Why are pitching events valuable for our startups?

When Jacobus Kriel pitched Drive-Buy at a LaunchLab pitch event hosted for ATTACQ back in 2016 everyone loved him from the start. Big wavy kuif, charismatic personality, lego men in his pitch deck and he came from the film industry so he knew some of the tricks of the trade. He could have made the perfect pitchpreneur. For those that don’t know the term that is someone that goes from one pitch event to the next winning the pitch events but not necessarily making progress with the business being pitched. If it is possible to survive on pitching alone surely there is value in the pitch? Does the pitch have a place in the journey of the entrepreneur or should it be replaced by something else?


To continue with Jacobus’ story, that first pitch was the start of a long journey that included a lot of pitches but not pitches for pitching’s sake but pitching to report progress. Between pitches, Jacobus was out in the market speaking to potential customers and potential partners and service providers and that feedback resulted in a number of pivots or changes in direction for his startup. It changed from an app that helped you to pick up essential goods on the way home to an app that allowed you to pick up essential goods at petrol stations to finally an app that allows you to gift anyone with a gift in the form of a voucher, wrap it in a fun animation and then sent it via your favourite messaging app to the recipient who can redeem it at a local store. That is quite a change in direction! The first pitch (and subsequent ones) convinced the audience that Jacobus had the ability to communicate and a certain passion for his business idea that was worth drip feeding with cash to get it a bit further to see what would emerge.


2016 research by the Global Accelerator Learning Initiative (GALI) on acceleration programme performance showed that high-performing programmes put the most emphasis on networking and then presentation and communication skills. So the most important skill after getting out of the office and networking is pitching skills. The pitch survives to see another day! And so it should, when it is used to pitch progress based on well-tested hypotheses. Jacobus never held on to his original idea. He listened to what the market said and pitched that at the next opportunity to gain support for his progress.


To phrase it another way, you may know the story of the chicken and the pig. They were walking down the road and the chicken said to the pig, “how about starting a restaurant?” They discussed who would do what and what they would offer on the menu, the main ingredients being ham and eggs.  Despite the chicken being a rather convincing kind of character, after a while the pig turned to the chicken and said, “no thanks, I’d be committed, but you would only be involved.” The chicken gave a great pitch, but the pig was the only party fully committed to progress. A pitch takes 3 minutes but progress requires 100% commitment and has to take into account all the other commitments an entrepreneur may have including family, studies and social commitments.


So don’t be a pitchpreneur be a progresspreneur. And that is what LaunchLab offers in terms of startup engagement to our corporate partners. When you commit your finances to a startup or a pilot you are committing to progress. We identify the progresspreneurs by focusing on market testing of hypotheses immediately to see who is willing to commit to real progress and once the value proposition is clear and there is market traction then we will let the startups pitch to our corporate partners. In this way the corporate sees the result of progress and can engage with a startup that is ready to pilot, ensuring that innovation KPIs are achieved and investment is de-risked. But the pitching starts internally long before that first pitch to our partners. These first pitches happen in programme cohorts and at social networking events that LaunchLab offers.


Now, a few years since that first pitch, Jacobus has a fully working vouchering product, is ready for market and is rolling out his first live test of Gift Drop in the LaunchLab, with a sustainable business model and customer-centric user interface, thanks to a well-defined learning process. Soon our corporate partners will be able to gift their employees or customers using Gift Drop and another startup will get national and hopefully global scale. And it all started with a pitch.