Tips for Pitching Your Startup

I recently spent a few days as part of a judging panel for the Lazaridis Institute and I had the chance to hear from 20 companies short listed for their Scale-up program. At the same time I’ve been reading through 63 startup pitches for the upcoming CIX conference. So I thought now would be a good time to compile some insights and provide a few suggestions on what I’ve seen work really well.  

Don’t lose your audience in the story

We’ve all heard that you should turn your pitch into a story to hold the attention of the audience and make yourself unforgettable. And that is true. We want to hear the why — Why you are doing this. Why it is compelling. Why you are the person that we should put our time, effort, money, passion behind. But also, hone the storyline so that it is short and crisp so you can wow us quickly and move on to the heart of the pitch. 

What problem are you solving 

If this wasn’t clearly stated in your opening, then do IT next. This is where you can state how big the problem is and  the TAM (total addressable market) so that we understand  how   impactful the opportunity really is. 

How are you solving it 

Sometimes it’s best to leave the jargon behind and be as concise as possible. Explain what your technology does and how it works. Some technologies are harder than others or require more detail, but it’s key we understand the ‘how’. 

Listen to the audience 

When you’re pitching be sure to watch our body language. Are we leaning in to ask a question; looking confused; nodding our head with a “by, George she’s got it!” look? And then take those clues and respond accordingly. 

Equally important is that when we ask you a question - it’s imperative that you answer that exact question. We’re usually not looking for background or a long storyline - we’re actually, quite simply, looking for a quick, precise answer. If you don’t feel the answer is compelling enough, don’t worry — most likely we’ll have a follow on question that will give you the opportunity to explain further. 

Answer questions before you’re asked 

Every entrepreneur refines their pitch on an on-going basis. If you listen closely, we usually ask the same questions more or less. So incorporate past questions in future presentations — you’ll save time and not only look polished and organized, but more credible as well. 

Customers and competitors 

Be sure to articulate who you’re selling to and how you differentiate yourself from you competitors. If one of us has to inform you about a competitor in your space, then that is a big black mark against you. So really know who is in your space and what makes your product superior. 

Revenue and traction 

I mention this last but it’s the most important thing so it needs to be stated up front. Revenue and customer traction gets our attention. So get us engaged early. If you don’t feel your numbers are impressive, that doesn’t matter - they are going to come out at some point so you might as well state it up front and as you go, tell us how you’re going to get there. 

There are thousands of great pitch deck templates and blog posts on this subject, so no shortage of additional guidance. If you find someone that you think gives a great pitch  – model yourself on them and do what they do. Copying the best is a great place to start. 

BTW - good luck to everyone vying for the startup spots for Lazaridis’ Scale-up program and CIX’s Top 20. I continue to be impressed with the amazing talent and technologies being built from Canada.