Start-ups: beware of the overrated pitching-gospel

The other day, our expertise was requested by a partner to provide support during one of their prestigious intensive seminars for start-ups (often called ‘boot camps’): a number of young innovative start-up companies had applied, some of them still incomplete, and so therefore actively participating, simulating being a co-founder and advising with the various exercises was to be expected.

That being said, the programme of the seminar turned out to be heavily over-focused on … pitching, whereas the business-plan and financials were far lesser attention (some aspects totally ignored).

Like in frequent postings on various sites and blogs, one increasingly sees the necessity for making the perfect pitch and to sell, this becoming the leading maxim for today’s entrepreneurs. This seems to be the most popular theme these days (apart from copying Bill Gates’ breakfast).

Whether you are an investor, client or prospect business partner, the whole gist is that ultimately the most important is the mutual trust between the two parties: that means understanding the product or whether you worked out your numbers. Nobody (including your investor) has a crystal glass to foresee everything, but you must have some of it in grips, especially to have a plan B when eventualities could come across your path.

"Selling and pitching are perhaps en vogue at the moment, but are – alas – tremendously overrated.  The entrepreneurial world is not as Hollywood shows us"

What I did see, was merely preparing an enacted artificial stand-up performance, with a set of the usual modern magic mumbo-jumbo, even one attempt to emulate a full ‘Steve Jobs-imitation’ (with copied quotes!). Here one starts seriously wondering, what actually the point is. Convince or pretending?

Overall, the pitch-presentations were performed nervously (being uneasy – OK, for most the first time to stand in front of a crowd), but even later on still lacking a genuine identity (oops!) or even a convincing message. Honestly, any serious investor or client would switch off immediately here.

What should matter is that you present yourself as you are. Yes, above all prepare or re-adjust your plans or budgets, but do not pretend to be someone else, otherwise you fall into the category the infamous second-hand car salesperson or a failed actor. That’s, after all, not your job. When you are in Europe, do not act being American. It just does not fit. First of all, you have conceived a plan, that’s admirable, and therefore stand for that. That is your true basis and strength.

Selling and pitching are perhaps en vogue at the moment, but are – alas – tremendously overrated.  The entrepreneurial world is not as Hollywood shows us. Forget that imaginary picture and focus on your product’s content. Contrary to what such coaches try to emit: a true investor will listen to a genuine story as it comes (yes, even when it is not crammed with jargon into 3 minutes). And as for a customer; one cannot force a client to buy something (s)he does not want or is not ready to buy. Namely, if you force a sale once, the client will certainly not come back to you, perhaps even cancels as soon as possible. That’s not the way forward.  

Therefore: do not become another mass-produced uniform pitcher/seller. Build only on trust and good communication. Only that makes it original and convincing. Only then you are in business.

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