In today’s frenetic startup environment, any new company has countless things to consider every day: product development, recruiting the right team, defining your place in the market, locating financial backers, convincing customers to give your idea a shot….the list goes on. However, it will be extremely difficult for you to succeed in any of these key endeavors if you cannot successfully make your “pitch”. Although your audiences will differ, and their level of sophistication will vary, there are (at least) 4 key topics that you absolutely MUST nail if you want to have the slightest chance of succeeding. The areas that you need to totally own are:
The assumptions that you make, not only in your financial projections, but in your entire business model are the absolute foundation of your pitch. You should know these like you know your birthday, and you should be able to seamlessly interconnect them, and relate numbers to concepts, and (perhaps more importantly) concepts to numbers or statistics. Thoroughly and completely documenting as many of your assumptions as possible will not only improve your chances of success, it will also force you and your team to cast a critical eye upon these to ensure the entire plan is cohesive.
Just as important as thoroughly documenting the assumptions, is the process that you employ to validate them. There is no “one way” to perform this either – but since you are expected to be the expert on your product or service, you must also wear the mantle of the expert in validating your assumptions. Some can be solidly validated through readily available data in the marketplace, some will require industry research (crowdsourcing, anyone?), while other elements may require collecting data from (potential) customers, suppliers, and even competitors. The final elements may even require you to draw upon your position as an “expert” in the field to validate the assumption – but better to state this clearly and unambiguously than to suggest it was a “guess”. (A hint here – don’t be afraid to stake out your turf as someone who is an authority on your subject matter…a wise Scotsman once told me “at least one person in the conversation has to know what they are talking about”)
Understanding your market is key not only to your overall success, but to your credibility. That means performing as much research as you can on your defined market – keeping in mind that “research” comes in as many flavors as Baskin Robins ice cream (32, if you are old school like me). Read the current market assessments, familiarize yourself with the “bullish” views as well as the “bearish” views, reach out to colleagues and seek their perspectives, read the “tech” perspective and the “old guard” perspective – all of this will help you ask yourself the critical questions (and develop answers for them) necessary to effectively define and evaluate the market that you seek to dominate. Also, resist the temptation to define your target market as “all of humankind”, unless that’s really who you feel will adopt your product. Better to clearly understand what will drive early adoption, how to reach the emotions of that segment, and lock down an approach that will gain traction with them. Adjacent to that, understanding and articulating how you migrate upstream from that to a broader market, or further penetration of the defined segment, will only further burnish your credibility.
This one may sound painfully obvious, and perhaps it is..however, lets look at it from a slightly different perspective. Lots of start ups are, by their very nature, a “new idea”. Thus, it’s quite easy to believe that there is really “no competition”. However, even if you invented a jetpack that could be purchased from a vending machine, competition would still exist. And since competition exists, it’s important that you understand, evaluate , and clearly articulate what makes you so freakin’ special. This is a key area of the “pitch”, because it’s a great time to draw your audience in and make them feel more a part of the process – follow my logic here… chances are that (a) your idea/product/jetpack is new to your audience, and (b) your competitors products/idea may not be new to them. Using that combination of facts, it’s a great opportunity to draw the audience in and use this as a way to effectively “convert” them from the competition. Here’s a crude example – Instagram may have never considered FB as a competitor, but when they were explaining why “tweeting photos” was relevant, you can bet they compared themselves to FB, because the knew everyone in the audience knew what FB was, and could then feel that they “got it” when Instagram positioned themselves as a FB competitor.
I won’t be so bold as to suggest the 4 topics above are the only things you need to succeed, but I can tell you for certain that if you can’t nail these like an angry carpenter, your ship is sunk… So before you make the pitch, be sure you have these down as cold as a mexican brew (hat tip to Billy Gibbons, there).