Delivering a Winning Pitch - A MEST Guide

MEST, Thursday February 21st 2013

MEST entrepreneurs have had the opportunity to pitch at some of the top tech events around the world. As a Business Fellow at MEST I have the privilege of working with some of the best entrepreneurs out there and have also seen and worked with teams preparing  their pitches. From working with the MEST Entrepreneurs-in-Training as they prepare to pitch for funding to the MEST Incubator, to supporting Saya prepare for TechCrunch Disrupt and mPawa for DEMO Africa, I have picked up a few pointers about what makes a successful pitch.

Problem / Solution

  • The first minute will determine whether you can pull the audience into your pitch. Start off by addressing the problem you are seeking to solve. Show  that this is a BIG problem that needs to be solved NOW! A lot of VCs want to see that you are addressing a “pain killer” and not just a “vitamin.

  • Turn this problem into an opportunity and specifically your solution to the problem. Show how your product is addressing this problem and adding value to your target customers.

  • The key is to get the audience to buy into the significance of the problem and the value of your solution so you have their attention when you discuss the nuts and bolts of your business model: marketing, strategy, finance, etc.

[caption id="attachment_3157" align="alignleft" width="941"]
Robert Lamptey, CEO Saya Mobile, pitching at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco Robert Lamptey, CEO Saya Mobile, pitching at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco[/caption]

Size of the Pie

  • Now you need to convince your audience that the size of the opportunity is significant enough to tackle. At this point I am thinking: “How big is the pie? What is the market size?

  • The mPawa pitch at DEMO is a great example. Maxwell explains how there are over 400 million blue collar workers in Africa with an average job turnover of 4 jobs per worker each year. That’s an opportunity of 1.6 billion job placements for mPawa to match.

  • Trends are another key aspect to the pie. Is this pie staying the same size or getting bigger? Explain the expected growth in your market and key factors driving this growth. The goal is to show that you are tackling a big enough and growing pie.

Getting a big slice of that pie

  • Show how you are going to get as much of that pie as possible. This is where you really get into your business strategy and convince the audience that you have the game plan to make it happen.

  • Talk about competition. Some pitches make the mistake of not including competition because this could be a sign of weakness. Take your competition head-on and turn this into a strength. Stress your key differentiating features. What are your sustainable competitive advantages? Why are you better?

  • Get into your strategy:

    • Marketing initiatives – How are your customers going to hear about your product?

    • Channel strategy– How are you going to get the product to your customers?

    • Engine of Growth and Virality – How are you going to get this to really take off? Saya gets the audience excited in terms of their viral strategy with how they got over 9 million backlogged invitations from their users through their beta.

    • Expansion strategy– Where do you see this going in 18 months? 36 months? Do you start in Ghana and then expand to Nigeria after 1 year? Why? How?

[caption id="attachment_1501" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Maxwell Donkor, CEO mPawa, pitching at DEMO Africa in Nairobi[/caption]

Filling that slice with $$$ (and GHS)

  • Come in with your strategy for monetizing this slice. Key aspects are revenue model and pricing strategy. Who will you charge? What revenue streams will you focus on?

  • Bring in your financial projections. Predicting your revenue and growth as a start-up is difficult, so focus on the key assumptions driving growth in your model. This will give investors confidence that you understand your business model and will be closely tracking the key performance indicators of your business.  Demonstrate an understanding of the unit economics of the business model, especially Life-Time- Value and Cost of Acquisition.


  • VCs often invest in people more than they invest in the idea. This is the time to show the audience why you have the right team to pull this off. What is your relevant experience? What is your motivation? Why you and why now? If you get the door slammed on your face the first 99 doors you knock on when selling your product, will you knock on the 100th door?


  • Nothing is better than going through your entire pitch, getting the audience excited about your game plan for seizing this opportunity than being able to say “By the way, we already have customers” or “We are already making money.”


  • Leave the audience excited about where you see this going. What are your exit strategies? Where will your product or company be in 5 years? mPawa sees their solution being the “LinkedIn for Blue Collar Workers” and Saya sees the potential to be the gateway platform to the internet for billions in emerging markets. Close with something that will stick in the audience’s mind and shows that this is not just any product, but a real game-changer.

Other Tips:

  1. Spend time preparing for the Q/A portion. Brainstorm potential questions and responses. Add back-up slides to questions you may be asked. Bring in a lot of different perspectives to hear your pitch and ask questions.

  2. One of the best ways to prepare a pitch and make sure you really know your business is to write a business plan. The secret of a business plan is that the document is not for investors or other external parties - it’s for you! The process of writing the plan is a great way to put the puzzle of your business model together. Business Model Canvas is a good starting point.

  3. Practice, practice, practice. Robert and Max practiced their presentations countless times. You can make a great pitch deck but without the practice it will probably not come off well.

  4. Bring all the passion you’ve got. If you are not excited and passionate about your product and your vision, how can you expect the audience to be?