The Anatomy of The Winning Pitch

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All great pitches are alike; every bad pitch is bad in its own way. This year I have had so far worked on more than 220 pitches on different occasions. After having reviewed about 100 more, I have come to one conclusion – there’s science to winning pitch. No matter where you pitch and why you need to, the very aim is to communicate the value you project has. And to do it well (be it sales pitch, elevator pitch, investors pitch), you need to understand the anatomy of the winning pitch and fight many battles – mainly with yourself. In short – use the science to craft the narrative well. 

Toothscan won this year’s Wolves Summit Warsaw Great Pitch Competition. Their team took the stage along with five other finalists. All strong competitors with interesting solutions from around the globe. They won, not only because they had a great product (working prototype with strong social proof and science to back it up), but because they nailed the pitch perfectly. Not only was their narrative solid and had flow you rarely see, but the CEO Cemal Kavasogullari delivered the message precisely each time they pitched. It might have seamed like the solo act but the whole team behind the pitch was strong. and it showed.

The anatomy of the winning pitch

Toothscan pitch, like all winning pitches I saw consisted of few crucial elements. The ones I always advocate and make sure to include in the pitches of the startups I work with. There’s one principle that even describes the necessity to have all the necessary elements to succeed. It is called The Anna Karenina principle. It describes an endeavor in which a deficiency in any one of a number of factors dooms it to failure. Consequently, a successful endeavor (subject to this principle) is one where every possible deficiency has been avoided. The success of your pitch depends on understanding and implementing the following elements:

  • Big Idea aka the context. Your audience needs to understand the context first before they are thrilled with your solution or before you (God forbid) flood them with features and functionalities. Big idea is like big picture – it help your audience understand the territory you’ll be marching on. It is like the intro to a great story – paining the landscape, introducing the characters of the story and… the villain. With simplest words possible you need to map the territory. Cemal does it with those words:Teeth are an essential part of our lives. We need them to appreciate so many of life’s pleasures. To enjoy… to communicate… to fall in love. My mother suffered with dental problems for most of her life. She had to be hospitalized for dental surgery and the tooth infections lead to complications with her heart. She was lucky, but millions of other aren’t and they suffer the consequences throughout their lives.

    Using a simple intro and a personal story Cemal said everything the audience needed to understand – we will be talking about teeth and the bad things that can happen if we do not act fast.

  • Problem. One thing you need to understand – your project better serve some problems also known as pains. You also need to communicate those problems well, mainly showing how grave they are and how they either affect economy, people’s lives, societies and so on. How grave the problem is always is subjective but communicating it well is crucial. The scale of the problem gives way to understanding the potential for the solution and who can benefit most when the problem is solved. It also shows there’s need for something to be done. That is why I always like to lubricate the ‚problem part’ with the ‚why now’ factor. Cemal does the job well in his Toothscan winning pitch. He states:160 million hours of work and 50 million hours of school are lost every year because of dental cavities. World health organisation says: Cavities are a Major Global Health problem. What if I told you, we have a solution for that?
  • Solution. When there’s a problem, there’s a solution. That is why right after you present a problem you offer the solution. You can do it like Elon Musk does in his winning Tesla Power Wall presentation, offering the two part solution and communication in a pro-active manner before the audience gets skeptical about the solution. Whatever you do, make sure to keep things simple and once again explain things. Just like Cemal does in his Wolves Summit Pitch. Before he gives away the solution he briefly explains the mechanism responsible for the cavities. He simply explains how the main villain works. And this is brilliant!

Cavities are caused by mineral loss from the tooth surface. At early stages, this loss is completely reversible, but there is no way to know WHEN to take action.

Again this is to say that we can fight the problem, but without assistance we cannot now when to take action. This is to answer all the skepticism. One sentence that says so much. What follows is a simple value proposition with some secret sauce and keywords.

So, we created ToothScan! A device the size of a toothbrush, enabling user-friendly, at home monitoring of dental health. Using space technology, it analyses the mineral content of your teeth and provides real time feedback via the smart phone app. The app brings up to date information and risk assessment tools, connecting you directly to your dentist for personalized advice.

  • Potential. Every good solution becomes great when there’s a scalable market for it. So in order to make people believe there is not only the need but the sufficient market for your solution you need to state it clearly. And remembers numbers do all the magic when put in context. Cemal seems to know that when he states:

UK and US are our entry markets with a combined worth over 100 billion pounds a year. Toothscan meets a market need created by increasing personal dental expenditure and a shortage of dentists serving the population.

