Using pitch events to your startup’s advantage

A quick guide on what to expect from the best and why avoid the rest.

For a startup founder, the one thing you can’t afford to do is to waste time. And going to a pitch event may sometimes feel like exactly that. An example we witnessed ourselves: two founders of an early-stage, unfunded startup, sacrificed the time they could spend building their product to fly to a pitch event. On the spot, they found out it would be quite different to what they had signed up for — additional people have been added to the pitch list with whom they had very little in common. They ended up pitching alongside a startup with USD 25 million raised int an ongoing ICO, aiming to disrupt a totally unrelated industry. For the unlucky founders those were a rather expensive (1)5 minutes of fame considering that they had paid 10k to get on stage.

So what should you do to avoid situations like this? Here’s a list of questions that may help you decide whether to apply to a pitch event or not.

At Cofound.it we have visited several pitch events and have come up with some recommendations for you to consider:

  • Skip the event if there is no target participant segment. You should aim to be positioned among peers in the industry or at least compared with startups at the same maturity stage.
  • Skip the event if there is a participation fee. Or make sure you get value for your money.
  • Attend the events where you can expect to learn from the jury. A serial entrepreneur, a VC and an industry expert can give you a lot of constructive feedback. A celebrity probably less so.
  • Consider the winner selection criteria. If you want to be seriously evaluated, look for events with a structured jury decision. If you are just testing your product appeal, audience vote may be helpful as well.
  • Don’t go there to seek money, but to raise awareness. A monetary reward for the winner is great, since you don’t need to give up equity. But serious investments are rarely done at pitch events, the focus should be on spreading the word about your startup.
  • Aim for a wider reach than just the immediate audience. If a well-respected organiser can secure some free publicity for your startup, that is immensely valuable.

Pitch events are meant to be useful: they provide an opportunity to practice pitching before seriously reaching out to investors, to collect some early feedback on your product and get introduced to some credible people that may become your mentors or advisors. But you should use strict criteria to identify those that are worth your time and we provide some suggestions.

What do you think makes an event worthwhile? We would love to hear your comments.