I have always loved pitching. It’s the best adrenaline rush, comprised of excitement, the thrill of keeping pace, remaining articulate under pressure, and having the foresight to anticipate difficult questions. From the startup battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt, to launching built.io on stage at DEMO Mobile, I’ve had a good share of pitch opportunities and have learned many ‘do’s and don’ts’ along the way.
That’s why the University Mobile Challenge is one of my favorite activities to participate in as a company. The University Mobile Challenge is an international competition organized by the Applied Innovation Institute. To participate, students have to formulate teams made up of engineering and business students, come up with a mobile app idea, build the app, and present a plan on how they will turn it into a business — all within one semester. Winning teams are sent to Barcelona during Mobile World Congress to participate in a stage competition in front of a panel of distinguished judges and potential investors.
A regional semi-final event held at the built.io office in February challenged four of UC Berkeley’s finalist teams to pitch their mobile application and related business plan to a panel of expert judges, including Founders’ Network’s own Kevin Holmes.
The teams, TouchFreight, Xpeseum, NextBite, and Fickle, were all strong contenders with solid pitches, and the panel of judges were blown away by all of the talented young entrepreneurs. The two teams that will move on to the global competition at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona are TouchFreight and Fickle.
TouchFreight was chosen due to their cohesive team presence, solidified business plan, and ability to acquire their first enterprise customer. Fickle was chosen due to their easy to use, addictive interface, and the prospect of growing a large enough consumer base to build monetary value from data and analytics. Both teams presented with confidence and conviction.
When I have the opportunity to coach young entrepreneurs like these on their pitch, it typically comes down to five main areas of focus:
Five Ways to Succeed in a Pitch Competition
- Tell a story.
Always frame the problem you’re addressing in the context of a story that anyone can understand. Describe a scenario in which your product solves a real problem. This can be done through role playing or by sharing a real customer story if possible.
- Show something tangible.
Have a demo or physical prototype ready to demonstrate what your product does. Practice your demo multiple times so you can bring your A game. However, anticipate that something might go wrong (i.e. internet connectivity) and be prepared with an equally impressive Plan B.
- Anticipate being grilled.
Assume you’ll get extremely difficult questions and have related material prepared. Have a referenceable appendix in your deck prepared for your question & answer period. Memorize the slide number of the “money slide”so you can jump to it immediately. This will save valuable time for actual content and make you look like an expert presenter!
- Show team cohesiveness.
Investors and judges will place a great deal of weight on team composition. Put some effort into your appearance by coordinating on attire. If you have a history of working together as a team, briefly share this. Demonstrate support for each other and show mutual respect throughout presentation flow and Q&A period
- Be a winner, even if you don’t win.
Not everyone can win every competition. Be happy for the final winners. It shows that you’re mature and professional. You don’t stop making an impression when you walk off the stage. Take the feedback you received from the panel, incorporate what makes sense, and forge forward with your venture. That is a sign of a true entrepreneur.
Pitching like a pro is about being open to what’s next; a hard question, a disappointing setback, and, best case scenario, a big win. Be ready to learn and grow with every pitch and don’t underestimate the power of practice, practice, practice. Happy pitching!!
About Neha Sampat
Neha Sampat is the CEO of built.io. With 15+ years experience in enterprise software, Neha has led product marketing, cloud computing and online experiences for companies like Sun Microsystems and VMware. She co-founded KurbKarma, a TechCrunch Disrupt 2012 Startup Battlefield Finalist and is an outspoken supporter of women entrepreneurs, appearing on multiple panels to talk about her role as a female tech leader. Neha was named a “San Francisco Business Times 40 under 40” honoree and was named one of “50 Women in Tech Dominating Silicon Valley” in 2015.