Perfect your pitch to hit the right notes

I have just concluded the last of three exciting, yet exhausting entrepreneurial “Pitching” competitions in three cities.

The Cape Town event was proudly hosted at the Khayelitsha Campus of False Bay College and was a lovely success.

The event was held in eight cities across South Africa with attendance exceeding 3 000 people.

In the three events I was involved in, there were a total of 15 competitors who pitched their business ideas.

Most of them improved during the day as they integrated the learning and polishing encountered during the event. And most of them made the classic mistakes that tend to disconnect from potential investors.

Here are some lessons from the events:

It’s not about charisma, but about credibility and content.

It may appear at first that those who are extrovert and have the gift of the gab have a distinct advantage over the more reserved entrepreneur.

Yet, I have seen again and again that credibility and a meaningful business proposition is more important than the charisma of the entrepreneur.

Sure, passion is contagious, and when an entrepreneur builds his “why” into his story, it is compelling and powerful.

Yet investors and funders want to see that this start-up will be sustainable in the long run.

A company with cash flow, a track record and real-world experience has a better chance of getting investors than a business plan forecasting large returns.

Another hint is to honour the insights and experience of the investors. You may think you are smarter than them, but if you come across as cocky rather than confident, you may alienate them and experience a shutdown before you complete your pitch.

Have a clear, punchy elevator pitch

Entrepreneurs have great ideas which sometimes merit investment.

A clear pitch goes a long way to achieving that.

The so-called “elevator pitch” is vital. Present your business in a manner that’s short, sweet and to the point.

Investors need to be confident that your business will attract and retain customers.

If they don’t grasp your concept in a short time span, they may presume that customers won’t understand it either.

Will your pitch be understood by a 10-year-old?

Opportunities to share this “elevator pitch” will likely arise in an elevator setting, at an event, or wedged between small talk with friends and their acquaintances.

So you must make the pitch short and to the point, and make sure it highlights your knowledge and experience.

The only way to accomplish all of the above is to have a well-crafted pitch that takes no longer than a minute to deliver in an unhurried but practised manner.

Remember that you may be approaching the investor or funder for a substantial amount. Make sure your pitch is equally substantial.

Know your numbers; be realistic, accurate and don’t guess

Financial questions to prepare to answer include:

How much do you need? This demonstrates to your preparedness and due diligence.

Why do you need it? This explains what you will apply it to.

How will you pay it back? Your projections of your cash flow should be both realistic and demonstrate how you will pay the investor back.

When will you pay it back? In what time period will you pay it back?

As you answer these questions, make sure you also identify:

The problem that the business will be solving.

The size of the market the business will be addressing.

What your sustainable competitive advantage is.

The expected revenues and costs of the business that are supported by realistic and detailed assumptions and projections.

Who is in the businesses management team? Remember you build credibility by highlighting the collective experience of your team.

Embrace feedback and learn quickly

Investors and funders will ask questions to see how credible your offering is.

Many entrepreneurs become defensive and reactive, misunderstanding that the questions are not personal but come from a business perspective.

Leave your pride at the door when making a pitch and be open to the investors’ suggestions.

The fundraising process can be demanding because experienced investors tend to ask questions that likely have been posed before.

These questions will test your business model and the likelihood of longer term success.

Tight belt thinking

Thinking economically makes lots of sense. In an age when spending is out of control, you’ll need to prove that you are a fiscally responsible person who knows how to get the most out of a rand.

Give yourself wiggle room in your operations and marketing budgets, but avoid being excessive.

It is handy to clarify what you are bringing to the party, the so-called “skin in the game.”

This is not only expressed in cash terms but also in “sweat” terms.

Let your lean thinking also be expressed in moderate salaries and owners’ salaries.

This again sends a message of prudence and can enhance your credibility.

If you would like to grow in the art of pitching, I would encourage you to contact one of the many organisations that play in this eco space.

Steve Reid is the manager of the Centre for Entrepreneurship (CFE) at False Bay College.

His column appears once a month. Email comments or questions to or visit for more about the CFE.