US investor pitching competition – five top tips from finalists

The co-founders of two start-ups have offered their top tips on pitching, after their businesses were selected as finalists for General Assembly’s Pitch to a US Venture Capital Firm Competition.


The competition, launched by General Assembly Australia, will see two winners pitch to high-profile US-based venture capitalists – Brad Burnham from Union Square Ventures and Phin Barnes from First Round Capital.


Applicants were asked to submit their written elevator pitch by March 11.


General Assembly has selected 10 finalists: Good Call, Kinderloop, EventYak, AppVillage, Certify, Adbidx, Tinybeans, Tutor On Demand, BL!NKS and PhotoMerchant


The General Assembly community will now vote for the two best start-ups, which will be named on March 25. These start-ups will pitch to Barnes and Burnham via Skype on March 29.


“We saw some great pitches and I think it’s going to be exciting now, watching the voting and seeing all that play out,” General Assembly local spokesperson Stacey Jacobs told StartupSmart.


In addition to receiving immediate feedback from the VCs, each winner will receive $250 in General Assembly class credit.


The co-founders of Kinderloop and Tutor On Demand have offered their top tips on pitching, including the differences between verbal pitches and written pitches, and pitching to US investors rather than Australian investors.


Don’t try to evoke empathy in your written pitch


Dan Day, who founded Kinderloop alongside Dan Walker, says it is difficult to transfer the same level of emotion from a verbal pitch to a written pitch.


Kinderloop, selected for the 2013 Startmate program, is a new way for child carers to communicate with parents.


“The big thing about Kinderloop is it’s touching those heartstrings, not only with parents who are anxious about leaving their children in childcare but the carers themselves – getting them to understand we know they’re a time-poor, undervalued section of society,” Day says.


“It’s much easier to verbally express that, whether that’s in front of someone or on Skype. With a written pitch, that’s very difficult… At the end of the day, you don’t get that intonation across.


“For us, it’s kind of our one-liner that pretty much says it all – it says exactly what we do. We could go into a whole spiel about heartstring stuff but you’re either going to get it or you don’t.


“If you can’t write something that’s 100% [understandable] to all people, it’s sometimes better to leave it at that one-liner and let people make up their minds.”


Be the purple cow


Tutor On Demand, founded by Ben Sze, Duncan Anderson and Jeremy Cox, specialises in online VCE tutoring videos and education. It was also selected for the 2013 Startmate program.


“The main difference [with a written pitch] is you need to be the purple cow in the room. Obviously with words all you’ve got are letters, so it’s about highlighting the things that really make you stand out,” Sze told StartupSmart.


“For us, one of the key things that makes us stand out as a young start-up is traction, whether that’s revenue or the number of signup customers.”


Be willing to ask for more


“US VCs obviously have a lot more money… so we sort of understand some of those VCs don’t look at investments under a certain amount,” Day says.


“They’ve got funds of $30 million they’ve got to play with, whereas Australian investors’ [funding pools] are a lot lower.”


Be prepared to explain why you need more


“If you’re pitching for a bigger amount, [you need to explain how it will enable you to] move a lot quicker and do more of those things you know you’ve got to do,” Day says.


“You’ve typically got four minutes to get everything across. What we tend to do is make sure our due diligence has a bit more oomph when it comes to the dollar amount and explain what we’d use the funds for and how we’d expand.


“The pitch is really to whet their appetite – to get the conversation going. Once we’ve had one conversation, we can expand on where we think that kind of money can go.”


Don’t underestimate the value of support networks


“We would attribute everything we’ve learnt from the [Startmate] program [as the reason for being selected as a finalist],” says Sze.


“It has definitely helped us to be a lot more clear in saying the problem we’re solving and how we’re different.”


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