"KEEPING YOUR STARTUP PITCH ON KEY" A GUIDE TO STRIKING THE RIGHT NOTE WHEN PRESENTING YOUR STARTUP IDEA
With the explosion in the popularity of entrepreneurship in recent years, the concept of the “Startup Pitch” as part of an entrepreneurial gladiator’s artillery has become a staple of entrepreneurial discourse. From TV shows (e.g. ABC’s “Shark Tank”), to global competitions (e.g. Tech Crunch’s “Disrupt”), to local competitions (e.g. Rice University Business Plan competition in Houston), all the way to participating with incubators, accelerators, and co-working communities (e.g. the Houston Technology Center), entrepreneurs have been socialized to expect to pitch their startup idea at some point if they want it to become more than just an idea. However new or en vogue the concept is, the truth is that we have actually been doing pitches all of our lives, without even knowing it.
I recall many Saturday afternoons growing up in Trinidad & Tobago, wanting to join my friends at the movies but not having enough money for admission, snacks, etc. So I would always go to my mother first (I was the youngest, and the only boy) because she was always willing to give me what I asked for! However if she couldn’t help, I knew that I had to prepare myself to literally pitch the idea to my father, which typically entailed delivering him a mini business-plan that had to cover; what I needed the money for, what I was going to buy, how much everything cost, and what value was the activity going to bring to my life. If I couldn’t convince him, then I would be stuck at home watching re-runs, while my friends were watching double features. Needless to say, I got very good at figuring out what I needed, knowing my numbers, communicating my pain (at that point we only had 3 TV stations in Trinidad), and telling my story!
Therefore, a startup pitch is simply the presentation of information used to persuade others to support a startup idea. They have become indispensable to the contemporary entrepreneur because they can help the startup gain four critical categories of supporters; Investors that can provide financial support, partners that can provide operational and technical support or access to larger markets, employees that become inspired by the startup’s vision and choose to come on board, and customers that love the product and show their loyalty to it with their money.
So while it is always important to know and focus on your target audience, entrepreneurs should be aware that their pitch could often provide their only exposure to an important stakeholder that could rapidly change the trajectory of their business. Consider the case of the 2015 Greater Houston Black Chamber’s Mack H. Hannah, Jr. Upstart Award winner, Ms. Lydia Evans and her company Soaps, Washes, and Grooming (SWAG) Essentials. She was featured on an episode of “Shark Tank”, and though I found her pitch to be good, she did not leave the show with a deal from the ‘sharks’. What she did leave with was massive exposure and customer interest in her product, which increased the product sales exponentially. This allowed her to grow her business quickly and organically, both nationally and internationally, and exceed her entrepreneurial dreams. So why did she succeed despite not getting a deal on the show? I contend that while her pitch did not meet the fancy of the ‘sharks’ (investors) on the show, it did suitably convince the other stakeholders (customers, employees, and partners) to gain their invaluable support.
As member of the Houston Technology Center’s (HTC) Energy Champions advisory group, I have the privilege of reviewing numerous startup pitches. To my surprise, the most impactful presentations that I have seen were not the ones with the most elaborate fonts, slickest animations, or even the ones done in Prezi! The most impactful presentations followed the same guidelines I used to get movie money from my father ages ago. They told a story, they identified a pain, they knew their numbers, and they communicated what they needed. Maybe this entrepreneurship-thing is really child’s play after all!
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Shahara Wright is an experienced and highly sought after business law attorney and business strategist. She is the author of From Entrepreneur to CEO and host of the CEO Collaboration Circle. Shahara founded The CEO Effect, LLC to work with small business owners who want to implement strategy to build capacity.