What It Takes to Pitch A Winner

Posted: October 20, 2013 by Tom Heuer in Money, Startup

Tom Heuer, Miami University Center for EntrepreneurshipEvery day, I become more impressed by my students who are engaged physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually in starting-up a business.  The New Ventures class grows every semester because of the very real roller-coaster the student teams will experience on their way to developing and delivering an inspiring presentation to venture capitalists, business executives, commercial bankers and entrepreneurs.  The Pitch – it is often their most memorable academic event in college.

So, how does every student team and most entrepreneurs arrive at the “memorable pitch.”  After being involved with the start-up process for years, I am not convinced that there is any one process that works better than others.  In his excellent book, Outliers, Malcom Gladwell pronounces that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something.  Well, I may not have reached that level of expertise, but I have seen a pattern emerge as to why start-up student teams and certain entrepreneurs are successful.  They seem to focus their energy on three elements – the problem, the idea and the team.

The Problem

It is all about the problem.  Every successful start-up and on-going business owes its viability to solving a problem the target customer cares about.  This initial step in the start-up process usually has some emotional association with the entrepreneur.  The problem has happened to them numerous times and the frustration level becomes elevated.  The journey to search for a solution to the problem ends up being the motivation to start the business.

Fortunately, the student teams and the seasoned entrepreneurs will actively engage in research to bring clarity to the problem and ensure themselves that “others” view this as a problem also.  The research ends up being the vehicle for fully defining the problem.  Quite often, our students have been amazed at how different the problem definition is after conducting an intensive round of research with their target customer.  Discovering problem reality is important if an entrepreneur is to seek the right business solution.

The Idea

The process of identifying a problem and gaining clarity is the catalyst for building the business solution.  If student teams and entrepreneurs have been engaged from the starting point, the passion for developing the business idea will be resident.  Most entrepreneurs will go 24/7 brainstorming, journey mapping, concept developing and assumption testing until the idea has vision.   The idea will continue percolating in their minds until it becomes so clear and enticing that the entrepreneur has no other option but to pursue its development.  This is how an enterprise generally begins its life.

Following the “idea reflection” period, our student teams will conduct three rounds of customer research to further develop the idea and its features.  This activity is difficult, tedious but vital to the idea’s DNA.  I have become so enamored with this part of the idea process because our students are learning about the value of idea pivoting – adjusting the idea to more closely achieve the value proposition.  Now, the idea is ready for the entrepreneurial team’s total passion.

Building A Team

For a blockbuster idea to solve a big problem, it needs a high performing team to bring it to market.  Fact – The top performing student teams at Miami have always won the Business Plan competition at the end of each semester.  Also, the best performing start-ups were always launched by outstanding leadership teams.  The team’s mission is – to understand their purpose, to build trusting relationships, to know your individual role and to execute the plan.  It is the entrepreneur’s role to recruit a group of individuals who have the capability of accomplishing the mission.  A fully functioning team focused on the mission will ensure that there will be a payoff for the hard work completed in identifying the problem and developing the idea.  This job is so important that it is not to be delegated by the entrepreneur.  It is job#1.

To summarize, start-ups have a legitimate chance at being successful if the entrepreneur identifies a problem and fully clarifies it; develops a customer-focused idea to solve the problem; and puts a high performing team together to launch the product.  These three important elements in starting-up a successful business deserve every entrepreneur’s total commitment.

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