Wisdom From The Pitching Panel
We recently had our Melbourne accelerator cohort pitch their new-and-improved social enterprises to some industry experts.
Each team had ten minutes to talk about their business, then 40 minutes of Q&A.
These sessions were fantastic – the dedicated time gave each team an opportunity to get to the real issues with their model, as well as discuss which other organisations and partners they should approach next.
The good news is that their experience can be your gain; here are some of the best nuggets of wisdom from the panels:
“You’ve built a money machine”
One team presented their idea, starting with the problem and their solution for the majority of their presentation.
It was 25 minutes until they mentioned a pivotal detail; their core product is a training program that costs $1,000 to run, while bringing in $4,000 of revenue per session.
The program is great for the participants, creates genuine social impact and customers love them.
The panellist’s jaws dropped.
The entrepreneurs framed themselves as if they were struggling to bring in the dollars, when in fact each of their workshops actually creates huge margins.
Once this was established, it completely repositioned their next six months.
They’re looking at customer acquisition and replication, rather than searching for a model that’s financially viable.
If you’ve built a money machine, tell the panel early on.
A suggested template:
“Here’s why what we’re doing is amazing.
Here’s what’s missing.
Here’s what we need to do next”
“Never reference statistics – cut to the social enterprise. The due diligence happens later”
Lots of people try and establish their credibility through statistics.
While this adds weight on paper, it’s not a great way of opening the conversation.
Instead, our panellists suggested that each team begin with an explanation of the business, and save the statistics for specific questions.
“What business do you want to be in?”
This group sell a product that’s connected with a movement, one that focuses on mindfulness and mental wellbeing.
The panel were quick to congratulate them for their work, but couldn’t help but point out the tension that sits within the business.
Specifically, they treated the movement and the product as two separate ideas, and evaluated them individually (much to the frustration of the entrepreneur).
Just because you have a great social cause doesn’t mean that you have to be in love with your product business.
The panel wouldn’t relent, they kept on pushing for more detail on the product’s growth:
“In five years, do you want to be a product business? I think you’re a movement. Don’t be confused about the two”
To test this, they asked a question:
“What’s your personal career if this doesn’t work? What job would you be happy to get?”
This was brilliant, it helped to separate the current day product business from the entrepreneurs’ long-term passions.
That subtle difference helps to plan out better growth strategies, and clarifies the difference between a short term opportunity and a genuine passion.
“Let’s say you want to have a monkey on a marble plinth reciting Shakespeare. Which bit do you want to do first – train the monkey or build the plinth?”
This question is the basis of the #monkeyfirst movement – the idea that new businesses should focus on tackling the hardest problem at the start, to see if there’s actually a viable opportunity.
The entrepreneur said that they’d build the plinth first, confirming the panellist’s suspicions.
“It sounds like you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too. Maybe what you want is two small cakes?”
This question can be incredibly liberating.
Too often we find ourselves locked on to an idea that has to serve multiple purposes.
What if we split it into two smaller ideas, each with a specialised purpose?
The two would no longer feel conflicted, and we wouldn’t feel compromised.
A few minutes later:
“I see a fork in the road; what path would you take?
I think you should take longer to slow down and go back to “why?”
I think the right path takes longer and costs more”
“Don’t diversify until you nail this one”
The entrepreneur pitched well, and won three new customers in the panellists.
That said, their feedback was clear – instead of expanding into new products and industries, take the time to really get the current one right.
“Put the story on the box”
For this group, their social story made the product come alive.
Yet their boxes are mostly blank space.
When someone points it out it seems obvious, but that’s what external advisors are there for.
“You said the product way too late”
The temptation here is to treat the product reveal like the punchline of a joke – setting the scene for a big revelation.
In reality, your audience just wants to know what you’re selling so that they can get their head around your business, not just your cause.
“You should segment your customers by psychographic”
While it’s easy to talk about customers by age, wealth and postcode, it’s often more practical to sort them by their attitudes and beliefs.
For this business, the answer was to group customers by pain point, rather than by their surface level traits.
“Don’t grow yet, you might be growing the wrong thing”
There is a temptation to prove that you’re getting bigger.
While this feels gratifying, if you’re not building the right business then you’re only compounding your problems.
This is similar to the old aphorism about sharpening the saw, it’s better to take the time to sharpen your idea before you start trying to make it larger.
“Make them love the shit out of you”
Similar to the last point, we often focus on the size of our customer base, rather than the depth of our customer’s loyalty.
By proving that you’ve created a tribe of raving fans, you’ll be more persuasive than someone with a huge number of mild spectators.
“What would you do with 1,000 new customers in a week’s time?”
This is a useful thought experiment – what happens if your customer acquisition goes through the roof?
What would you need to do at a surface level?
Once you know the rough answer, what changes could be made now in order to make scaling up easier?
“Never be afraid of selling something you genuinely believe in at a price you genuinely believe in”
Sales can feel grubby – but why?
The act of selling is in no way unethical, it’s just helping people solve problems.
The trouble comes when you create a win/lose situation; the customer ends up with an imperfect solution so that you can get a sale.
Is that the situation here?
If you’re creating a genuine solution, and you’re pricing it fairly, why the worry?
“Remove the generic-ness; give me a story to tell other people”
There is a risk to playing it safe.
You might be a 7 out of 10, and your audience don’t retain anything you said.
It’s more effective to say something so memorable and compelling to part of your audience, so that they will go and actually do something with what they heard.