Connecticut has in recent years looked to entrepreneurs and startup companies as the principal engine of prosperity. There are now “innovation hubs” statewide and countless pitch events that give budding talent a chance to get out there, and more importantly, attract investment capital.
But even with a solid idea and a decent team, you could almost blow it if you don’t efficiently give prospective investors a compelling reason to say yes.
That’s where Bill Kenney comes in.
The Ivoryton-based serial entrepreneur, 51, knows a thing or two about pitching; he’s helmed six startups in the past 17 years and has been to at least 100 pitch events such as Startup Weekend in the last year alone. His latest venture is Test My Pitch, an online platform that allows entrepreneurs to draft scripts and post videos to get feedback from fellow entrepreneurs, business owners and mentors.
“At most of these events, I’ve sat next to someone who had an idea but didn’t feel they were ready to pitch; the idea was good but their confidence wasn’t,” Kenney says. “[With Test My Pitch] you’ll learn something about scripting, but more than that it delivers confidence.”
It’s that confidence that’s needed when in the stressful situation of pitching a startup to investors, since often you only have about five minutes at most to get the point across. Kenney says instilling that confidence may motivate those who otherwise might be reticent to put their ideas out there.
Test My Pitch allows users to create their own pitches from scratch, or make use of the various templates into which they can plug their own information.
He says even for those who do pitch well, keeping on point is the real challenge. Kenney says an over-emphasis on the product has been one of the most common mistakes he’s seen from pitches.
“The entrepreneur is so overwhelmed with pride and fixated on the product, but the investor audience isn’t focused on the product. They’re focused on the team, what they learned, and customer validation,” he says. “Understand who your audience is and align everything to who that is. The assumption is that the idea will change; the investor is looking for that kind of intelligence and nimbleness, and the humbleness to listen to the market.”
You’d imagine that the guy who knows all about how to pitch must have blown away the crowd at the Startup Weekend in Storrs that birthed Test My Pitch in 2013. Not quite; Kenney’s idea didn’t even place in the top three.
Enter Score My Pitch, an online platform that allows judges and mentors at pitch events to score pitches and provide valuable feedback to each presenter or team. Kenney launched that platform earlier this year.
“If you don’t get in the top three, you have no idea how you did. As we were traveling around, the weird observation was there was no mechanism for feedback, not even that it was just poor feedback,” Kenney says. “Ninety-six percent of the pitch events gave no feedback other than anecdotal oral feedback; you had no sense of importance or how to prioritize it.
“The No. 1 complaint from participants nationwide is that after completing their 54-hour weekends, they don’t know how they did and what to do next.”
The data stored on Score My Pitch is archived and accessible for users to access in the future.
Score My Pitch is being used in about 40 pilot programs and has been used by judges at several Startup Weekends in Connecticut and at Mass Challenge, the world’s largest startup accelerator competition taking place in Boston each year.
As a whole, Kenney hopes to see the users on Test My Pitch and Score My Pitch stick with it through their endeavors to help build an online community; “Today’s entrepreneur is tomorrow’s mentor or sponsor.” Test My Pitch can even log data on the mentors, keeping track of which are having the most positive influence on entrepreneurs and teams.
Kenney says there’s a bright future and big market for these tools to grow, especially as the startup culture continues to grow and pitch events continue. But Test My Pitch has even sparked the interest of other outlets like career coaches and online dating sites — anywhere confidence and successfully selling yourself are important.
“Part of the goal is to find good ideas that have commercial potential, but even more so, building the culture of innovation is teaching people how to do better next time, and that’s where our tool works well.”