I was part of the jury at Conquest 2015, the annual startup fest and B-Plan competition of BITS Pilani. Conquest is perhaps, one of the most meaningful Business Plan competitions in the country. The Conquest team makes efforts to provide mentoring support to shortlisted teams, so that their plans are refined by the time they get to the finals. The program is designed and executed entirely by students.
(Disclosure: Applyifi was the partner for curating startups for Conquest 2015. However, my positive comments are not because of that. I have been associated with Conquest for the past 10 years and have always found it to be well curated, well managed, and well attended. That BITS Pilani has a very vibrant and involved alumni network, supporting New Venture Creation on campus and are a huge support for Conquest, is a big plus).
Click here to see the 10 finalists of Conquest 2015. (It was great to see teams that were comfortable pitching their venture in an open forum. It shows the confidence of the entrepreneurs, and that they are not afraid of being copied.)
Some observations from yesterday’s finals:
- Do less, to do more: A lot of startups try to do too many things. They try to go after all possible opportunities in their space. That makes their business complicated, and hard to execute. At the beginning of your journey, it is better to focus sharply on doing one thing well.
- Keep it short. Keep it simple. Make sure you communicate well: While a number of startups had good businesses, their pitch presentation was not as solid. The slides were crowded, there was too much being communicated in a 15-minute pitch (many overshot their time), and in many cases the clarity of what they were communicating was missing.
- It not about the product: While what you do (product/service) is important, that is NOT what investors are going to be excited about. Investors want to know why it would make a good investment for them. Talking about – the ‘business’ around the concept is important. I.e. how do you plan do execute, what does the business case look like, who is the team behind it, etc – are important to communicate in a pitch presentation.
- Call to action was missing: If you are pitching to investors, it is important to clearly state how much money you want to raise, what is the money going to be used for, what will be achieved with that money and how much money you may need in a follow-up round (if you need a follow up round). Most presentations missed this, or just added a line saying ‘We are raising INR x for y% equity”.
- In a b-plan competition, your competition are the other startups presenting: Make an effort to be more exciting than the others presenting. Do things that will make the judges remember you. Help the judges understand why you are a rockstar team. (By the way, almost all teams had one person on stage. My take – if you have a great team, show it off;let everyone contribute in some way to the pitch. At least get all of them on stage).
As always, most entrepreneurs did not do a good job in telling their story well. Many spent time talking about non-critical points i.e. points that were unlikely to help the judges to make a decision.
Here are some suggestions on what should be covered in a short pitch:
- Your name and your startups name and a ONE LINE DESCRIPTOR THAT CLEARLY STATES WHAT YOU DO
- What problem you are solving and for whom (i.e. your value proposition)
- How are you solving the problem (your concept/product/service)
- Business model and business case
- The size of the market opportunity – i.e. how many people/organizations would find this value proposition meaningful
- What stage are you at: Explain how you have validated the opportunity – e.g. spoken to customers, traction, etc.
- Competition; and why you have a reasonable chance to win against them
- Team overview
- What are you seeking from i.e. finding / mentoring. If funding, then the points mentioned above (how much money you want to raise, what is the money going to be used for, what will be achieved with that money and how much money you may need in a follow-up round (if you need a follow up round).
Remember, investors look for the following:
- Is the market large?
- Does this product/service have a reasonable chance of being a dominant player in that large market?
- Is this a great team that is capable of executing it on the ground?
Remember, investors always invest in ‘people.’