  • Show me the money. It is not enough to show the money, you have to prove how you’re going to actually make it. In short, you need to either communicate the distribution channels, the business model or the pricing policy. In Toothscan’s case it was a business model with distribution channels outline.

It will be available via online retailers and directly through dental care professionals. Insurance providers and large employers will have significant incentives to distribute ToothScan to their customers reducing costs and improving satisfaction.

  • Social proof or any other proof. Best way to prove you’ll make it is to show traction. But you can also use other elements delightfully incorporated into the narrative. Like social proof or… ‚we’ve won before’. It can take the form of Cindy Wu’s „we were the top story on Reddit” or the words of Cemal:

Next week, we will be competing as a finalist at the Duke of York’s Pitch@Palace Competition. 

This simply adds a nice touch. Social Proof is important to the audience as it helps them rationalize their choices. Sometimes however social proof can be counter productive when you’re… too successful. I’ve learned to believe that some of the startups I had worked with did not win some competitions because the judges thought they could do well without the main prize.

  • The team behind the project. There’s no solution, value proposition, traction without the great minds behind the project. So take a moment to tell the audience about them. And make sure you do it well, emphasizing the skills and values that are crucial to the project. Even in his 3 minutes pitch Cemal takes time to do so.

Our elite team of dentists, doctors and engineers share a common goal… to give their families, friends and communities the best quality of life, free from the misery of dental problems. 

  • The motivation. Why you’re doing what you are doing is (on psychological level) a lot more important than how you do it. Just like Simon Sinek points out, the WHY is crucial. That is why even when presenting the team it is good to mention their motivation. Just like Toothscan’s CEO did in the above lines.
  • The milestones are crucial as they show the way the team envisions the future and that they have a clear path. It is also important to state why and how winning will contribute to making the future better or… faster.

Winning the Great Pitch today! will enable us to achieve our next milestone quicker, Safety testing and CE marking of our product .

  • Sum up. You need to finish with the smile leaving the audience with the ‚let’s do something about it’. Cemal actually says his name only once, when finishing his narrative. And I must say I like it a lot. It makes sense as even though we love to talk about ourselves. It is best to talk about the problems, solutions, the world and stuff. So when Toothscan’s CEO says:

I am Dr. Cemal and I invite you all to support us in our mission to keep the world smiling.

I trust him and I want to join the mission.

Firm and coherent narrative

Whenever I analyze a pitch to later on work with others, I always fear one thing. That when I tell people – these are the elements you should use – they will use those and the pitch will take a form of forced joined elements. But when working on the final pitch I always make sure my client understand. Putting the pitch together is like writing the story. You need the elements of the plot but you bond them together with what I call – if this than that formula. One thing must lead to another. The elements have to form a coherent narrative with the elements that link the thoughts and form a solid story that flows. My advice is to write things down, edit it. Read it. Edit it one more time and continue till you get nothing but the essence. And never ever start by opening a power point or keynote. Write it as you were writing an email or letter. In Toothscan’s case it was a team work. Tim Tang was the guy who strongly supported Cemal and continued to tweak both the story and the presentation till the very final minutes.

Hard work and final delivery

Crafting the narrative is one thing. Rehearsing it a thousand time is quite the other. I advocate hard work and always timing the pitch. Even some of the finalists at Wolves Summit did not precisely nailed it. But Cemal did. Maybe because he rehearsed over and over again. He was focused. Showed no stress. All that because he knew what he was doing and he was willing to accept feedback. And he had his friend Tim Tang tweaking the very last details in a continuous effort to deliver well. They both looked for advice and feedback that they then continued to accept. Not blindly but filtering it through his own interpretation of the words. The final delivery of the winning pitch is important. After all it is like final game of the season. It should be like the Super Bowl. I am always puzzled when I see people that just do not seem to care when they pitch. It’s like they are stating they do not care about their business and whether their project gets the just communication.

Pitch is a part of your startup’s communication

Face it – the pitch is part of your projects communication. It should be in sync with your website and definitely it should be a part of message positioning strategy. Toothscan’s communication is coherent. Wherever you turn you see the same keywords and the bits that matter the most. That happens only when you not only think about your project but about communicating your project. That is how good startups and businesses play the card. And they win.