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  • Three Keys to Any Startup Pitch

    I have spoken often about how learning to pitch is the most important skill any startup founder can have.   In order to master this important skill, you need to understand the three elements that make up a perfect pitch:

    ·         Why do you have an attractive market?

    ·         Why is your solution the right solution?

    ·         What makes you the right person to solve this problem?


    Why do you have an attractive market?

    An attractive market is one that is open to change and large enough to be worthy of attacking.   Solutions that are valuable are always about change.   It is in that change that value is created.   Combine that with the fact that any startup endeavor is hard work, you want to make sure you are attacking a large enough market opportunity so that your sweat can turn into a great return.


    Why is your solution the right solution?

    Many markets are crowded.   If you see an opportunity, you are probably not alone.   To stand out among the crowd you need to have the right answer to the problem.  Does your solution solve the problem in a special way?   Are you cheaper?  Are you more flexible and open to solving other problems?   These questions are the ones that allow you to say you have the best answer to the problem.


    What makes you the right person to solve this problem?

     Nothing in the startup world is more important than team.   What makes you and your team the people who should be building this company?   Do your past experiences and industry contacts give you a special leg up in the marketplace?   Are you smarter and hungrier than your competitor?  Winning in the startup world is more about having the right team than any other determining factor.


    If you are going to master your pitch for the investors, clients, and employees you will need to win, you need to have rock solid answer to these questions.



    photo by Raphael Labbe -

    Meet Stacie Andrews of Our Spring Cohort

    I head a forward thinking marketing and creative firm ( specializing in driving revenue growth by bridging your customer's experience into the sales cycle.


    We partner with brands that are growth oriented and willing to embrace innovative technologies that drive customer relationships. While our work tends to be with $50-500M+ companies I have a special spot for startups that are heavily organized on technology, geared for high-growth and ready to break the mold.


    Based on our exposure to the needs of such companies, we have developed web and mobile applications that empower you to dramatically improve growth. One such app,, landed us in the Masschallenge Business Accelerator Program as one of their winners in their global startup competition and we have received a startup grant to further develop this application.


    In taking part in this cohort, I look forward fulfilling a passion of mine to be of value to- and further connecting with- the startup community.


    Stacie Andrews



    More Lessons from WhatsApp


    Forbes has been doing a great job of covering the story behind WhatsApp.  If you're too lazy to read their entire stories, here are a few more lessons that I took away from the saga:

    1. Do something that people easily understand.
    WhatsApp had a simple vision: SMS, but free.  Hard to argue with that!

    2. Do something hard.
    The WhatsApp founders were hardcore technical, and built WhatsApp on their own servers running things like Erlang, so they could provide better reliability and performance.

    3. Companies are bought, not sold.
    Mark Zuckerberg reached out to WhatsApp founder Jan Koum unsolicited, and pursued the company with great persistence.  Facebook accelerated the acquisition when they found out that Google was sniffing around as well.

    4. Leaders, not lawyers and bankers, do deals.
    Koum and Zuckerberg hammered out their deal 1:1, at Zuck's house, on Valentine's Day.  Only after they had reached agreement did they call in the deal people to paper things up.

    I love well-reported detail:

    "Koum walked out of the room and found Zuckerberg. “I just talked to Brian,” Koum said. “He thinks we should work together and that you’re a good guy and we should do it.”

    The two of them shook hands and then hugged. Zuckerberg remarked it was “f–king exciting,” and whipped out a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, which he knew was Koum’s favorite Scotch. They each called their business-development directors to come over and finalize the process. About an hour later Koum drove home in his Porsche and went to bed."

    Read more posts from Chris yeh at 

    The $2,000 Customer Service Call

    - Geico as a Case Study on Effective Cross-Selling

    This morning, I had the misfortune of having my car's transmission conk out while I was on the freeway.  Fortunately, I was able to exit the freeway and park on the street, where I could safely call GEICO for roadside assistance.

    But this post isn't about the $2,000+ I'm going to have to spend on a new transmission.  Rather, it's about how GEICO turned a pure cost center--providing roadside assistance to its customers--into $2,000 in revenue.

    After providing GEICO with my location and arranging to wait for the tow truck, the GEICO dispatcher told me, "From looking at your account, it looks like you're now eligible for a big discount on our comprehensive coverage.  Since you're going to be waiting for the tow truck anyways, would you like to hear more?"

    15 minutes later, I had agreed to add $1 million in additional coverage for my car and home, at a cost of right around $100 per year.

    I've been a GEICO customer for 16 years already, so it's not much of a stretch to speculate that I might be a customer for another 20 years.  That means that GEICO turned a costly customer service call into an incremental $2,000 in lifetime revenue.  That's something that any company learn from, especially startups which tend to view customer service as a necessary evil.  Here's how GEICO did it:

    1. Timing.
    The cross-sell came at the very end of the call.  GEICO had already taken care of me ("the tow truck is on its way") and knew that a) I was feeling relieved and b) I had some time on my hands.  And what better time to sell insurance than after that insurance has just proven to be valuable?

    2. Personalization.
    This wasn't one of your generic credit card company pitches ("Would you be interested in hearing about our balance transfers?").  Instead, it seemed like a personalized pitch.  The salesperson I was transferred to paid off that impression by explaining the nature of the insurance and how it would interact with my home insurance policy, even though I buy that policy from another provider.  She also pointed out that I could double the amount of coverage I had on our cars for just $0.40 more per year--a bargain that reinforced her helpfulness and GEICO's overall value.

    3. Seamlessness.
    Once I agreed to the additional coverage, the GEICO rep didn't ask me for a credit card or turn me over to another department to complete the sale.  She simply said, "Would you like me to just bill this additional coverage to the bank account you currently use to autopay your car insurance?"  All I had to do was say yes.  That's the position in which you always want your customers to be.

    Do all GEICO roadside assistance calls end with making a sale?  Probably not.  But if you have a chance to turn a simple service call into $2,000 in additional revenue, don't you have to try?

    At Wasabi Ventures, we hear 126 pitches per week, 52 weeks per year -- that is over 30,000 pitches we have heard over the last five years.  While I have not heard all of them personally, I have seen my share of founders telling their stories.   When people ask me what is the biggest thing I look for when I hear a pitch, the answer always comes down to the person giving the pitch. 


    Wasabi Ventures bets on early stage companies, and in that arena nothing matters more than the quality of the founders.   How will these founders react to the way the market thinks of their product?  What will they do when one of their key people quits?  How will they look at the world when revenues are lagging by 75 percent?   These are the questions that go through my mind as I hear a founder pitch.  I am trying to determine if I like this person and will want to work with him/her every day for the next three years.  

    Last week, I heard a pitch from a gentleman who was currently active duty military and deployed in Afghanistan!  In 20 years of being part of startup pitches, I had none where someone was pitching from an active war zone.   While the idea of his startup was not something I think has a high level chance of success, the founder showed me his amazing amount of fortitude.  If he is able to take the time to make a VOIP call and tell me his story from a battle zone, I want to figure out a way to work with this man.  His character trumps everything else.

    While understanding a market, presenting the product solution, and showing a market potential are all key to a successful pitch, these presented aspects are only a reflection of the person presenting.   How a founder presents himself/herself and handles questions goes a lot further in showing chances of success than having the best looking slides.   The next time you are trying to convince someone you have a great startup, make sure you highlight how great of a founder you are.   You are the most important of any great pitch.


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