What Slovenia taught me about pitching

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I teach how to pitch, meaning I help entrepreneurs hone their message. I always say that a great pitch will not save a bad business project but a bad one can bury a decent one. To teach well I practice and work with startups as I cannot imagine anyone giving good advice without a solid theoretical background and a fair share of hard work. So when opportunity came  and I got a chance to watch and analyse all the pitches presented at a Demo Day organised by ABC Accelerator in Ljubljana, I was more than happy. I was also happy when I watched the pitches which is rare these days. 

During the aforementioned Demo Days eight startups pitched their ideas. I liked them but the thing I want to write about are the pitches, not the ideas. Of course I think some ideas are better than the others but judging the ideas by the pitch alone would be an understatement. But I can most certainly judge a pitch by watching a pitch. And I have some conclusions I want to share. I divide my feedback to two parts. The positive feedback is general as the elements that were good perpetuated in all the pitches. The negative feedback is individual as even though I generally liked the pitches, there were some things I did not fancy that much.

There you have it. Eight startups, eight different ideas turned into business projects moulded into eight minute pitches. As I like to say all good pitches are alike, every bad pitch is bad in its own way. Those were pretty good pitches that proved that it takes time to craft a firm narrative, that storytelling (almost always) work and that saving your audience from the cognitive overload is the key. The ones that pitched proved that it takes guts to be yourself onstage and that being too serious NEVER works.

It takes time to craft a pitch

When I watched the pitches for the first time I knew one thing – none of those pitching were top notch charismatic stage heroes. Don’t get me wrong – they were good but they were not too good and that is what I liked and that is what I like about Elon Musk. He is not a great keynote presenter either but he delivers the message because his story is good and it is well presented. I also knew one more thing – all those pitches were perfectly prepared and it took time to craft them. I even asked Jakob from ABC Accelerator about the time those guys and gals spent practicing and he would tell me they would practice once a week throughout the whole program and then continuously practiced daily till the Demo day came. Well, what can I say – that is the way it should be.

Storytelling (almost) always work

All the startups presenting during the Demo Day used the storytelling as the technique to introduce the big idea. Some did it well, some did not. This just proves that storytelling is the key only when it is well implemented. Meaning it has to follow the pattern of the good story: the hero, the motivation, the conflict and the resolution. The good things about all the pitches is that the presenters were trying to simplify the concept and introduce the big idea with personal stories. The problem is that some of those stories failed to impress and drifted towards the boring to say the least. A story must be both great and well told. The story has to have twist and a surprise element to it. Otherwise it fails to impress. It just does not stick. That is probably why you will remember some stories better after watching those pitches. And you will forget the others.

I don’t have friends I have a family

The frontman should always pitch – it’s obvious you choose the best master of first impressions to enchant the audience. But when a frontman forgets the team or mentions it only briefly I think it is NOT how it should be done. The guys and gals in Slovenia know how to do it. Every single pitch mentions the team. Not only mentions – honours it! When they talk about the team they tell stories and accentuate the important details and skills. They do it so well that you know that their startups are about passionate people who do it well. Each and every single pitcher took time to not only talk the skills and experience but to give details that matter. Trust me, it makes all the difference.

Facility, because hotel managers don’t have an easy life

Facility’s pitch is a good one. It simply lacks a great start. The storytelling works only partially. The story is a ok but kind of uninteresting personal story. I would personally start with a bit of a drama. Why? Because hell is real! People who work in a hotel industry know it well. We don’t and for us to understand what it takes to be great in that business we need blood sweat and tears. I would also state clearly that the research shows that there is one single factor that influences the opinion about the hotel and that’s… a receptionist’s smile. And the first impression. and to make that good first impression the hotel clearly need that solution. As I’ve said – the pitch is good. It even has great moments like presenting the competitors advantage. It shows the power of a good case study showing the effectiveness of the tool. One more thing – put Queen Elisabeth in your pitch and you win my heart.

One more thing I would work on is body language – I know, stress takes the best of us but the shorter the gestures the worse it looks on stage and especially if we repeat the very same gesture over and over again. Kudos for introducing the brand colour when calling-to-action and stating clearly that the green is Facility’s colour. Good work! A nice branding touch is always in order.  storytelling that does not work

Messenger to fall in love with  

In Messenger’s pitch we get a bit of the storytelling again. This time it introduces the story and the problem at the same time. It is a very well crafted narrative supported by the visuals that tell the story of one travel throughout the competitors apps with all their flaws. As with all apps I was reluctant about the solution – I thought ‚who needs another messenger’. But all my doubts went away when I saw the traction. The number of downloads is impressive especially when compared with competitors. And that is the lesson you should all take from this guy. Whenever he introduces an element in the story there is reason for that. Even when he mentions North Korea downloads. And especially when he concludes with a love story about one of the team members. That is the way to go.

