Startup pitches

(中文版 – courtesy of Power for Pitch)

One of my friends asked me yesterday what are the common “mistakes” that I have seen from startup proposals and pitches.  So I decided to have a crack at this (this is for idea and early stage startups, which are the ones I get exposed to the most).  Yes, be warned, these are my super personal, biased, unsupported and perhaps even mean views.

1 Too much time on the problem

Yes I understand finding the right pain point is important.  But if the pitch is only 5 mins long (as with most events and competitions are these days), you can’t spend half of the time talking about a super high level and obvious problem that most people know about it already.  For example, I see a lot of startups like to start with something like ‘imagine.. imagine a world without traffic..’…. Nah, not a good start.

2. The order

Talking about a good start, there is no fixed recipe in terms of how to order/structure the presentation because it really depends on the startup and its founders’ strength.  And yes, startups should talk a lot (and at the beginning) about how good they are but never start with a standard ‘table of content’ or ‘agenda’ page.  It’s boring… this is not a school project!

3. Big market share

Many startups are taught to talk about the market.  I think this is wrong particularly if we are talking about idea or early stage startups.  The startup owns nothing so there is really no market share to talk about.  And the whole idea of a startup is to experiment and validate where that market is anyway!  So why talk about a 20 billion dollar market that the startup may or may not get into?  Also, going by Peter Thiel’s school of thought, startups should (at least try to) dominate (or monopolise) a small market instead of getting a tiny share in a competitive market.  Yup, the same old blue and red ocean stuff.

4. Revenue projection


5. Don’t over sell

In this part of the world, we don’t see too many “natural” presenter (especially in English).  But every now and then we see a good one.  Problem is, sometimes they are so good that they are mesmerised by their own skills.  The product and the startup’s team should be the focus, not the presentation skills.  I don’t like watching the shopping channels.

6. We are the AirBnB of xxxx

Not that I have anything against AirBnB (perhaps I do) but relating your startup to another successful startup will not get you far.  If the judge or investor is not really into that startup, you are doomed.  If they are into that startup, you are just making yourself small (unless you are really good at talking about the actual differences, rather than just a derivative of it).

7. General solution to a specific market

I said this in another blog but this is so true….

8. We are different!

I am always skeptical when the startups draw up a diagram placing all the ‘competitors’ and themselves in the market.  And magically the startup idea is always on the top right quadrant!  Also, whenever startups say they have no competitors in the market, to me it is the same as saying they haven’t done research.  There are always competitions!! Another form of this problem is startups saying they are going to solve every single problem in an industry….

9. Use of buzzwords

I know there are lots of startup lingo – MVP, pivot, product market fit, viral, etc, etc.  But over using these words actually expose the startups.  Many people talk about these terms without fully understanding them nor having actually put them in real practice.  For example, when startup says ‘we are going to use social media marketing’, it does not mean everyone would rush to place orders, it just means they are probably not very good at it (otherwise they would have said something a lot more specific).

10. Ugly

Yes, some presentations are just plain ugly.  Yes, I am superficial.

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