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The three most important basic rules for startup pitches.

Guest Blog written by Jasper Ettema at JET Growth



1 million dollar Pitching Jasper Ettema
1 million dollar Pitching Jasper Ettema


Over the past few years, I have stood on the biggest stages in Europe and beyond, and have helped to develop & design countless pitches. Unfortunately, however, I have observed how the actual purpose of pitching - to convince potential investors or customers - often takes a back seat. As a participant and jury member at numerous start-up events and organizer of hundreds of pitches competitions, I have noticed how pitching is increasingly degenerating into an entertainment spectacle. Instead of presenting in front of a relevant audience, start-ups are increasingly standing in front of other start-ups. This is a worrying trend that influences and questions the effectiveness of pitching.


The history of pitching goes back a long way. In the 1990s, the word "pitch" was hardly known, but even then there were investors and considerable investments. With the emergence of the start-up scene in the 2000s, pitching experienced an upswing. But with the outbreak of the coronavirus, the hype was over for the time being. Many events had to redefine themselves, investors were busy saving their portfolios and digital pitching proved to be not quite as effective as expected.


What can we do better as a startup community? And what can founders do to raise the quality and make pitching effective again? My observations show that many founders often approach the pitching process in an unstructured and unsystematic way. Instead of a methodical approach trying to develop personal skills, they simply create a new PowerPoint file. But the pitch is more than just a presentation - it is the business card of a start-up and its commercial capabilities. So it's time to approach pitching in the same structured way as other aspects of your personal development and your business’ development.

Unfortunately, the resources available on the internet often offer only superficial help. Best practice offers and tips & tricks are useful, but not universally applicable. In addition, event-based coaching from self-proclaimed gurus often leads to short-term improvements instead of strengthening the founders' personal skills in the long term.

It's time to consider pitching as a skill that can be practised, developed and refined. After all, pitching is not just about presenting slides, but about the art of inspiring others with a vision. The following 3 basic rules can help you with this.


1. Convince with your goal in mind

As a passionate entrepreneur, I made a crucial mistake in my career: I was "keen" to stand on every stage that came my way. Although I won many competitions and events, my business success often fell short of my expectations compared to other founders. Looking back, I realized that I had lost my focus. I was too intent on being present at events, on "mingling", without questioning what this would actually bring me and my business.

This insight and awareness led me to two important questions:

  • What is actually the purpose of a pitch, and

  • Why do founders pitch at all?

A pitch is more than just a PowerPoint presentation. It's not just about explaining an idea, but about getting others excited about it and persuading them to support it. For this very reason, a good pitch is based less on facts and more on vision and emotion. A pitch is an invitation to join a vision and actively contribute. A pitch therefore has no universal form or even template, but varies depending on the idea, industry, opportunity, phase, context and not least, the personality of the founder.

A pitch offers an excellent opportunity to gain supporters, whether as customers, investors or strategic partners. However, it is important to understand who you actually want to inspire. Everyone has a different role & stake and can contribute to the success of a start-up in different ways. So think about your goals beforehand and how the next pitch can contribute to them. Think about who you need to reach out to with your next pitch and whether this is even possible at the event or in the given context. (If not, then don't pitch!)

For example, investors will be looking for projects for their venture capital fund, while an innovation manager from a corporation is looking for new technologies or solutions to specific problems. A successful pitch aims to reach the right people and convince them of the start-up's vision so that they then contribute to your goals. The art of pitching therefore spans different forms and contexts. Whether on a stage in front of an audience or in an informal conversation in an elevator, the purpose remains the same: to inspire others with a vision and gain their support.

Overall, then, a pitch is much more than just a presentation - it's an opportunity to convince others of an idea and inspire them to buy into that vision. It is this art of persuasion that should accompany every entrepreneur on their way to their goal.


2. Develop your storyline before your slides

Before you dive into planning a pitch, you should consider two important insights:

  • Authenticity plays a key role, and

  • Why you do something is more important than what you do.

