← Techstars Blog

If you don’t know what a Startup Weekend is, please check out this blog post first.

This post was adapted from one written by one of our mentors and pitch expert, Ed Fidgeon-Kavanagh. You can find the original here.

pexels-photo-64057

We’ve been talking a lot about Startup Weekend and its benefits, but today we’re going to talk about the elephant in the room… the pitch.

Yes, it will require you to stand up in front of a room full of people and put your idea out into the world, but today we’re going to focus on how to maximize your time and make it the best pitch possible.

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. Just get up there and give it your all for one minute.

UNDERSTAND HOW THE PROCESS WORKS

It’s important that you go into this all of the components of the opening night at Startup Weekend:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 each one individually…


THE PITCH

One minute is shorter than you can ever imagine, and it will seem even shorter in the moment. Sixty seconds, 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 time well!

No preamble, no jibber jabber, just the facts.

How to get the most out of your 1 minute pitch.

HAVE A NAME FOR YOUR IDEA, AND MAKE IT A RELEVANT ONE THAT IS MEMORABLE

It’s important to show that you have thought about the branding of your potential business, but it’s also important to give people a reason to remember you. The attendees will be making mental notes on who they will give their vote to, and given that there might have been 10 or 20 pitches at any opening night you need to have a name that is at the very least memorable and sticks in the attendees mind.

USE A STORY TO EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

The key to a good business idea is that it solves a problem. The people in the audience may not know or relate to your problem, so you need to help them understand the woe you’re addressing.

Try and come up with a short story-based example that can explain the problem, 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.

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 might be “Uber for garbage collection” — this tells us all we need to know instantly. While this approach might seem a bit “overdone” at this point, it works because timing is critical. The less you have to explain, the better.

KNOW WHO YOU ARE LOOKING FOR

In the run up to the event think long and hard 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.

BE RESPECTFUL

“I suppose I’ll need some techies or whatever” and “I’ll need some PR, marketing, or bullshit artists” are both lines that sometimes make their way into pitches. Saying such things will make sure that no serious attendees are going to want to touch your idea with a long stick.

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 businessperson. Just be yourself and show your enthusiasm for your idea. The cream will rise to the top.

A FEW MORE THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND:

  1. They will cut you off at 60 seconds on the dot. A large number of people don’t even make it to the end of their pitch. It’s rare that any such pitches progress to the next step.
  2. 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. Rehearse your pitch out loud, time how long it takes you to deliver, and you’ll know exactly how long it takes, so there is no excuse whatsoever for being over time on the day.

THE VOTE

So, now that all the pitches are done you will be at the mercy of the masses and their 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 one-liner and/or a drawing or two to remind people of their brilliant ideas.


THE HUSTLE

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.

It might not seem like it, but this is training for the real world.

One hidden truth to Startup Weekend is that it’s not really about the pitch. It’s about recruiting.

It’s really hard to remember any of the pitches I heard, but I remember the people I met beforehand. Most won’t remember your pitch but you want them to remember you.

So realize that the event really starts before the event, and that as I said before people want to work with people they like!

So let’s all put our best face forward, grab that mic, and convince people why our idea is the next great idea!

Join us at Startup Weekend in Corner Brook, April 1-3, 2016!

Matt Murley