Startup Weekend is an exciting event hosted in cities all over the world. In just 54 hours, teams work non-stop to build a business and pitch their idea to VCs, business experts and other industry luminaries. The even begins with “pitchfire” on Friday night – 50 to 100 people line up to give one-minute pitches for their idea to attract a team – and ends with five-minute pitches before the judging panel on Sunday, followed by a three-minute Q&A.
This Sunday pitch can be nerve wracking. The whole point of Startup Weekend is to strip the process of creating a business and pitching it to its barest bones. How do you successfully share your billion dollar business idea in just five minutes AND squeeze in a demo? After sitting through dozens of these pitches, I’ve developed a basic framework to help you out – break it down to five points:
- The problem you’re trying to solve. Explain the challenges you see in the market that inspired your idea. Briefly talk about the competition and the problems customers have had with their business model.
- The solution you’ve identified. Given the challenges you’ve seen, how do you think you can solve it?
- Customer validation. Demonstrate that you’ve established there’s a market for your idea, that you know your market and – most importantly – that you’ve reached out to this market and refined your solution to elicit a positive response from them.
- How you are going to make money with this solution. Have you thought through your business model and identified revenue generating opportunities? How will you roll this out to your market and gain traction?
- Demo. This is the most important piece of your pitch. You don’t have to have a completed project – you only need to demonstrate how your solution solves the problem you’ve identified and how you have integrated the feedback you received from your target market. It’s far better to show than tell.
The goal of this framework is to establish the story of your business and walk the judges down the path you took to arrive at your solution. If you need to sacrifice something in the name of time, sacrifice the talking and spend more time on the demo. Spend no more than two and a half minutes on points 1 through 4 and devote the remaining time to your demo. Keep the talking points high level and save the details for the Q&A. Some of the common questions I hear from judges are
- “How will you make money?”
- “What makes you different?”
- “Who is your market for this?”
These are bad questions to hear – you should have addressed these as part of your pitch. Instead, you want to hear questions that are more specific to your business model or your target market. The judges will probe to ensure you really understand the space you’re breaking in to and that you have at least thought through your business model, revenue generation and path to profitability, even if you don’t currently have hard and fast solutions to them. Be prepared to get hit with some tough questions and provide details that demonstrate that your idea will work. You should have solid answers to these questions in your back pocket:
- What is your rollout plan? You may have covered this in your pitch, but you should have kept it brief and high-level. Save the details for Q&A.
- Tell me about your team. Who will stay on after today? Investors want to invest in good ideas, but they care even more about the team. Ideas can and will change, but a solid team of people who can execute on great ideas is absolutely invaluable. They can turn any idea into something amazing.
- How are you different from [insert company here]? You should demonstrate in your pitch that you know your competition and you should have outlined your competitive advantage. But, again, be prepared to provide details in the Q&A.
As for the pitch style – relax and have fun with it. While many real businesses have found their genesis at Startup Weekend, it’s more important that you throw yourself into the process of creating and pitching your company and really have fun doing it. Professionalism is encouraged, but making your audience laugh and smile along with you goes a long way to getting them engaged and focused on your idea. Take this framework to cover the information you need to present, but infuse it with your unique style and personality. The people matter more than the idea – show the judges that your team is full of rockstars.