I got 99 problems but a pitch ain't one

by Yianni Stergou, Nov 27, 2017

If you’re lucky enough to attend a few pitching events, some common themes start recurring. There’s always that person (everyone) who thinks they have the next billion dollar idea, someone who takes 5 minutes to explain a 30 second concept, and that pitch that leaves you wondering what the idea actually is. But my favourite part are the clichés that appear in almost every pitch. There’s nothing wrong with dropping a cliche or three. In fact, it’s quite hard to pitch any idea these days without using a buzzword or cliché. It’s just one of those amusing realities.
Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend the Startup Weekend at the Precinct. The event was organised by Fishburners and River City Labs who did a fantastic job ensuring everything went as planned. The concept behind the weekend is that participants pitch their idea and collaborate to commercialise that idea. Teams form around the top ideas, with a number of people (ideally with different skill sets) working on the same idea. It’s 54 hours of creating a business model, coding, designing, market validation and a certain carelessness for hygiene.
Sure, it’s great to watch teams develop their ideas into a feasible product offering (and possibly a prototype). But my favourite part of the startup weekend is the first round of pitching; for two reasons. Firstly, the enthusiasm of the pitches - you can tell people believe in their idea (no matter how spontaneous they were). Secondly, the emergence of ‘buzz phrases.’
“If we get just 1 percent of the market, we’ll have X number of users”
Oh how I love the 1 percent forecast. I don’t think people realise how difficult it is to attract 1 percent of an entire market. Not to mention that the initial projections for market size won’t always be accurate. It only came up about 4 times during the 40 pitches, which is quite conservative for this heavyweight buzz phrase.
“It’s a double sided marketplace”
On the back of companies like Gumtree, eBay and Amazon, we’re seeing an influx of double sided marketplace pitches. I don’t blame people. If you’re able to successfully implement an idea where you merely facilitate (ie you don’t need to buy or sell), then you’ve won. It’s the definition of low risk, high reward.
"It's X but for X"
Don’t you hate it when you have a great idea but you can’t exactly put it into words? The solution to your problem: try likening it to a well known app. It seems this is the new trend. We have enough successful applications in the world that chances are, your idea will be a deviation on one of them. That’s often how ideas start, recognising what’s worked in one market could work in another. But as the idea develops and matures it inevitably changes from that original comparison. My favourite comparison during the Friday pitches (and possibly of all time) is “it’s like tinder but for blood donors.”
“Blockchain, machine learning, automation, AI, oh and did I mention blockchain”
I’m a big fan of buzzwords. I love that a word can mean nothing one day and all of a sudden it’s everywhere and everything. Given that startup events encourage the creation and commercialisation of new ideas, it’s no surprise that these buzzwords reappear. They’re a reflection of what’s trending and people want to pitch trendy ideas. Next time you’re at a pitch night, try counting the number of times these buzzwords appear. If there’s (on average) less than 2 per pitch, your pitch night just isn’t trendy enough.