Edo Roos Lindgreen Judges the pitches of startups on to radio.
Since recently, I’ve had the honour of judging pitches of start-ups once a month on the Dutch BNR radio programme Zakendoen met… They come in all shapes and sizes. From communication apps for caregivers to Tinder-like apps for job seekers. From timesharing on luxury yachts to apps for digital education. From gloves for medieval sword fights to commercial drone software.
The young and sometimes slightly older entrepreneurs, sometimes slightly nervous, report a quarter of an hour beforehand to the BNR radio studio in the old Renault garage at Amstelstation in Amsterdam. BNR is a well-oiled machine. Before you know it, you’re herded into a small aquarium, where the day’s host welcomes you. Five large microphones and enormous headphones await you. Countdown. 3, 2, 1 and the broadcast starts. After a short introduction, it’s straight to business.‘
The first start-up is Marijn Ossels of the Harpert start-up from Schiedam. Marijn, your 60 seconds start now.’ Heartbeat jumps to 100. Then, anything can happen.
In the best possible scenario, the entrepreneur delivers a sizzling plea within 60 seconds from the top of her head, in which she clearly explains the key position and demonstrates the added value on the basis of an exciting example. In the fire of questions that follows, she remains firmly on her feet. She sticks to her own message and gives clear answers to questions such as: what is the added value of your app? How scalable is your solution? How much money do you need? She presents all of this with a beaming smile which, of course, the listener can’t see, but can clearly hear.
Unfortunately, things are usually different in the practice.
The worst is when someone comes in with a few sheets of paper on which he’s scribbled out the whole story, and then goes on to read it out as solemnly and monotonously as possible. Of course, the editorial team urged him beforehand NOT to do it like that. But he must think, better safe than sorry. Sometimes you also have the clever clogs who sidestep the rules – they don’t write their pitch on paper, but on index cards, or they take their iPad along.
Dear entrepreneur, don’t do it.
Learn your pitch by heart, practise it twenty times a day. Don’t rush it out in one breath. Vary the volume and tone of your voice, gesticulate and smile! Radio, of course, is a strange medium. You stand there in a glass cage with an enormous yellow ball in front of your nose and wearing headphones. The director even whispered in your ear: don’t be nervous, only two hundred thousand people are listening. Yes, well, then your nerves are shot and there’s a chance you have to gasp for air and search for words. Still, that is ten times better than reciting a perfect little tale with a robotic voice from a piece of paper.
After the pitch, it’s question time. Giving answers is also an art. Generations of media trainers have seen to it that even the most innocent question is answered with: ‘That’s a very good question, but what it’s really all about is that ….’ Don’t. Listeners are really not eager for such political behaviour. In other words: listen closely to the question and quickly give a clear response. If you don’t know it, that’s also okay. The same applies here: remain upbeat and attentive.
How important is a good pitch for commercial success? That is difficult to say. A good clear pitch can make the difference. Too smooth a pitch can work adversely. And a good proposition with a truly lamentable pitch – perhaps astute investors will see through it. It’s still too early to say how it went with the start-ups that pitched to BNR. A few of them have already gone to ground. Others have been really successful in attracting investments. They, indeed, had a good pitch.
Author: Edo Roos Lindgreen, partner KPMG Advisory