Author: marcz

Craft a sticky story of your company’s journey.

Photo courtesy of Christopher Michel.

Last week I had a Monday morning meeting with the founder of a pre-seed, self-funded company. We had been collaborating for almost a year and he told me that they had their first pitch competition in three days. He wanted to do a review of their pitch with me.

After a quick run through his pitch, I gave him my brutally honest take on it: “None of it was usable”

The deck would have been OK for an investor sit down, but it was not appropriate for a three minute pitch in front of an audience where the goal is not to attract investors but rather to win a competition – or at least to peak interest and to be memorable.  After all, win or not, you want them talking about you afterwards.  A totally different frame of mind is necessary in the prep and the delivery for an event like this.  You do not need to be a Ted Talk master, but you do need to tell an authentic story people will remember and connect with.

Unfortunately, they had already submitted the deck and could not make changes.  I pondered for a moment. The deck had one good slide so I advised them to just focus on that one slide and ignore the rest. As scary as it sounded, a good story focusing on one good visual was much better than a bad story focused on many bad visuals.

Here’s how we re-worked their pitch.

Make you and your story the focus of your pitch.  If your story is powerful when you sit down one-on-one, then it is simply a matter of figuring out how to translate it into one that captivates a large audience. So for my friend (founder), this meant it was time to break him down and build him back up.

We began by asking all sorts of questions….

  • Why did you start the company?
  • Are you really self-funded, what past success lets you do this?
  • Why should I invest in you.  What makes you special?
  • Who are you? What is your story?
  • What is your personal story that drove you to start the company?
  • What about your team, what makes them special?

Now, can you tell all this in no more than three powerful sentences?

Notice that not once did I ask about Sales Growth, Exit Strategy, MRR,  LTV or financial models, setting up the story is all about you and your story. If your story is compelling, the details can follow. It doesn’t work the other way around.

Here are my top 9 pitch tips that can help you weave a sticky story that is authentic.

  1. Watch Youtube videos of winning pitches:  Everything is online these days so watch past winners of this pitch competition and others of similar time criteria.  This was the aha moment with the company I was working with.  It is one thing for me to tell them what to do it is so much more powerful to see what successful peers have done.
  2. Be Memorable / Be Remembered: When 60 founders are pitching in one evening it is all about standing out from the crowd. Do something memorable, shocking but genuine.
  3. Tell your personal story:  Quickly let the audience know how you got here and why this is your passion and you are the one person in the universe that could come up with this product because of your unique background.  Let your personality come through.  Remember at this point they are investing in you as much as your product. Be Authentic, and true to self.
  4. Show, not tell: demonstrate your product:  Figure out a way to show what your product does even if it is software.  You need to have an aha moment with the crowd.  If they don’t get it nothing else matters.
  5. Tell them how big the opportunity is:  Revenue and traction is not necessary at this point.  That the market for your product is huge is mission critical at this point.  Get them excited.
  6. Practice the pitch so much that it seems like you are doing it off the cuff:  The 2 – 3 minute pitch needs to come off as if you are speaking to a friend telling then your companies life story for the first time.  Practice, practice, practice and edit, edit, edit always making the statements shorter, shorter and more concise.
  7. Have less content than time:  If it is a 3 minute pitch have no more than 2 minutes of material.  This way one is never nervous about running over and there is space to let your personality come through and add lib to the audience based on their response to you.
  8. Plan the transitions well: how smoothly one moves from one topic to the next is the mark of a good story teller.  If the transition is logical and seamless it feels more like a story to the audience and not a presentation / pitch.  The more story-like, the more entertaining, the more entertaining the more memorable.
  9. Prepare for Questions: founders often practice, practice, practice the pitch but forget to practice answers to questions.  Come up with a list of the most likely questions and a clear, concise and memorable response.

After considering these pitch tips, it was only a matter of weaving the the story in a sequence that made it progress. Here’s the outline we used:

Happy to report that being the amazing entrepreneur he is, he turned this advice into a pitch competition victory three days later.

We now serve over 100 clients! See who.

 

 

 

A well-thought initiative for giving back will help you reach the top faster.

The first days of the year are an ideal time to think about empathy and all the good we can be doing before our To-dos take over all the available energy. This can be a perfect time to realize that building a culture of giving in your early stage company is more than just thinking about giving. The good news is that you don’t need to have a “do good” scheme built in your product strategy or in your business plan; it is much simpler than that, yet the effects in your organization, and with your key customers, can be transformational.

Focusing your team on a cause other than the quarterly goals can help you create strong bonds, build motivation and foster loyalty. Giving back through your company also gives your people meaning and a sense of connection. Finally, having a cause you officially support can boost goodwill and adoption with your customer base.

  1. Giving back is good for teams

The days when people were satisfied with donating a tiny portion of their monthly paychecks to causes are over. Millennials, who now dominate early startups want it all: they want you to give back and they want to be actively engaged in that process. Heeding to their demands is good for your organization. Enabling engaging opportunities for your team to give back builds bonds outside the office thru things such as volunteer days, pro-bono consulting and joint projects.

Better if you let your team choose the non-profit to volunteer to for or to work with, there are hundreds of non-profit organizations around you that need your help. You can choose to focus your giving back efforts at places around your location, to causes connected to the nature of your products or services, to charities who are close to your heart, or all of the above. There is no shortage of organizations that can use the expertise, energy and resources of your team to make the world better.

If you want to get creative, you can also think inside the box. For example, just a few blocks from our office here in San Francisco, AirBnB employs several people from The Arc – an organization that focuses on helping individuals with developmental and mental disabilities have normal lives. AirBnB employees love having them around to help with all kinds of office tasks.

  1. Giving back is good for employees

Research shows that a higher sense of purpose is a better motivator than money. Millennials come with a chip for this, and have forced tech giants like Google, Facebook and Salesforce to make giving-back a centerpiece of their mission.

The energy that your people spend helping others on your behalf is actually re-charging energy. It is very common in non-profit and community organizations around the Bay Area to see employees from the likes of Google and Deloitte work on specific project during the day – not after work. For example, the City of San Francisco has an initiative called Civic Bridge where pro-bono consulting volunteers work together for 3 months to use their expertise to help the municipality on very specific issues. These volunteers then bring back to the office new ideas, connections and a sense of purpose that spreads through their companies.

Engaging giving-back opportunities for your employees will ensure your company’s social DNA is built and nurtured, internally and externally, through individuals that become the ambassadors of what your organization is doing beyond profit.

  1. Giving back is good for business development

The third pillar of giving back concerns the effect it can have on your business development efforts. Having your people donate their talent, time and energy locally will connect you to the community in a way that no PR effort can, and will bring in more business and potential employees.

Additionally, combining business with giving builds empathy into your DNA. Actions that you can take early on involve things like creating a .org for your company, giving your product away for free or at a huge discount to non profits. Toms and Salesforce.org  are good examples on how giving can be weaved into your core business to generate additional sales; after all, we are more prone to buying products and services from companies we like and admire.

In order to activate this business development-focused giving, you need to make it easy for a nonprofit to take advantage of your product and for a paying customer to see where some of their dollars go when it comes to social responsibility. In the case of Salesforce for instance, many big non-profits become profitable paying customers when they grow and have the resources to pay full price for a product they’ve been using for years.

It’s never to early to give back.

The positive effects on your team, your employees as individuals and your business development – just to name three areas affected by it – indicate that it is never too early to give back, even for a seed round company. Think about it, and if you need help with the right set-up to make it sustainable, ask your CFO.

 

Photo courtesy of Christopher Michel.