VCs: No need to be pitch perfect with your start-up

What makes venture capitalists (VCs) see great potential in a start-up? Is there such a thing as the perfect pitch? And what does the innovation boom mean for small businesses?

BSchool recently hosted Idea Nation, an evening of pitching, insight and networking. Budding entrepreneurs pitched their business idea to six panellists – aiming to win a $20,000 investment from ANZ for their game-changing idea. 

" Just because you are slightly disrupting, as soon as someone notices that they will literally squash you."
Naomi Simson, Founding director, RedBalloon

After the event, three members of the judging panel  - RedBalloon founding director Naomi Simson, Swisse Wellness CEO Radek Sali and ANZ Small Business GM Kate Gibson - sat down with BlueNotes to chat about innovation, being an entrepreneur and the importance of a great business pitch.

GM: Naomi, you’ve talked about how entrepreneurs need to think about more than making a better mousetrap but changing the game of rodent management all together. Can you expand on this?

NS: One thing small businesses need to look at is scale and vision. I try to look at the potential of each business, where they really see themselves and if they really understand who their competition is.

For example you could say “What is going on in the flowers and florists market? Maybe it’s not actually flowers people are sending anymore.”

Rodent management is about the whole view of the market. What is the global opportunity? The mousetrap is about - we have a problem right here, right now and let’s solve it.

I think a lot of the pitches tonight focused too heavily on the problem. Some used two thirds of their time saying what the problem is. The trick is to get to the problem succinctly but also ask how does the vision apply to the scalability of the business. Some pitchers don’t realise the sheer behemoths they are up against.

Just because you are slightly disrupting, as soon as someone notices they will literally squash you.

GM: Kate, as a banker you are most likely to look to the data behind a business. How important is the pitcher and their background to your decision?

KG:  There are always going to be entrepreneurs looking for funding and bank funding is not always going to be the right source for them, there are many different funding options out there. If you are pre-revenue for instance it can be difficult to put a case together for how you are going to pay back debt.

While there is an obligation on financiers to ensure a business can pay, character is also really important.

Do the pitchers understand the market they are going in to? Do they have a suitably optimistic, as opposed to a widely optimistic idea, about what the cash flow is going to be and what costs are going to be?

Critical aspects are who the person is and if we believe they know what they are good at and have a plan for how to fill their capability gaps.

GM:  It feels very much like we are in the middle of an innovation boom in Australia. Is that right and and what has created it?

NS:  There is a lot of excitement about innovation in the startup community right now after the government’s national innovation statement. I am concerned though it talks about businesses with less than $200,000 in revenue, which means you don’t have a lot of the employees.

Investing in something that’s just an idea is fraught with danger.  What I want to invest in is businesses that scale up. I want to invest in businesses with leaders who invest in themselves.

Are we an innovation boom? Yes we are - but let’s not lose site of the real game. The real game is scaling businesses.

It is not start up but scale up. It is about being globally competitive and that is going to require leadership and education. Let’s not get lost in that. I will be saying that until I am blue in the face.

The winning Idea Nation pitch was from Haweya Ismail with her DIY skincare business Mud & Musk.

GM: What made you select Mud&Musk as the winner at Idea Nation?

NS:  Haweya was very specific about what she wanted the money for and as an investor we always like to know.  Additionally, she was the only one who had had a customer already pay for her product.

A customer had said, “Yes, we like this” and she was testing her pricing and distribution models. She was also right on a trend.

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PICTURED: Winning pitcher Haweya Ismail onstage

RS: I loved her authenticity. The product was something Haweya was passionate about. There was so many facets to it and it was a great story as well.

KG: Yes she had sold to customers and she had identified the pricing had been wrong. She had actually thought through how the pricing and costs were going to work.

Haweya is obviously very early stage but she was thinking early on about how she was going to make the pricing work for the customer and how she was going to make it work for her. 

GM: As pitch judges, how important is a polished presenter?

NS: It is not about polish but authenticity. Peter Williams, Deloitte Digital Founder and pitch mentor, gave the pitchers the brief: “Don’t bulls**t, because we will smell it”.

When you are pitching you are asking for help. The way Haweya pitched made us available to help her.

The idea was easily accessible. We could connect with it and that made joining the dots from idea into reality pretty straightforward from our perspective.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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