Here is the second round of our annual business plan pitching competition courtesy of my EMBA students at the SP Jain campus in Dubai. The entrepreneurship crash course was conducted in mid July 2011 and had 45+ students submitting 45+ business plan pitches each from two batches (Batch 17 and Batch 18) for a final haul of 90 presentations.
This post presents the top five pitches and an honorable mention from each batch. While it is difficult to get a pitch out in less than 18 hours of class room instructions (which is all the time these guys got), most students really put their heart out in sharing their dreams. Which made my job all the more difficult. How do you pick 5/10 winners from 45/90 heart warming efforts? More so when you know that starting Saturday all they had was a one paragraph description of an idea and by the end of their submission deadline 10 days later they had a complete power point pitch. In the mix of challenges add a full time job, families and commute to Academic city from their workplace and you realize that the efforts you see below (and the ones that you will not see) are even more special.
Given that this is my fourth year of teaching Entrepreneurship at SP Jain, we have moved the bar every year when it comes to the work that needs to be put in by a participating student. Year one and two were joint group pitches with as many as four members per group. Year three we reduced the group size to two members. The group pitched their plans to a panel of external judges and on the last day the pitching sessions ran till 1 am in the morning. Year four we not just reduced the group to a single individual but also introduced a mandatory youtube presentation which gave participants an extra day of prep and fixed the logistics issue around managing 40 plus pitches in a single day. It also created a different type of performance pressure on the participants since their pitch would now be recorded forever (or till deletion) on a social media platform and what could possibly go wrong uploading to youtube on the last minute would most likely go wrong.
Still there are a number of common pitfalls that I see every year that if addressed can dramatically increase the quality of a business plan pitch. Here is my shortlist of why a plan would not make it to the shortlist of business plan pitches below.
a. Everyone starts off with their product. Here is a piece of advice, do a quick intro and then walk away from the product features and walk towards the customers pain. In the end the clarity with which you present his (the customers) pain and how your product addresses that is all that we are really interested in. If you start off with the product you are doing the engineering thing – look what a cool toy I have made without focusing on the business case. Get the business case out there as early and as quickly as possible to hook your audiences. Focus on the business case.
b. Everybody wants to rule the world. You can’t. Pick a segment and dominate it and tell me how you are going to dominate it. One segment at a time. What works for a 5 year old doesn’t work for an 85 year old. What works for a tea drinker doesn’t work for a coffee drinker. If I want and like Bombay Chowpati, fine french cuisine may not necessarily interest me. Don’t tell me about the 30 odd segments that your market comprises off and your plans to rule them all. Tell me about the one that will worship your product and your business the minute you open up for business.
c. Too much text. Too few visuals. You only get to pitch once. Work on your visuals, stay away from power point acrobatics and rehearse your delivery. In the entire list of 90 plus pitches that I evaluated there was only one plan that worked without visuals. And that too because the pitch was structured right and the underlying idea was so powerful that it needed just one slide to get through (no it wasn’t you Mel). Everyone else however is not this lucky. Use the right visuals to put your best foot forward. Sometimes though visuals are not enough. There were atleast two plans from each of the batches that did a great job with visuals but faltered on delivery
d. Social Media Marketing. Facebook, Twitter, Social Media without a decent customer persona, a message, a call to action and a sample plan is worthless. You also need to evaluate if for your product, the message and the medium used are the most effective. Ultimately a pitch rides on the details of the customer persona and the product feature market fit. If you can establish that well and than translate that into a message and a detailed action plan you will have something believable. Just saying that we will use social media to get our message across will flatline your presentation.
e. Avoid superlative adjectives . If you are really on to something the audience should be throwing superlatives at you rather than the other way round. One way of ensuring this is showing them what is great about your idea rather than telling them your idea is outstanding, amazing, awesome, earth shattering and the next best thing after Manna from heaven. Some time entrepreneurs also falter because they feel that the only outlet for their passion is to speak about their product extempore without any structure or cohesion. While it tells me a great deal about how much you know about your product it also shows that your love affair with your business idea does not extend to growing and expanding it. Because if it did you would have worked harder than just talking about it.
f. Check your submissions. I have to hear what you are saying for me to grade you. If I can hardly hear you, or if there is too much background noise or if you have limited your entire pitch to a monologue or even worse a single slide, there is not much that I can do to help. So test your submissions, rehearse your delivery and your script and plan your presentation as a stage production. It must flow like any other stage or cinematic production.
While no one is perfect, here are the plans that did a relatively better job of telling their stories. I like them because I like the underlying plan, I think the delivery is better than average and I can (in Ken Morse words) hear the voice of the investor.
The highest ranking pitches from Batch 17 @ SP Jain Dubai
Sports Training Academy – Shwet Thakur
Full marks for getting the pain right
Travel Management Agency – Jubu Abraham
Great description of the underlying business problem and suggested solution
FoodPreneurs – Akhsat Anil Jain
Well thought sustainable action plan
The language shop – Yunus Hussain
Great job on customer profiling and personas
Aromatic Oil refining – Vishal Shah
Well balance delivery and business case
Organic Food Products – Chandan
The highest ranking pitches from Batch 18 @ SP Jain Dubai
Frankie and more – Kajal makhija
Kajal got on the Frankie train from the day we started and didn’t get off till she topped the charts.
Auto workshop – Aiden Rodrigez
While the idea itself is not that great, Aiden’s execution and focus on answering questions that we are likely to ask makes all the difference.
Reflections – Misha Agarwal
Similar concept as Haveli above but executed perfectly by Misha
Popular Ship Maintenance – Amresh Kumar
Not a perfect presentation but a great idea delivered very well. This was the one slide pitch that I mentioned above
T Fusion – Puja Mehta
– Puja was the second T-Cafe in the list of presentations I saw but stood out on account of her execution and delivery.