Fighting the clock

The 60 second pitch. Increasingly the chosen format for presenting any startup idea. If you can't convey your startup to an audience in one minute - maybe you need to start asking yourself some hard questions. 

I can't quite decide whether it's a clever way to challenge founders to condense their businesses into succinct, easy-to-deliver concepts, or just the latest victim of our poor attention spans. As someone who likes to think they have the ability to offer their whole and undivided attention to something, I recently found myself 'dual-screening' whilst watching Netflix...

Perhaps the effects of our ever increasing digital connectedness should the be topic of another blog.  

This week I attended the Mass Challenge Minute to Pitch event down at Tobacco Docks in London. The event couldn't have come at a better time. In a couple of weeks, I will have to do my own 60 second pitch as part of an accelerator interview. So the opportunity to see 40+ startups go up against both the clock and a large (but supportive) audience was not one to be missed. 

First off, Tobacco Docks is a great location. Built in 1811 to serve as a tobacco store, its a big old warehouse in East London that is now home to a bunch of cool creative businesses and events. The event kicked off with a startup showcase, where founders manned logo-heavy stands and keenly discussed their businesses with attendees. 

Not all attendees were equal however. Colour coded lanyards distinguished community members like myself from investors and Mass Challenge alumni. As you might expect, the investors were clearly coveting the most attention from the startups. I spent most of my time checking out the healthcare section (magnetic blood filtration for diseases like malaria!?) and also imagining how I would set up and layout a STAMP stand. (one day). 

When the pitch competition started, it quickly became clear that the 60 second rule was to be heavily enforced. The MC for the night had no qualms grappling the microphone from exasperated pitchers, desperately trying to reel off the last of their rehearsed speech. 

Did I pick up some good tips? I think so. Elements of humour seemed to go down well with the assembled crowd. One guy pitched his startup in song form accompanied by a guitar whilst another capitalised on his dry-deadpan delivery to draw chuckles and applause from the audience. Even when one pitcher froze and lost his place, the crowd cheered him on to finish his delivery just in time for the buzzer. 

The best pitches were those that, although well rehearsed and practiced, were delivered in a conversational, off-the-cuff manner. As with any presentations, those who were calm, collected and confident, received the admiration of the crowd. (The 5 'C's of 60 second pitching anyone?)

The audience voted for one startup from each of five groups to go through to a final round. Here they were all asked the same question, and given 60 seconds to provide an answer. The question: "Why should you win?" could have been better. I was hoping for something more insightful or more left-field that might have taken the founders by surprise. By this point in the night however, I think audience interest was waning and people either wanted to go home or to the pub. 

And so after the overall winner was announced, and with a nice picture to tweet from the STAMP account, I made my way home in the London drizzle. With illegible scribbles in my notebook and some ideas of my own, I was somewhat more prepared for my own impending pitch in a couple of weeks.

Fortunately there wouldn't be a large audience at the interview to critique the first STAMP 60 second pitch. Of course that also means there won't be an assembled group to help cheer me on if things go wrong...

'til next time, 



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