Recently I have been asked by the Dauphine Incubator to help 6 startups craft their pitch. As a result, one of them was selected by the Paris Founders Event and another won the Public Choice award at the MashUp 20. 

This experience - from hearing their story, to writing their pitch, to rehearsing with them under live conditions - has allowed me to analyze some of the pitfalls and tricks young startups should be aware of when preparing for this oh-so-common exercise.

How's sitting in front of you?

Before you start, it’s crucial to be aware of who you will talk to. I’ve spoken about empathy in a recent post, how it’s important to listen carefully to your customer’s feelings and aspirations when you build your product, then your message. Empathy is also necessary when you pitch to an audience, especially when they are not your users. 

For example, 2 of the startups I assisted were to speak at the MashUp 20, an event that gathers about 400 people, 90% of which are students of the Dauphine business school and 75% are male. 

Are they your users?

WeFoot is an app that helps you organize a futsal game without the hassle. But what is futsal? I had no idea before Mathieu, the CFO, explained it was a new kind of football game, where teams are of 5 people, not 11, and matches are held on a much smaller field. 

The whole pitch had to refer to something that not everyone would know... or even care about. That’s tricky.

The solution: we made sure to explain what futsal is, how fast the market is growing, and to talk about the fun of playing a game with friends, which anyone can relate to.

Do they share your culture?

Another example: LouMa, CEO of Emodjam, a keyboard of musical emojis for smartphones, was smart enough to connect with the audience by using very cool and exciting music excerpts during her pitch. Her all value proposition was about how music lets you convey your emotions easier and stronger, so she had to demonstrate the power that music has on a real audience.

The thing is, she had chosen to play really hip songs (mostly rap music) that people couldn’t relate to in a matter of seconds. Which was the time she had to connect with the audience before the next contender.

The solution: LouMa changed some of the song titles she mentioned during her speech, but decided to stick with the music excerpts she really loved… Fair enough.

The checklist

So, before you write anything, think about who you will pitch to:

  • is my target in the audience

  • could part or all of my audience not care about my product?

  • is it possible that part or all of my audience will not know all the references I’m about to use?

  • is it a consumer pitch or a business pitch, i.e. do I have to talk about the market, the business model, or should I just convince people that it’s fun or useful?

  • how can I tell a story that will leave no one out and, on the contrary, will make everyone connect to what I have to say? 

"Why should they care" is really the key question here.

To be continued...