SmartFuturistic because food is what you need 

Smart Futuristic’s pitch as an example of a great pitch with not such great intro. I get the intentions of introducing the world’s problems with a sort of high-concept pitch intro but statements like „Food, we all need it. Some have too much, some have too little” is a bit cliche to say the least. Especially that what follows is great: amazing, well presented stats, well explained product and amazing traction to prove the solution right. I would skip the lame intro and start the presentation with the stats. It has been scientifically researched that the more cliche and tired communication the more your brain falls to sleep and you do not want that.

Styliff because the suit makes a man

Styliff’s pitch is a good one but of course there’s room for improvement. The intro is a very good one with the presenter referring to real life situation. What is most impressive about this pitch is not the confident presenter (that is good, too) but one element I normally hate in the pitch – the movie. I would often discourage people from using a pre prepared movie in the pitch but this time I loved it. Why? Because the guy was narrating the movie in the most natural way instead of just watching it with the audience. Again every element of the pitch is well timed. When the presenter mentions Brazil he adds facts about the online fashion sales. When he talks about the investors he explains the smart money behind them. Kudos for using the catchy tagline: Let styliff dress you up.

Symvaro because the city is a jungle  

Smart City Solutions’s pitch starts with a story. A well told easy to understand story that introduces the problem. The only problem is that the more we know the less we understand. This pitch is a perfect example that sometimes less is more. And even when it means being less enthusiastic and more coherent. Don’t get me wrong, I like the enthusiasm but when it comes to explaining the TAM vs. SAM the very enthusiasm makes me sceptical. I must say that I like this guy’s conviction when he clearly states that he is on a mission and that he is starting with the field of water. But when talking about the future this is a bit too much. The overexcitement and the vision is well… too visionary. Some things that stick are great statements like „selling is easy with a simple pricing model.” Once again kudos for presenting the team perfectly.

Venxly because the marketers are doomed

Venxly’s pitch is another good example of a great narrative with a few elements I would change. First of all I would skip the very tired quote by John Wanamaker: „Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Again I would skip that and focus more on the great stats that are presented. The pitch is good but when this guy compares in a simple manner the 3% conversion rate with the 72% one, I want to give him a high five. I must say that using the narrative with „what if…” to introduce the solution works very well, too. You should all learn from the way this guy introduces the product by saying „you do not have to imagine it, it is already here.”

Moveo because who wants obese kiddos 

MOVEO’s pitch is a nice one but it lacks power and energy. It is a sort of a good movie with good actors and almost good script. Don’t get me wrong. Everything has its place but on the whole something is missing. The storytelling in the beginning is a bit to lukewarm for such an important issue. I like the business model, I like the idea but they clearly need to work on the pitch to make things more clear and convincing. One thing I would certainly skip is the movie. If you’re going to stand in an uncomfortable silence watching the movie with the audience it’s best to forget it. It simply does not add anything to that presentation.  And one more thing – the least convincing research is when you ask the target group if they like it. Trust me on that. So when you mention that parents loved your idea it is the most biased answer there could be. After all it is almost as asking a parent – do you want your child to be happy. Kudos for clearly presenting the business model and statistics. Also this pitch has a very clearly presented product roadmap and nicely introduced all team members.

TravelStarter because travel business can be tough  

Travel Starter’s pitch starts accordingly with the travel story. A crazy story with a twist. The one that captures us because it is interesting. The problem is that since the project is about financing hazardous or ‚the long tail’ of tourism business ideas I would love to see a more impressive and less of a wacko story for a starter. It’s just ok and it could be better. Traction is well presented and clearly the guys is trying his best to prove that they are better than the competitors. But we have to remember that people are always sceptical when listening to the solutions like this and they might ask what is really wrong with the competitors and why they should trust this solution and not the other. The overall flow of the pitch is good but I missed more coherent and hard-core stats about the business and the trend. After all it is a sort of a Kickstarter for tourism projects. So it should be more like Cindy Wu’s pitch.

There you have it: eight good pitches that could become better. I hope to get a chance to work with those people some time in the future as they show great potential and are clearly heading towards a perfect pitch.

If you think my opinions are harsh please keep in mind that I took time to watch all and to actually form my opinions. I rarely give feedback without giving it a second thought. And my intentions are always clear – to give feedback so that people can make their communication better.

Photo by Joshua Earle via www.unsplash.com