How to win a pitch competition

As we go through the regional Roadshow for Accelerating Asia, promoting the program, I thought it would be useful to provide a few tips on pitching.  

At each of our Roadshow events we have a pitch competition, with the winner gaining automatic entry to the second round of the application process.  Since our program typically receives well over 200 applications this can mean the startup gets a pass to leap past at least 150 other applications!

The pitch format is really basic:  A 1-minute pitch with no slides. Here’s some tips on how to ace your pitch.

Learning how to pitch effectively might be the most important thing you ever learn as a startup founder.

Seriously. Your product may be awesome and save millions of dollars per year for companies or even thousands of lives per year, but if you cannot effectively communicate your vision, your passion and attract people to engage with your startup then you will probably miss the chance to see it through.  You will require many other people to join your startup, as either investors, customers, employees or mentors. In order to get them to join your team you will need to inspire them, and that’s what pitching is all about.

A lot of startups say to me, “But Craig, 1 minute isn’t nearly enough time for me to explain my startup to someone!”

I think the perspective of this question is wrong.  

The pitch, whether 1 minute, 3 minutes or 5 minutes, isn’t supposed to convey every detail of your business.  It is meant to inspire someone to follow up with you and learn more. So focus on 2-3 key points that you want the audience to remember and talk about those.  

Don’t get caught up in trying to please everyone.  

Figure out what the most pressing current need for your startup is and tailor your pitch to that audience. Is it fundraising?  Then focus on tailoring your pitch to investors. If someone gives you feedback who isn’t an investor think twice about implementing it if it won’t help you connect with the investors in the audience.

The “ask”.  

Ensure that the audience knows why you are telling them about your business.  What do you need? During your close be explicit with the audience so that the ones that could help you know that you are looking for them.  It’s as easy as “We’re currently looking for USD100,000 in Seed capital to expand our team and get to $20,000 ARR, so please connect with us afterward if you are as passionate about XYZ as we are.”


Show us your passion

Why do you care about this?  The best pitches are from founders who are truly passionate about their startups.  This comes across to the audience and is contagious. Almost every founder can identify why they are passionate about their startup, but many do not communicate this effectively...  And if you can’t identify your passion, then perhaps you aren’t doing the right thing…

Final tips:

  • Don’t talk fast so that you can fit your 3 minute pitch into 1 minute.  Nobody will absorb what you’re saying. Talk slowly and emphasize key points.  Pausing after key points lets it sink it.

  • Think about repeating key points during your close so that the audience remembers them.

  • Non-verbal communication is really effective.  It helps get your points across and can also be a good outlet for nervous energy.  Use your hands and practice.

  • Try to avoid nervous habits like patting your leg while talking, jangling keys in your pocket, etc.  You may not even know if you are doing this so ensure you have other folks watch you pitch and give honest feedback.

  • Ensure you cover the basics:  Who are you? What’s your startup’s name and what do they do?  What problem do you solve? Try to quantify the size of the problem (metrics are best:  “We save each of these types of employees 10 hours per month. The average XYZ has 1,000 of these employees”).  How do you make (or will make) money?

  • What’s special about your startup or team?  Examples could include “My CTO has a PhD from MIT in machine learning”, “We’ve won 3 hackathons in the last 6 months”, “We have signed 3 large enterprise customers with contract value over USD $1M in the last 6 months”, “Our user base is growing at 30% MOM”, etc.

  • And, if you’re applying to The Asia Accelerator then you probably want to mention why the program is a good fit for your startup...

  • Nobody is born a great pitcher, it’s practice, practice practice.

1 minute is longer than you think if you strip things down and focus on the most important aspects of your business.  

Good luck and I hope to see you pitching at one of our upcoming events!

Applications for Accelerating Asia are now open! Submit your application before the 15th February here.