How to Build a Successful Pitch

Guest Contributor, Wednesday March 21st 2018

This post was written by Heather Mavunga, a Zimbabwean entrepreneur in training in the MEST class of 2018.

A capstone at MEST is a four or six week project during which  entrepreneurs in training (EITs) produce a business case for a problem they’ve identified and pitch their ideas and solutions in front of the MEST board as well as a crowd of over seventy people.

The journey from beginning to end is gruelling, tough, long and a true test of entrepreneurship. During this time you have to select a team, ideate on a great idea and go out and validate it in the market. It’s important that you’re working with great people. Total and full honesty is needed at this stage.

Our business and communication fellows tell us that during this stage you have to “date” your team members. This means understanding what drives and motivates every individual member, respecting how they work, and setting up an environment of collaboration and tolerance. In a startup the team is always greater than the idea. You could have the best idea in the world, but if you do not have a great team that is committed, with eyes on the prize, then worry will make you weak.

[caption id="attachment_6582" align="aligncenter" width="665"] Heather pitches for Judy.[/caption]

As part of our team efforts to create an environment of open communication we had 15-minute stand up meetings everyday so that we all knew what work was being done. We used Trello to assign tasks and maintain workflow. We voted on everything and had one “decider” who had the final word if there was a tie. This helped us to move quickly to the next phase without getting bogged down in the details. From the beginning, our Trello board was full of the tasks we had to complete, up until the day we pitched our business idea and solution. This kept us accountable.

Knowing your market is key. My team delved deep into the legal system in Ghana. We interviewed judges and lawyers in person. We woke up at 5:30am to make it to court by 8am. We surveyed lawyers in different countries so that we could understand their needs. By the time we were ready to begin building a solution, we knew our customer and we could prioritise based on what they told us they needed.

Practising for the pitch was hectic. With only 6 minutes to deliver a successful pitch and demo we were under pressure but we know that hard work beats talent all the time. As an individual who has been debating since high school and presenting in university and in previous roles I was familiar with pitching. This time was different.

As a team we decided to do something,we practised as a team everyday, over SIXTY times.We were sleeping late, constantly editing and iterating. We had to leave procrastination at the door! We were scheduled to present last on pitch day and it was hectic as this meant we were up at 6am, but our presentation was at 5pm that same day. Luckily our hard work paid off. Our pitch was well received, and we received first-hand feedback from our Founder, Jorn Lyseggen, and a panel of guest lecturers including Tobi Oke of V8 Capital, Andrew Mulvenna of Brightpearl, Nimi Akinkugbe of Bestman Games and Lutz Ziob of Microsoft 4Afrika.   

Pitch days enable you to expose your product to the outside world and receive feedback that can help you improve. Groupthink is very real, and all of us have been a victim of it at least once in our lives. When you stand before a crowd of seventy plus people who are all there to hear you and what you have been working on, there will always be feedback that will improve your idea.

[caption id="attachment_6584" align="aligncenter" width="665"] The Judy Team after a successful pitch.[/caption]

MEST puts all those people in one room. That collective wisdom is gold and is part of what makes MEST so magical:instant, actionable feedback from the industry’s toughest and most successful entrepreneurs. In those ten minutes that you are presenting and getting feedback you reach your make or break moment, do you move forward or do you pivot in a different direction?

Here is some of the most important advice we got this weekend:

  • follow your heart and do things that you are most passionate about. So many of us look around for a winning idea and hope for the best. You have to let your passion guide you.

  • When you have a business plan, do not write it once and never go back to it. Read it over and over again, and keep making changes as you go along.

  • Be focused because execution is everything. So is building a product that people need and not a nice to have. In this way you quickly learn to build for scale and productivity.

  • In a pitch investors look for the vision of the founders. When you have vision, a sense of purpose and set goals then you will be amazed at what you can achieve when you set goals.

  • Finally as an entrepreneur remember always that you are off the beaten path that everyone else is on, you have to have confidence in the future and press on to build the best product with the right people.

The quality of the speakers at this Guest Lecture weekend was off the charts. Andrew Mulvenna spoke about scaling beyond your global markets.“What works in building an international business is to make sure your product works in your domestic market. Win in your market; you know it best, it’s the cheapest to operate in; you know how to acquire customers and service them. International is different and expensive.”

Mrs. Nimi Akingukbe reminded us to always hire for attitude and train for skills. In a small startup, attitude can spread quickly.

Mr. Tobi Oke, founder at V8 Ventures in Nigeria reminded us to always ask ourselves “even if I do not get paid, would I still be doing this?” Answering that single question will help you to understand whether today’s comfort or tomorrow’s focus is more important.

Last but not least, Mr. Lutz Ziob impressed upon us that curiosity and an open mindset will propel you forward in your entrepreneurial journey. All in all, GL at MEST was a surreal, intense and mind-propelling experience.

If you are thinking about whether MEST is for you, my advice for you is this. Your mind is conditioned to keep you safe. In the first five seconds that you think about this the fear will stop you. Do not get to five seconds. Anything that is a break from your routine is going to require force. Think of the person you are today and who you want to be. You have to answer how badly you want it. When you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, that is the facilitator for change. When you decide to be greater than you are right now, fill in that application. We are waiting for you. Join Us.

Apply today to join the MEST class of 2019! Visit