CSUF Startup Incubator Resident Ben Yip pitching his startup at the CSUF Startup Incubator last week. Ben’s startup helps nonprofits raise funds through couponing.
Pitching your business concept is not just about raising money. It can be about that, of course, and some of our students and residents at the CSUF Startup Incubator have raised money in part because they were good at pitching their concepts. But the reality is that the vast majority of startups do not receive funding from investors outside of their family and friends.
There are many reasons for that and while I won’t go into all of them here let it suffice to be said that investors are looking for tremendous gains not because they are greedy but, rather, because of the startups that do end up receiving funding many of those end up failing so investors have to focus only on those startups with a tremendous upside so that they can potentially make a profit. The startup business is tough but I shudder at thinking what our economy would be if not for intrepid entrepreneurs willing to take that chance at starting something great.
And by “great” I do not mean that you have to create the next Amazon. What I mean by great is a startup, it could be a business or a nonprofit, that makes a positive impact on the community. This could be through the mission of the startup, the number of people it employs, by bringing a product or service to the market that wasn’t there before, or any other of a host of things that can improve a community.
Why should you learn how to pitch your startup?
First, the obvious answer. Even if you aren’t going after investment you need to know how to pitch your startup to customers, potential employees, partners, bankers, and other stakeholders. Each pitch will be a different, potentially substantially different in terms of length and content, but they will all focus on what the core of your business is: why you are doing what you are doing and why it should matter to the people you are talking to.
The less obvious reason is so that you can sharpen your own idea of what it is that your business is about, how it is progressing, and where you want to take the business in the future. These are complicated topics to cover but the thing to keep in mind is that you won’t have a pitch that will work in perpetuity. A pitch is something that should change over time to reflect the current reality and prospects for your business.
How do you give a good pitch?
At the bottom of the page is a deck by Center for Entrepreneurship and CSUF Startup Incubator Director John Bradley Jackson on how to give a great pitch to investors. It’s comprehensive and while it’s meant for entrepreneurs who are readying themselves to pitch to investors it can absolutely be modified to fit any pitch situation you find yourself in.
If you are a tl;dr kind of reader, the basics are that:
- Know what your goal is going in
- Know your audience
- Be friendly, treat your audience well
- Focus on the big picture first and then, if the situation calls for it, drill down on specifics
- Do not clutter your slides with too many words
For a pitch to investors, Director Jackson recommends using the following twelve slides:
- Competitive Landscape
- Customers and Partners
- Business Model
- Current Status
- Financial Projections
- Management Team
Pitches to different audience will obviously require a different set of slides or maybe no slides at all. It all depends on the situation. For example, if you are a nonprofit that is looking to sign up a business as a donor then you should have a deck that does not include the Funding/ROI slide or you could get creative and showcase what your social ROI is. If you are starting a flower shop and you need some seed money from a rich aunt you might be able to dispense with the deck and opt for a personal conversation that focuses on some of the big picture key points.
As is the case with life in general, no advice is applicable to all situations but if you understand and master the building blocks then you will be better prepared to take on different situations. The same is true with pitching.
Personally, I prefer pitches that focus more on numbers but I have found that is not the norm outside of pitches to investors (even then, emotion oftentimes plays a key role with many investors). My best recommendation is to figure out what kind of presenter you are and showcase those skills.
The corollary to that is that you should focus on the upside or good parts about your business when pitching. By no means try to hide negatives about your business or nonprofit. Instead, you should acknowledge any shortcomings that you have because sophisticated people (investors, partners, etc.) will ferret out your weaknesses. By acknowledging your weaknesses and addressing how you will make them into strengths or convincingly explaining why they are of less importance will signal to the people you are pitching to that you are a serious person who has thought things through.
What can you do to be a better pitcher?
Practice is always a good thing. There’s nothing worse than watching someone fumble through their pitch.
Directed practice is even better. One of the many things that we help residents at the CSUF Startup Incubator with is developing their pitches. Knowing the basics is a must and you can learn that anywhere but having a team of experts guiding you through the process of refining your pitch is a value beyond belief.
At the CSUF Startup Incubator, as is the case with every other incubator that I know of, we have experts who have been on both sides of the pitch. This kind of insight is critical to developing a strong pitch and if you are ready to learn how to become the entrepreneur that you were meant to be then send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how the CSUF Startup Incubator can help make that happen.
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