Many incubation programs select most promising startup ideas with intake interviews. It's a very challenging situation especially for the first-time founders with engineering backgrounds because you're mostly asked questions about the business side of your solution, not the technical side. Do you wanna find out how to join a startup incubator?
In my previous article in the series I argued how you can increase your chances of getting in when you talk more about the value of your solution and less about the technology behind. In this article I'll explain how taking a stance on your key business decisions before the interview increases your chances of being accepted.
In my role as a pitch coach in YES!Delft programs, I often hear entrepreneurs talk about how their product Can do this, Could do that and how so many things Depend on X and Y. This way of talking is usually understood as: "We're afraid to make business decisions because we may be wrong."
Being wrong is ok. People on the selection committee are not your customers, they won't take your words as promises. They understand very well that most of the things you say are nothing more than your assumptions, your educated guesstimates. Your ability to make those guestimates despite high uncertainty is one of the key 'in between the lines' kind of criteria that you won't find in application guidelines.
But guessing and estimating don't come easy to an engineer - anything less but knowing evokes anxiousness. Why?
Well, many successful engineers and scientists pride themselves with being meticulous, thorough and accurate. I feel you; my educational background is mechanical and industrial design engineering. I recognize this constant fight with the engineering side of my mind that wants to keep analysing and delaying decision making until all stars align perfectly.
When we're deciding on what screw to use on a plane to ensure the perfect balance between safety and weight, this meticulous decision making approach serves us very well! But when we try to become more of an entrepreneur and less of an engineer, we need to become better at making good enough decisions, fast.
Not perfection, but speed is one of the very few advantages that startups have over established corporates. As a startup founder you're expected to be wrong many times because you move so fast. What a contrast to the engineering and scientific worlds, isn't it?
“The best is the enemy of the good.” - Voltaire
Let's imagine ourselves back in 2006. We have this amazing idea that is basically Google Docs. We're preparing for an incubation program intake interview where we'll have to pitch our idea. The selection committee is of course interested to know about the basics first; what exactly the product is, who it is for and what benefits it provides. Answers to those key business questions are the ingredients of a clear storyline so let's decide what those ingredients for Google Docs are.
The What comes easy; we could say that: "Google Docs is a browser-based document editor." Nice, concise description but by itself it sounds dry as it only describes what the product is. If you've read the previous article, you now know that customers don't really care about the product, they care about the value it provides.
So what value does a browser-based document editor provide to its users? Brain farts that come to mind: you don't need to install anything, it works on all operating systems (Win/Mac/Linux), it's free, you don't loose your documents if your computer breaks down, it's very easy to use, you don't need to send document edits back an forth with your colleagues, it allows you to work on a document with multiple people at the same time... There's for sure many more that we could come up with.
In your pitch it might be tempting to unload 10+ benefits of your product but that might not be the best idea. It's your job as an entrepreneur to figure out what key benefit will make the majority of your customers choose your product, you are expected to make a guesstimate. After all, you're (becoming) an expert in what your customers need, it's important that you demonstrate that. Ideally you should be able to provide at least some evidence to support the reasoning behind your guesstimates (validation), but at the very least, you make an educated guess.
Back to our Google Docs example, we could guess that the most valuable benefit for the majority of users is most likely the ability to collaborate with multiple remote people, on the same document, at the same time. Sounds good enough to me. The decision has been made and it is considered true until proven otherwise.
Making a guesstimate on the key benefit of a product, like an example above, is only one of many business decisions that you'll need to take a stance on if you want your pitch to be sharp.
What are the others and how do you connect those ingredients into a clear storyline that excites people? We'll talk about that in the upcoming articles. Until then, see if my self-explanatory canvasses can guide you in crafting your pitch. You can download them for free, no email required, from my website: pitchblocks.com.
It's impossible to prepare and deliver a convincing pitch before deciding on the key guesstimates about your business first!
Remember that almost all of your decisions at this early startup stage are not set in stone. Keep seeing them as taking a stance, as picking your favourites or as making educated guesses that need to be confirmed or rejected through validation. Being right and being wrong are often equally good simply because knowing the outcome is a step forward.
"I have not failed, I just found 10.000 ways that won't work." - Thomas Edison