Pitching 101: Important to differentiate yourself

  • Half of startups can’t get their USPs across to investors when pitching
  • Do not rigidly adhere to pitching templates given by accelerators or coaches
Pitching 101: Important to differentiate yourself

 
AS a startup founder, there is no way you can get away from having to make a pitch or two. However, it’s not easy to get the message – your unique selling proposition (USP) – across to potential investors.
 
You may wonder: Is it that important to set your startup apart from the competition?
 
The answer is a resounding ‘Yes.’
 
Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd chief investment officer Juliana Jan (pic above) says most of the entrepreneurs she has come across have articulation problems – they try to impress and explain their ideas to investors using far too many words.
 
“This can be confusing for investors. Many [startups] are also not aware of their USPs or what distinguishes them from their competitors.
 
“Hence, they end up giving less important information, or just too much information on benefits, features and others,” she tells Digital News Asia (DNA) via email.
 
Cradle Fund is a non-profit under Malaysia’s Ministry of Finance that finances early-stage startups under a variety of grant and co-investment schemes.
 
Jan argues that about 50% of startups cannot get their USPs across to investors during pitching sessions.
 
She says that unless startups can clearly highlight what makes their product or service unique, they would be unable to grab investors’ attention or get them to recognise their potential to compete and succeed in the market.
 
Malaysia Business Angel Network (MBAN) president Dr V. Sivapalan agrees that most startups do not know how to pitch.
 
“Even when given templates, they don’t pitch well. We have a saying in the industry, ‘Most entrepreneurs cannot pitch to save their lives,” he laments.
 
Sivalapan is also cofounder and chief evangelist of Proficeo Consultants, which manages Cradle’s Coach and Grow Programme (CGP) that targets pre-seed and growth stage companies.
 
Pitching 101: Important to differentiate yourselfAccording to Sivapalan (pic), most entrepreneurs do not know how to pitch because they have not gone through any coaching programme that teaches them this specific skill.
 
“They also rarely do any research on how to pitch. Plus, they don’t pay any regard to their audience and pitch the features of their product as if they were pitching to a customer,” he says.
 
He argues that only if entrepreneurs have undergone “some form of training” – whether via pitching practices or coaching programmes – would they be able to pitch well.
 
“Without this, they can’t pitch,” he quips.
 
Proficeo chief executive officer Renuka Sena says that generally, entrepreneurs who have not gone through any acceleration programme or coaching tend to focus more on functionality and theoretical market size.
 
“But those who have gone through coaching programmes are able to tell a better story, dealing with the key points.
 
“However, we’re seeing less of this [lack of training] compared with perhaps five years ago, as there is more guidance available via accelerators and coaches,” she says.
 
Some entrepreneurs rely on pitching templates, but while these can be useful, one should not overly depend on them either, according to Cradle’s Jan.
 
“If they are nurtured by an accelerator or venture builder, the template normally comes from there,” she says.
 
But she also advises startups to not rigidly follow such templates to ensure their presentations are unique enough catch investors’ attention.
 
English and the language barrier
 
English is the language in the tech space, and the international language of business to boot, which makes proficiency in the language hard to escape, especially when one wants to impress a foreign investor.
 
Luckily, both Jan and Sivapalan say that most of the entrepreneurs they come across are able to pitch in English.
 
Some and even have “excellent mastery” of the language, according to Jan.
 
“There are some who struggle to deliver their presentations in English, given that English isn’t their first language, and they have to alternate between Malay and English in their pitching.
 
“But at the end of the day, we can still understand them as long as they give us what we want to know,” she adds.
 
Sivapalan concurs, saying that while some entrepreneurs do have problems with English, they are in the minority.
 
Last but not least, Jan encourages entrepreneurs to be more open to constructive criticism of their startups.
 
“Critics can have valuable advice, even if they frame it in an unpleasant way.
 
“But without feedback, a startup will never be able to grow. Those who cope well with criticism are normally the ones that succeed.
 
“Ultimately, criticism is a tool that helps you create the tomorrow you visualise,” she adds.
 
Next Up: Understanding investor-speak
 
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