How to pitch at a startup weekend
This is a companion blog post to one I wrote a few months back “5 Reasons why you should attend a Startup Weekend”, that post was all about why you should attend a Startup Weekend, the one below is about HOW you should pitch at it when you do. These are only my thoughts on the matter and I’m sure I am missing a lot of things, so if I am please leave some tips for prospective pitchers in the comments.
JUST DO IT
First and foremost if you have an idea that you would like to try and turn into a business then pitch the idea on the day, just do it, it’s a fantastic opportunity to essentially change your life as you know it, and so many people let that chance slip away because they are “nervous” or “not feeling up to it”. Don’t worry about being nervous, you will be, and so will everybody else pitching, just get up there and give it your all for a minute.
UNDERSTAND HOW THE PROCESS WORKS
It’s important that you go into this understanding exactly how things work in terms of the opening night of a Startup weekend.
- The pitch. You will have 1 minute, with no slides, no props, no thing, to explain who you are, what you do and indicate who you are looking for to the audience.
- The vote. Once all the pitches are done the audience will be given 3 post-it notes and you will be given a big page of flip chart paper which ideally the attendees will stick their post-its to.
- The hustle. The pitchers with the most votes/post-its get through to the final 2 days (typically 10–12 ideas), be prepared to get out there amongst the attendees and campaign for those votes.
So, lets look at that piece by piece.
One minute is shorter than you can ever imagine, and it will seem even shorter on the night. A single minute, depending on how fast you speak, will probably afford you about 120 words to describe what your idea is all about. This isn’t long at all so you must make sure that you use that minute well!
How to get the most out of your 1 minute pitch.
1. HAVE A NAME FOR YOUR IDEA, AND MAKE IT A RELEVANT ONE THAT IS MEMORABLE.
Firstly it’s important to show that you have thought about the branding of your potential business, but also on a more practical level it will help people remember you. The attendees will be making mental notes on who they will give their vote to, and given that there might have been 40/50 pitches at any opening night you need to have a name that is at the very least memorable and sticks in the attendees mind.
2. USE A STORY TO EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA
Try and come up with a short story-based example that can explain the problem you are addressing, how big it is and in simple terms what your proposed solution does. If you don’t sell the problem well, people won’t care about your solution.
I saw this achieved well at a Student startup weekend where one pitcher told a story of his regular shopping woe, “I went to the shop yesterday to get a pint of milk, upon returning home with a bag full of groceries, I realised I’d forgotten the milk”. He then talked of how is predictive shopping list app would mean that next time he wouldn’t be forgetting key items.
3. USE REFERENCE POINTS THAT PEOPLE ALREADY KNOW.
Sometimes you can get other products/services do the explaining for you. By using reference points that we all understand it can mean saving chunks of time that you would have spent trying to explain things from the ground up.
A recent example of this I saw at a startup weekend was “Uber for bin collection” — this tells us all we need to know instantly. While this approach might seem a bit “overdone” at this point, it works.
4. KNOW WHO YOU ARE LOOKING FOR.
In the run up to the event have a really good think about the sort of skills you are looking for in potential team members. Try and be as specific as possible about who you are looking for during your pitch as this will mean that the most relevant people come up and chat to you afterwards.
5. BE RESPECTFUL.
“I suppose I’ll need some techies or whatever” and “I’ll need some pr, marketing or bullshit artists” are both lines I have heard at these events, saying the above will make sure that no serious attendees are going to want to touch your idea with a long stick.
6. BE HUMAN
People will always want to work with people they like, or people like them, there’s no need to put on a fake persona and play the acting role of a “businessman/woman”, just be yourself and show your enthusiasm for your idea.
7. A FEW THINGS TO BARE IN MIND:
a. They WILL cut you off at 60 seconds on the dot, I have been to several of these events and I’d say about 30% don’t even get to finish their pitch. It’s rare that any of these ideas progress to the final 2 days.
b. Rehearse your pitch to death. It’s always very obvious who has prepared and who hasn’t. If you want to come across as confident, coherent and convincing you need to practice this thing out loud, and in front of people, over and over. If you have rehearsed your pitch out loud a few times and time how long it takes you to deilver,you’ll know exactly how long it takes, so there is no excuse whatsoever for being over time on the day.
So, now that all the pitches are done you will be at the mercy of the masses and their post-it notes/votes.
At the very least have the name of your idea atop the page in very clear to read writing (They will give you a marker). Smart pitchers tend to include a short 1 liner and/or a drawing or two to remind people of their brilliant ideas.
Don’t just cower in a corner with your sheet and expect votes to find their way to you. You need to be approachable and have a “hey come and chat to me” look about you. If the votes aren’t coming in don’t be afraid to go around to people asking for their votes. Hell, politicians do that all the time, and sometimes it works. Your job here is to get enough votes to get through to the next day… so do whatever it takes.
While doing a bit of research for this blog I came across a great comment, that is pretty on the money:
One hidden truth to Startup Weekend is that it’s not really about the pitch.
It’s about recruiting. (which is pitching beforehand 1on1 or to groups)
It’s really hard to remember any of the pitches but I remember the people I liked before the pitches. Most won’t remember your pitch but you want them to remember you.
So realise that the event really starts before the event, and that as I said before people want to work with people they like!
I hope the above helps you in your quest to pitch like a pro at your next local Startup Weekend. And as I say, if I have left anything out, leave a comment with some tips for would-be pitchers.
PS If you need more convincing on why you should attend a Startup Weekend, then read my previous post on the matter by clicking here.