Disclaimer – Contains boxing puns (and punchy tips for startup founders)
Last week I was fortunate enough to meet some extremely talented, passionate and innovative start-up founders who were ready to do battle at the Get In The Ring! Global Conference 2017, here in Singapore.
National winners of their country heats, in all over 150 startups from more than 100 countries converged for three days of knowledge sharing, networking and to fight for the coveted title of GITR global champions.
The Get in the Ring Foundation is a global non-profit organization that connects startups to opportunities related to capital, talent, and expertise and this perfectly aligns with our mission at VenturesOne, where “we fuel entrepreneurs”, so we decided to be an event sponsor.
History tells us that before going into battle, a little “Dutch Courage” can improve your odds. So we took this literally and flew our Dutch management team in and they got the party started.
As part of the event, I was honoured to be part of the judging team tasked with selecting the finalists for the final showdown to be held in the ring. The gloves were off!
Joking aside, this was a serious responsibility. I was compelled to do the job to the best of my ability for the sake of all the entrepreneurs who had come from far and wide.
To add to the pressure, I was part of the Heavy-Weight Division jury team and so ready for the big hitters- startups with valuations over 5m USD and established customer traction.
The founders had only 12 mins in front of each jury panel, to do ideally a 3-minute pitch and use the remainder for questions. The overall quality was excellent with highly innovative products and services, and exciting business models abound. After a full day of judging the heavyweight evaluators came together to try to find consensus on only two grand finalists from the pack. No mean feat.
Around 90 mins of animated discussion, some measured deliberation and one excellent Japanese beer down, it was over. One knock-out contender and another finalist went through by a unanimous decision. The stage was set.
Witnessing so many pitches back to back gave me some insight into what factors make for a compelling and memorable one.
Here are my three steps to winning pitch:
1) Come out swinging.
First impressions count. The objective is to immediately grab attention and set up the rest of the pitch. If your company is the movie, this is your trailer with all the best scenes that will pique their interest and pull the audience in for more. It shouldn’t sound like an expanded mission statement or the “About” section of your website. It’s a short opener that sets the scene with the problem your company solves, what makes it unique and how you delight your customers. The first couple of lines are important so craft them carefully, learn them by heart, test them regularly and then even under pressure you’ll get off on the right foot, right from the bell.
2) Put the combinations together
Once you’ve landed your attention grabbing first punch, it’s time to work the body of the pitch. Is your team made up of people with a track record and valuable domain expertise? Is your business model innovative and already proven? Do you have some good traction and a well known or prestigious customer example? Each one is a jab that scores a point, and the magic happens when these are strung together as a combination that tells your unique story, blow-by-blow, with a data-point or example adding kudos and credibility with every shot.
Coach Mickey Tip – If your audience contains investors, you MUST cover the size and predicted growth of the market you are addressing globally, and in the region of your business focus.
This will show you have done your homework, defined the addressable market for your solution and most importantly it waves the juicy market prize that’s on offer in front of their hungry investor eyes.
In a formal setting like Get In The Ring!, you will know the headings the judges are marking you on, so make sure your content covers all the bases. Brevity is key. Structure also. There isn’t time to go deep into any one area, so you need to have this distilled down, well rehearsed with cherry-picked material and winning metaphors down pat. Now give them the old one-two!
3) End with an upper-cut
The last 30 seconds before the bell is about winding-up for a big knock-out finish. Here’s where you paint the picture of what the business could look like five years from now, once you have ramped up the operations and are dominating your field. Once again, if you are addressing an investor, make it clear what the path to their big future return is. Often in life, there isn’t a bell so don’t allow yourself to drag on. Proper preparation will prevent your pitch from petering out. Be sure to finish with a flourish, so it’s clear your pitch is done, and you are ready to address questions. That’s when the real fun starts.
The Q&A Rope-a-Dope
So you have just nailed a killer pitch, congratulations Rocky- but it’s not the time to hang your gloves up yet. Far from lying flat out on the canvas, the better your pitch, the more likely your audience will come back for more. If you’ve impressed an investor audience, they may be feigning indifference to appear measured while being inwardly super-excited to get into the details of what you are building. This is where the Muhammed Ali rope-a-dope strategy comes in. Just let them come to you with all their questions and pick them off with all the other great supporting material you have that couldn’t be covered in the 3-minute pitch. If you have practiced your pitch on a few audiences, you can anticipate the likely direction and be one step ahead.
Don’t forget to follow up!
Winning a global startup competition provides amazing exposure and a great confidence boost but you don’t have to win one to still be a winner. Most of the value comes in the connections you make not through formal events. Regardless of how well your pitch went you can come away with a good result by adding value to the connections you made along the way. Follow up and find a way to keep the dialogue going and good things can still happen.
At VenturesOne- we fuel entrepreneurs. Got a killer pitch? Get in touch.
Respectfully and fondly remembering the Greatest- Muhammad Ali (1942-2016)