As a design agency, we’ve helped our fair share of entrepreneurs create their minimum viable products to take into the world and pitch to investors, find retailers and distributors, and ultimately reach customers. Sometimes, our relationship with these clients feels a little bit like parents watching their kids go off to college–we nurture their potential as much as we can, give them the tools they need, and then proudly send them off into the real world to prove themselves.
Recently, however, we had the opportunity to be the kids going off to college for a change. We were invited by REI to pitch an internal project that we’ve been working on to a team of buyers as part of their Spring Innovators Series. This is a bi-annual process where REI brings in startups working on exciting new products and selects ones that stand out to be on their shelves starting with the upcoming season. We were expecting something like Shark Tank, and while it didn’t end up being that cutthroat (thank goodness), it was a great learning experience.
Here are three things we took away. Hopefully they can help you with your journey towards product success.
1. Over prepare
Expect the unexpected. Even though we didn’t think the buyers would ask about it, we prepared information on the environmental aspects of our product and ended up having a conversation about it. On the other hand, even after presenting our product as thoroughly as we thought was necessary, we still walked away with some ideas on how to be more prepared for next time. Even though we had thought about packaging for our product and had some basic ideas for the buyers, it would have been even better if we had created fleshed-out concepts to show to them when they asked. It’s better to walk away from a presentation with unused information than to hit a dead end and come across as anything less than an expert on your product and business, so we recommend preparing more than you think you might need to. That extra little bit can be the difference between good and great.
2. Put yourself in their shoes
It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of presenting and saying everything you want to say while forgetting about the humans sitting on the other side of the table. We found it helpful to ask ourselves questions from the buyers’ point of view before going in, such as: “How does this product fit into REI’s brand and mission?” “How is it different and fresh from what else they might have seen or will be seeing?” The people you’re pitching to have probably heard many, many pitches, so how can you be entertaining, engaging, and memorable?
3. Passion + Ability = Success
According to a 2016 study, venture capitalists believe that “the most important qualities (in startups) are, in order: ability, industry experience, passion, entrepreneurial experience, and teamwork.” In our experience, the buyers we presented to were excited and impressed with our passion for our brand and products, but talking hard numbers anchored the presentation and helped them feel confident about our ability to deliver. The ability to speak fluidly about shipping times, pricing, MOQs, warehousing, fulfillment and beyond helps you make the jump from enthusiastic entrepreneur to capable partner in the eyes of your investors or buyers.
Bonus: Don’t forget to have fun.
Don’t forget to enjoy the ride. If you’ve flown somewhere to pitch, try to make time to enjoy the city! Pitching can be a great opportunity to meet new people and forge meaningful connections as well. Presenting is stressful–there’s no way around that, but try to remember this: you’ve worked hard on your idea, you believe in it, and the people you’re pitching to will see that. Relish the fact that you are making your dreams come true. Whether or not the pitch turns out successful, you can always learn something from it, become a better entrepreneur, and have fun in the process.