Pitch fests: great or miserable? You decide


About 6 months ago I attended an entrepreneur pitch event. It was a perfect example of the challenge faced by entrepreneurs in early startup. There were 6 companies pitching to a collection of investors, potential collaborators and a large number of service providers. Each company got 5 minutes to pitch, 5 minutes for questions and the rest of the night for networking. The results many not surprise you but the reasons for those results might.

Let me explain.

I had been invited because my friend Kevin who runs the pitch event had asked me if I could help out. Aside from the chance to pitch, each of the entrepreneurs would have their pitch critiqued and would get feedback independent of questions or comments by the investors. What Kevin wanted to create was a place for startups to pitch and learn and have a chance to find additional team members and maybe some early investors.

Most of the entrepreneurs doing the pitch were first timers and most lacked the confidence to really pull it off, which is completely normal. Most of the investors expected to see very crude pitches so it was not really a problem.

First let’s look at the results

Of the 6 pitches 3 went over time 1 was very short and 1 went so long they had to be stopped and 1 was on time.

In Q&A 4 did mediocre jobs of answering questions, 1 was downright awful and 1 was actually quite good.

Only 1 got a follow up meeting with an investor.

Because this was also a learning event for the entrepreneurs pitching. They got feedback from me after their presentation and the investors had the option to write down comments as well, which most did. I read all the comments and included them with my feedback.

The comments by the investors was generally supportive and helpful but that their presentations showed a clear lack of investment readiness.

The 1 startup that got the most attention and follow up meetings with investors was not the one with the biggest market potential or the best business model. It was the one that pitched better, specifically the one presenter that ended exactly on time and handled question well. That entrepreneur was more practiced and more prepared.

You Decide

Now when I say you decide if pitch fests are great or miserable it has two meanings. One as an audience member and one as a presenter.

As a presenter the balance between great or miserable comes down to what you put into it. By the way there is no middle ground, not really if you do a great,  good or even half decent pitch, the night is great.

If you don’t it is miserable. For you and the audience.

Yes they are right there in the misery too. If they are investors they know how hard you have worked to get there and how hard it is to do. They probably have the empathy and the battle scars to prove it. That is why they are there.

So if you have put into it the best that you have and have practiced and work hard to do a great pitch you will make it better for yourself and your audience. If not, you know how it feels.

The decision part for the audience comes when you think about what you want. I go to help startups and in turn to learn what others are working on or what others see and value. I go knowing that most of the presenters will be rough and they will mostly fail. I am mostly there to support them, to give back to the community.

I going knowing it will be both great and miserable at the same time because I remember being the fledgling presenter and I know how hard they are working to pull off that 5 minutes.

As an audience member there can be an opportunity to see a number of possible businesses and have them share a lot of information with about a product, market, business model and opportunity.

This can be informative in several ways:

  • is this market investable?
  • is this company investable?
  • Is this business model novel, viable or just flawed?
  • is this entrepreneur investable?
  • what do the investors value?
  • what do they want to know more about?

Great or miserable is about state of mind on both sides. It is always about the balance.

At the end of the night Kevin asked me what the big standout was for me and the big lesson learned for the presenters.

The big lesson learned for most presenters was that they were not ready for investors yet. This was by far the most common feedback and the thing that most did not want to hear. Partly because they all needed the money and partly for the morale boost.

Now the last part of this story comes a few months after the presentation. I reached out to all of them for a follow up to see what had happened since that day. Predictable most had not managed to raise any money due to that night, but one had gone to another event and got their first investor.

It was the one presenter who finished their pitch early and had done a not so great Q&A session. Why them you ask? Well they finally got the confidence boost needed and figured out that they were actually pretty good but their founder was not a good enough presenter so he learned all he could and stuck with it.

I have seen him pitch once since that first night and while he is not great yet, he is very committed.

Out of that first night of misery he was determined to make it great.

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