Even though my blog aims to provide practical advice and insights for senior managers, today I will slightly lean towards the earliest stage of a project and cover the art of pitching with an unconventional approach. Made popular in the startup ecosystem, I believe that pitching should be considered as a process. This blog post will essentially speak to entrepreneurs and also firms following a digital transformation program.
Since May, I have been attending “Le Wagon”, a coding school in Europe. (More information in the footnote). I have been asked to share with my fellow coders and aspiring young entrepreneurs a couple of tips about pitching; I gladly accepted. Here below my keynote and further below a short explanation for each slide.
Nowadays, there is a big and sad misconception about pitching. Most of the aspiring entrepreneurs believe that a pitch is a special event that occurs at a point in time to request a certain amount of funding. That is only the surface of the iceberg. In the lean startup movement, pitching is a process and starts way before any meeting with an investor. It involves skills, knowledge and attitude. Some people see a pitch as a 10-slide and a 20-minute state; it’s not. When starting a new venture (adventure), pitching is your first weapon; it costs you zero cents and immediately usable.
Here below my 10 unconventional tips for any project initiator whether you are a first time entrepreneur or an intrapreneur! Step back and take a bird’s-eye-view.
Intro: Understand What Is Coming Next
I entitled this keynote “From 0 to 0.1, or from nothing to almost something” in reference to Peter Thiel’s excellent book “Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future“. Peter explains, among other things, that creating a game-changing company means going from zero to one — from nothing to something, instead of going from something to a slightly better something. With this approach (ie. starting from scratch), the ability to pitch any audience is necessary. Even though it is not sufficient, that’s why it will get to “almost something”.
At first glance, you may see it as a difficult, long and inevitable process. You are right: it is. The only option will be to embrace and love it. Pitching is a communication process that allows you communicating your message to a person and, in some cases, several people. This message must be clear and concise. Don’t worry, it’s impossible to find the right pitch overnight that’s why it’s an iterative process.
Understand what’s coming next. At a very early stage, you need to look for the problem/solution fit. The investor pitch comes later, once you have reached the product/market fit. For now on, you are stuck with the problem/solution fit and 4 dimensions to deal with : improving your method (ie. how to work better and faster); setting up your team (ie. finding co-founders); paying attention to legal matters (ie. IP rights) and, last but not least, adopting the right mindset. Your (many) pitch(es) will ease your way through.
As you can see, I striked through the word ‘technology’. With all technologies out there, we tend to pay too much attention to them and which one to use to build our MVP (e.g. Ruby on Rails, Node.js, Python etc.). At this stage, we don’t care; at least, the potential consumer doesn’t care about your cooking affairs. Put that aside and keep it for the day you will start recruiting talent.
#1 Start With The Why
Running a business is hard. Starting a business may be the most unfair and hardest thing you will ever do — even though it could be slightly easier for corporate spin-offs. Understanding your inner “drive” will keep you moving forward and face like a hero the huge amount of various unexpected issues. Hard code in your system that “money” (or CEO written on a business card) is not a strong drive — I would not even consider it as a reason to become an entrepreneur/intrapreneur. Can money keep you awake at night for months? I don’t think so. Hence the importance of knowing why you do what you do. How can you solve consumers pain, if you don’t care about them? Starting a business means deeply understanding a consumer’s problem until the point you are almost living it. That’s called empathy. I strongly recommend Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action“. The founder’s ability to show leadership is key to attract followers. As a matter of fact, you won’t make meaning to many if you are driven by money. However, the ones required to lift up your project are the ones who believe in the same cause as you.
#2 : Mediocrity (decreases over time)
You shouldn’t be afraid to be crappy; it’s normal at the beginning. I have been there. All entrepreneurs have been there. We must admit that it’s almost impossible for anyone to make great pitches (and MVP) from day 1. Accepting this unpleasing phase as part of the evolution process should reduce your stress to get out and pitch people. You shouldn’t be afraid to pitch a total stranger in the street or on the phone. The more you practice, the more you will feel comfortable pitching and the more people will see you as an opinion leader.
#3 : ABP (Always Be Pitching)
Pitch often and pitch to a broad audience, even to people who, you think, are not your main customer target; you will receive valuable feedback both on content and communication skills. As explained above, it should become a second nature. In his great book “The Art of the Start 2.0: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything“, Guy Kawasaki explained this : “Forget “I think, therefore I am.” For entrepreneurs, the operative phrase is “I pitch, therefore I am.”.
Don’t get confused: pitching doesn’t mean ‘closing’. You are not a sales representative and you are not aiming to make a sale but instead you are collecting feedback to reach a problem/solution fit. In other words, you are trying to convince people to offer a bit of their time and attention to your product and hopefully have a discussion after you are done pitching — that’s what you are aiming for! Don’t forget to listen to what people say and ask additional open questions. Feedback can be hard on your ego — who said it’s going to be easy?
Note. For sake, stay humble. There is a difference between being arrogant and confident.
Thanks for reading! Next week I will unveil the 3 additional tips.
Until then, take care 🙂