Ain’t Life a Pitch?


No matter what passport we hold, today we all live in Startup Nation.

Start me up. But will the engine fire?

Start me up. But will the engine fire?

Startup Nation is much bigger than Israel, the subject of the eponymous 2009 book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. There’s a rookie entrepreneur hiding inside everyone, just waiting to take his or her place in Silicon Valley or Silicon Roundabout, with an app that promises to turn heads at TechCrunch or conferences in Redwood City, California, Monaco, Dublin and Helsinki. Startup is the prevailing faith of a frontierless generation. Once, intelligence followed and served investment capital locked inside great institutions: today that same capital hungrily seeks the products of individual intelligence, manifested in startups. Miracles really do happen, and NASDAQ is the proof.

Helsinki  2014 Summit for startups. Foto Slush.

Helsinki 2014 Summit for startups. Foto Slush.

When it comes to business leadership, it’s not the technology that makes the difference; it’s still the people. In Startup Nation, everyone who’s got somewhere is sparky, frenetic, pushy, full of intelligence, brimming with chutzpah. Yet for them  – as for you – the path to  business leadership started with a single nervous and faltering pitch to unlock capital. Maybe at the family dinner table. The first of many, many pitches. First to family and friends; then to angel investors and believers, then to incubator funds; then to seed round venture capital investors; then to series A, B, and C  funding sources, and perhaps – just a tiny perhaps – to IPO investors.

Ali Baba's Jack Ma:

Ali Baba’s Jack Ma: he once stood where you may be today

It can be quick: between August 2008 and July 2011, AirBnB went from first idea to US$500 million funding. More likely, it’s slow, and doomed to failure. And in 99% of cases this comes down to the Pitch. VC investors spend an average of 3.4 minutes reviewing each slide deck pitch. Some look at 20 a day. They fillet opportunities quicker than a rag-picker in a flea market. Mostly, “The Ask” doesn’t contain the necessary clarity of thought, direction or purpose. The basic dynamic of identifying a problem, proposing a solution and addressing the market, hasn’t been thought through. In such cases, the pitch doesn’t show clear understanding of the metrics, or explain a growth strategy that will bring scale to operations and returns for investors.

What is the motor that will get your startup rolling?

What is the motor that will get your startup rolling?

Having a clear, simple message that marshals the salient facts, is a basic requirement for gaining the VC’s attention and so getting past the first and lowest hurdle. Let’s call this “knowing what to say.” Let’s just suppose the VC flips to the next slide, rather than hitting the ‘delete’ button. He’s looking for a narrative, something beyond the basic “what,” “when” and “how” of the message that explains the wider relevance of the idea. This calls for a story and some delivery skill, either in organising the deck or a verbal pitch. Let’s call this “knowing how to say it.” Let’s just suppose your pitch has got past this second hurdle, and the VC wants to know more than what’s in the deck. He sends a Google calendar invite for a meeting. He’s already bought into the message and the story. He takes as given you’ll survive a frenzied, sleepless year living on take-away pizzas, caffeinated soda and no social life. You’ve now got past the Docsend stage where a simple mathematical formula setting out the number of slides, number of bullet points and optimal font size, will be of any help to you. You’ve likely gone further than those who’ve now found careers as pitch trainers and bombard you with webinar invitations. Your VC is curious about something much less tangible – yet ultimately more important than all the precious data in your deck and even your precious app’s attributes. After all, he knows and you know that all forecasts are fiction and your real product is promise. Can you build instant rapport with people and persuade them? Are they going to trust you to make something out of nothing? Will investors go with their gut? This is the terrain of creating a new reality where none existed before. Semiconductors, MySQL and web architecture can only achieve part of that miracle.

Dublin Websummit. Foto

Dublin Websummit. Foto Startup Business

The rest is down to you. Making it over this third hurdle calls for mastery of something that goes beyond “what to say” (message) or “how to say it” (story). This is the terrain of “who to be.” That calls for charisma. Everyone has some – yet few know how to consciously call up and develop this key life success factor that will get them over the third hurdle and on the way towards Round A. At Communicate Charisma, we believe that every entrepreneur can shorten the long odds against his or her startup successfully making it through the pitching jungle, by learning how to map, measure and manage vital communication attributes that will enhance persuasive power without sacrificing authenticity. After all, your precious idea deserves the very best startup you can give it. And that means putting some charisma into your pitch, even if 100% of your time, effort and money is going into developing the app. And yes, Communicate Charisma is proud to be a startup too. At Communicate Charisma we teach people how to become more engaging and effective communicators. In our Charisma Dimensions workshops, we use practical exercises coupled with our bespoke self-awareness tools to allow participants to understand and experience the impact of individual personality traits on how we are perceived by others. Together, we use these insights to develop a more effective and authentic personal style, and so raise our power of influence and communications mastery. Find out more about our workshops.

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