Authenticity in a pitch means that your performance fits the setting. This includes both the visual element (your slides, your appearance) and the auditory element (your text). The environment, which you cannot fully control, also contributes to perception. The viewer's perception is authentic when everything fits together. If your story is too good to be true and you are telling fairy tales, then it is usually not perceived as authentic. The same applies if you seem out of place. So, whether you feel comfortable at an event or not also plays a role. Simon Sinek's principle of the Golden Circle also emphasizes that people don't buy what you do, but why you do it. Your personal "why" is therefore crucial for the authenticity of your pitch.

In the end, telling a story is more effective than just presenting facts. Nevertheless, certain content is expected or even required for pitches. When creating your pitch it is therefore very tempting to start with the creation of the slides and their content. But that would be a big mistake. Your persuasion doesn't come from your slides, but from you and your story. So first concentrate on developing an authentic storyline.

A good pitch storyline usually has 5 phases:

  1. Impression,

  2. Relevance,

  3. Advantage,

  4. Trust and

  5. Contribution.

Each of these phases answers a question that the audience is implicitly asking itself at a certain point in time. Each phase therefore conveys a specific message.

Your authenticity should be considered throughout the entire story. The "why" is best placed in the relevance phase. This phase is also the ideal place to present the problem-idea-solution chain. Here you can make it clear why your idea is relevant by clearly defining the problem you want to solve and presenting your solution.

By considering all five phases, you can craft a coherent and compelling narrative that not only fulfills expectations but also gains the trust and interest of your audience.


3. Improve systematically and continuously

The pitch, or rather your pitch competence, is like any other skill - it needs to be practiced. Success in pitching is not a matter of pure talent, but a combination of talent and hard training. So when you see a founder who impresses everyone with a pitch, don't think they're just a born natural. There is a lot of practice behind it.

Eric Ries propagates the cycle of "build - measure - learn". You build something, measure its success and learn from the results. Then you start all over again. It's basically a method of continuous improvement, but much simpler than conventional quality management approaches. And pitching is no different. You plan a pitch, execute it and then compare planning and execution to recognise potential for improvement. To use this system for your personal development, however, you need to consider two issues.

Firstly, you need to start planning your pitches. You can only judge your result if you have a plan to compare it with. What do you want to do versus what did you do and how did it work? For proper planning, you should familiarize yourself with the technique of scripting. This involves writing down an entire text and breaking it down into individual statements. If you do this in a table, you can also take the timing and interactions into account. Now you have a plan. No more and no less. You don't have to memorize the text or stick to it 100%. That usually doesn't come across as particularly authentic anyway. But having a plan is a good step towards systematically achieving your goals.

To improve your pitching skills, you also need to know how you come across during your pitch. When you're on stage, it's hard to know how the audience will react. You're so focused on delivering your pitch well that you have few resources to pay attention to the audience's reactions. That's why it's important to record your pitch performances, whether it's during a practice or when it's down to the wire. Video recordings are particularly helpful as you can analyze them later. In the beginning, you should record each of your pitches to see how you come across. Even if watching yourself un video is uncomfortable at first, it will help you to improve.


These basic rules of pitching can help you make your pitches more effective and convince your audience. Follow these guidelines to improve your pitching skills and successfully achieve your goals. By clearly structuring your presentation and focussing on your story, you will be able to inspire your audience and successfully communicate your ideas.


The book on the method

And if you want to know more about this topic, for example how you can simply break down your story into individual statements, how you can ensure that your story is clearly structured, or what you need to consider when pitching to investors, then read the book about this methodology. The basic rules in this article are taken from Jasper Ettema's new book:


Jasper is himself a multiple founder, successful pitcher and, with his company JET Growth, a consultant for accelerators (such as Plug and Play or Startupbootcamp), funds and their founders. In his book, Jasper takes the topic of pitching away from the usual tips and tricks by pitch gurus and presents a method with which you can create good pitches efficiently while continuously improving your pitch skills. Free Templates included! 

The book is only available at www.milliondollarpitching.com.


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