Two. This first round is a rapid-fire session with no slides and no assistance. When the clock hits 61 seconds, the gong is rung. In this round, every second and every word counts.
Is it possible to cover all facets of a business in 60 seconds? Well, if an auctioneer were to pitch it might be, but the point is to share the highlights, what makes the business shine, and to ensure that the story impactful. I have suggested that founders choose a few of the following topics:
- Problem / Solution
Logically, founders deem the team as the most important area of focus, but the traction of the business is equally if not more important. In order to succeed in 60 seconds the delivery must be clear and concise to ensure that the judges are able to comprehend the business. Presenters should work hard to intrigue and entice the judges so that they receive an invitation to the next round. One tip I impress upon each founder is to complete their word-for-word script and commit it to memory as if they were in an Oscar-winning Hollywood production. Memorization through repetition is important and highly recommended. If the pitch is practiced out loud one hundred times, the pitch will be embedded in your brain and the focus will no longer be on what is to be said, but instead on how to make the story pop. Founders should master their pitch so well that the delivery of each word comes with ease. Accentuating the most important elements of the pitch, remembering when to pause for impact, and when to land the powerful punches that will create a favorable and lasting impression. Connecting with the judges through eye contact along with open and positive body language is also critical.
Round Two: At DI 2.0, 20 companies will be selected to present their pitch deck in three minutes. Three minutes is plenty of time to expand on the topics that were not discussed in the 60 second pitch. For DI it is recommended that folks do not repeat the same data points from Round One. However, expanding on the strengths of the team, traction, revenues, etc. is critical for the judges to believe that the business is viable and will succeed. DI judges want to select winners that have a viable business and are led by a team of dedicated founders. The goal of Round Two is to be invited back by the judges so that they can learn more in the Q&A round. The gong is still in effect at this point, at three minutes and one second, you will hear the ring! Save the competitive landscape for the next round (if the judges want to discuss it), as it best to focus time and on your company.
Round Three: Five minutes for Q&A with the same five judges that selected you in the previous two rounds. The top 10 startups from Round Two will be invited back to participate in an open conversation with the judges. In my opinion, the founders should already be prepared for it based on their respective day-to-day operational roles in the business. While the previous two rounds require precise and timely delivery, the Q&A is about connecting through a conversation with the judges. Winners will have it nailed and deliver flawless responses. Other participants will benefit from the additional time and the DI platform from which to network with investors.
As evidence of how pitch competitions can work for a startup beyond the actual event, close to $30 million has been raised by the 55 companies that participated in DI 1.0 in October of 2011.
For more information and to see the 100 companies selected for this year, checkout DistilledIntelligence.com.
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