Surviving Your First Pitch Competition
I am not sure what made me do it. I don’t do competitions. That may seem like a crazy thing for an entrepreneur to say but competing with others isn’t my thing. I love being an entrepreneur to create my own stuff and to be in a space where I don’t need anyone’s permission. However, as I spend a lot of my time working with other entrepreneurs across multiple industries and these dastardly pitch competitions were now becoming a thing in the Caribbean, I needed to know how they worked and if they were worth the discomfort to get vulnerable. So I entered PitchIT Caribbean, the Trinidad Edition in 2016.
PitchIT Caribbean Challenge 3.0 takes place on St. Kitts in a few days and a new batch of Caribbeanpreneurs, with ideas and startups for mobile applications, are competing for $75,000 in cash and prizes. The money will be the bonus on a priceless experience and here are a few thoughts on how to come through it on top.
It is a competition but the others pitching are going to be your collaborators. Sitting in the workshops are men and women of varying ages and experience who have knowledge that can help you build and pitch a better app. It is like being in the room with your test market. Are they interested in learning more about your app once you tell them what it is? What are the follow up questions that come at you? Would they buy it or want it for free? To get this information you have got to engage with them. So rather than spend your time in a corner trying to keep your idea close to your chest, interact and talk up your idea or startup.
The two days of mentoring and training will be all about collaboration. On day one, you present your pitch with your heart in your mouth and hope the others in the room and your mentors like your idea. You will need to divorce yourself from your business enough to taken in the feedback coming at you from your peers. It will make the difference in what happens on pitch day. Tough love is what you will get but take it…your pitch will be better for it.
Don’t memorize your pitch! Anything can happen. Slides get stuck (happened to me at the finals), and you may have to start over or wing it. When you are following a script and something goes wrong it isn’t always easy to pick up where you left off. Instead, know the information you need to share with each slide. Have the highlights clear in your mind that you want to hit with each click.
Caribbean people tend to speak quickly and pitching while nerves abound will only increase the pace but Do not rush. Yes you’ve got only five minutes but it is enough time to hit the most important points. Practice your pitch out loud. Time yourself and edit your notes to suit. Being clear will improve how the judges connect with your pitch.
Record yourself and listen to the playback. Get comfortable hearing your voice and notice whether you sound out of breath, speak at a higher pitch than normal or too low. Do this during the practice sessions and you can aim to improve before the next one. The semi-final round is a good time to do this as well. Hopefully, you will have made the cut for the finals and have one more chance to improve on your sound.
Tell a good story. Your introduction will either draw them in or tune them out. Every slide is a chapter in that story and so the imagery you select, the words you speak should move the story forward.
Caribbeanpreneurs are not used to talking numbers and that has to change if we plan to build businesses that will grow. This is a chance to work on that. It is a crash course in how to tell an investor why they need to invest in you and the potential for your idea to make them money. Your numbers will tell the judges whether your story is a pipe dream or very possible. Don’t skimp on the numbers in an effort to be conservative. How much will it really cost to build the business with a team that you are paying properly? Can you really run the company, develop and test the software and market all on your own? Show them what the money will be used for and the potential for return on their investment.
Have fun! There will be many moments to laugh and a few that may make you want to cry. Enjoy it. Everyone in the room wants you to win and you should want the same for them as well. The very possibility that 25 new ventures could be birthed in the Caribbean from the experience is a reason to celebrate.
Network. You will need these people in your circle. They will be able to recommend developers, marketers, free software that can help you out of a bind. Staying in touch is a good idea if you want to build an app that has potential for regional and global expansion. Take names, numbers, and social media handles. Keep in touch. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
Well the good news is that my mobile app idea did help me to win PitchIT along with four other women. It was an amazing opportunity and I continue to benefit from the experience, the training and other support that the PitchIT team provides the winners. Here’s wishing the new crop of 25 the best in the competition. We need more homegrown apps in the global marketplace.
Nerissa Golden writes on entrepreneurship, leveraging technology and media to change lives and communities. She is a six-time author, now fusing business and romance in novels. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.