Making a great business plan pitch
I was invited to judge business plans being presented by students taking the Entrepreneurship and New Ventures class at the Harvard Extension School yesterday. Of all the business plans I judged, the one that stood out the most was Kiwilimon. Having had the experience of pitching Pixily over 25 times to investors in the last 8 months, there are a number of things I found this team got it right:
- Passion: The most important element of a great pitch is passion. Presenting with passion will demonstrate how much you believe in what you are bringing to the market and also has the positive side effect of grabbing and maintaining the attention of the audience. Passion is something that you cannot put on but is something that comes from your heart. It is ironic that a passionate pitch is not spontaneous but one that is practiced. If you practice enough times and make sure you keep improving with each pitch, you will start exhibiting passion. Like they say, if you say it enough times, you start to believe in what you are saying.
- Simple, Short and Concise: A great pitch is one that is simple, short and concise. Of all the pitches that I made, the best ones were those that lasted no more than 10 minutes. Yes, it is possible to pitch your entire business plan in 10 minutes. If the investor does not get your business in 10 minutes it is very unlikely they he/she will get it in an hour. Of course, you need to have a lot of detail and backup information but that is something you can address when questions are asked. Make sure the appendix has all the slides you need to support the details.
- Pictures are worth a thousand words: The best pitches I have seen are those that tell the story using pictures. With pictures, people can easily and quickly relate to the problem and how you plan to solve it. They tend to remember the details well after the pitch is made. With Google images and micro-stock sites, you can find pictures for everything that you want to convey.
- Convey what your business is in 90 seconds: Even though this is obvious, not everybody gets this right. It took a good five minutes before we got what one of the pitching teams was selling. Identify the problem/need and how your solution is the best there is in the first 90 seconds. If you cannot convey what you are selling in that time, you will start to loose your audience.
- Keep text in a slide to no more than three lines: If you cannot use pictures, make sure you do not include more than three lines of text. Anymore than three lines will take much longer to go through and makes it harder for the audience to remember. With more lines of text, the audience is reading ahead of what is on the slide and not listening to the story you are telling. You want the audience to pay attention to you so that they can get how passionate you are about the business.
- Target market and market size: As you are defining the need, define the target market. Knowing and conveying whom you are selling to is an essential element of a good business. If you can backup the market need with either primary or secondary research, your story will be even stronger. The size of the market is very important as it tells the audience how big the market potential is.
- Marketing: These days it is much easier and cheaper to build the product and is much harder and expensive to market it. Spend a lot of time thinking about how you are going to sell the product, what channels you are going to employ, the partnerships you are going to create, and how many customers each marketing program would bring in. For the pitch, focus on the go-to-market strategy and the marketing strategy in the first year.Leave the mid to long term marketing strategy to the appendix.
- Competition: Research your competition thoroughly, list the top three competitors, what makes them a success and identify why your solution is better than the competition. Also, make sure you are prepared for the “Barriers to Entry” question.
- Product: If you have defensive intellectual property, make sure you identify it early on. If not, focus on the proprietary technology you have built or what makes your product unique. If you have customer testimonials, this would be a good time to share those.
- Revenue potential: Identify all sources of revenue, how much they would bring in each year and over five years. Obviously, you are making a lot of assumptions to build this model but you will prove or disprove those assumptions as time passes. Do not be conservative when demonstrating revenue potential. Remember, investors are going to discount whatever you say by at least 100%. At the same time, do not be overly optimistic as the investors will not believe anything you have said.
- Costs: Identify all the operational and non-operational costs including salaries, data center costs, product manufacturing costs, inventory costs, and customer acquisition costs. Make sure you show which of the costs reduce with scale.
- Team: In a 10 minute pitch, I recommend that you leave the team slide to the end. In the team slide, quickly describe the background of the founding or management team and demonstrate why you are the best team to execute on the plan.
Kiwilimon got all these elements right and delivered the pitch flawlessly. I hope the lessons that I learned first hand and from others will help you in your pitches. If there are others that I have missed, please feel free to share.