In the past years we have seen a lot of pitches during the selection for our accelerator. What struck us is that start-ups often have difficulty explaining their idea clearly. So we asked Jan-Willem Callebaut, CEO and founder of Birdhouse, for his tips on the ideal pitch.
“In the first few minutes of a story, people make up their minds, consciously or unconsciously, whether they trust you. So the clarity of how you present yourself has a very big impact.“Jan-Willem starts.
“Nevertheless, this appears to be an important working point for Belgian start-ups. For example, we often notice during our pitches that companies do not present themselves clearly, which is a broader problem in the Belgian start-up ecosystem.”
Most common errors
These are the three most common mistakes according to Jan-Willem.
1. You don’t get to the point fast enough
“Very often people start telling a story and don’tget to the point fast enough.” states Jan-Willem. “Some startups talk for a very long time about the why and the mission of their company. You need to tell that, of course, and I think it’s good to start with that. But don’t do it for five minutes at a time. Because then your audience gets confused, and they start wondering what you just did.”
A good product presentation therefore starts with a clear combination of a problem you want to solve, and a product with which you solve that problem. Nevertheless, many companies lose themselves in the problem, while the solution is exactly what the audience is waiting for.
2. You lose yourself in details
In addition, you also have to be careful when you explain the product. “People often talk far too long about the details of their solution,” states Jan-Willem. “Just think of technical features that are not relevant to your broader story. While from the point of view of, for example, a jury of The Birdhouse, but also investors, this is not what it is about. Your product is obviously crucial. But there are a lot of other facets that are more important in the early stages, like finances, your go-to-market strategy and the team.”
3. You forget important parts
In addition, start-ups usually forget important aspects in their presentations. One is the team, which often plays a decisive factor in the decision to accept a business at The Birdhouse, for example.
“The team is crucial in a pitch,” confirms Jan-Willem. “Because you have to know who is behind a company. You can mention your team at two times during a presentation: at the beginning and at the end.”
“They’re both okay. But if you place the team in the beginning it ideally offers added value. For example, if you are proposing a very technical product, you need to have people with knowledge of it. Because that’s how you create credibility. And even if you can’t draw on a long professional experience, it’s good to have something to go along with it that shows how passionate you and your team are.“
Uber for x
Another useful element in a presentation is to explain your product concisely, ideally even in one sentence. Because as an entrepreneur, your work often focuses on details, and this way you zoom out.
“A good tip is to use analogies that many people know,” says Jan-Willem. “Entrepreneurs with a sharing platform often do that by saying they are the Uber or Airbnb for x. Of course, it shouldn’t become a cliché, and these kinds of analogies go wrong quickly if there is little substance in your presentation. But if you have a well thought out story, a metaphor or analogy will get people on board faster.”
6 golden pitch tips
For the actual pitch Jan-Willem also has some valuable tips!
1. Do your research
For example, there is a tremendous amount of documentation online about pitching. So do your research, and prepare well. For example by reading our
blog post about pitching
2. Stick to the templates
You can get a lot of templates from that research. For example, Birdhouse shared a
, and an organization like Y Combinator put their ideal seed deck online. So during your early pitches, it’s not a bad idea to just use them, and lean on the work others have already done.
3. Practice your presentation
Practicing and preparing a presentation well sounds like something obvious, but start-ups often overlook it. So make sure you know your presentation, that you bring extra material and that you don’t have to say “euh” too much.
4. Speak before you change slides
This is a tip you don’t always have to do, but in our previous post about pitching we gave
To say what you want to say first and only then change slides. This keeps the attention on you as a speaker, because a slide often distracts an audience from your explanation.
5. Invest in design
Design is something that a lot of startups ignore when they have to make presentations. But beautiful, professional slides, whether or not created by a designer, simply give a good impression. It shows that you are a serious company that can be trusted.
6. Ask for feedback
A final tip is to simply call for help. “Fundamentally, people need to be more critical of themselves and ask for feedback more quickly.” concludes Jan-Willem.
Dare to ask others how to do it better
and how to explain your concept more easily. Lots of people are ready to get feedback on the content of their presentation, but few ask for feedback on their pitch itself. And that while presenting is a super important part of your start-up.“