CouchCoach, local winner Seedstars Serbia

Startups overestimate how good they can pitch.

I need to explain 2 things first before I go on ranting about the quality of pitches in general. First I need to make sure that you understand that bitch stands for a female dog, wolf, fox or otter. Remember that a female wolf is described as being fearless, happy, playful, and inventive. When she has pups she will protect them with her life and her mission is above all to raise them in a way that they can survive on their own. The way a founder should take care of her or his startup.

Secondly, I love the Seedstars CEE team, waiting for the new EMEA team now. Neşen and I were very fortunate to be part of the local competition in Novi Sad, Serbia with CouchCoach as the winner. We also met with the new Seedstar Serbia Ambassador, Igor Graic, who did a marvellous job. When we arrived at the airport there was a taxi problem and he came from Novi Sad himself to pick us up. A young man with a mission and lots of energy. Also a young man with a story describing himself as a refugee as a result of the Yugoslav Wars but now a happy assistant professor at the University of Novi Sad. That university quite surprised me with 55.000 students and almost 150 companies created around it as spinoffs or being related. The startup scene is very young but there is a great eagerness that Igor loves to stimulate and nurture.

So why would you pitch? You confront yourself and your idea to multiple investors, gain some valuable exposure and get in most cases valuable feedback. You will network, potentially build partnerships and most importantly, you get a chance to secure funding and accelerate your business. Nobody will disagree with these arguments. From the point of view of investors, it might even be more straightforward. Investors look for startups to invest in. Weirdly enough most investors do not like to attend as a jury. They prefer 1to1 during their own, mostly monthly meetups, where they invite a number of selected startups. The result is that most jury members are there to please the organisations and often resulting in none relevant questions. The audience, if there is one apart from the startups, can be fans, genuinely interested or waiting for the drinks during the reception. Nice to have but as a startup you want to meet potential partners and investors. My tone of voice might give you the idea that I am not a big fan of pitching competitions. Wrong.

The Seedstar Pitching Competition has a great process. We started on Saturday with trainings and I was happy to deliver my workshop “Go to Market”. Sixteen teams were present and attentive. Agahuseyn Ahmadov rounded up with the pitch recommendations. Sunday around noon we spoke with the 10 finalists one-on-one in order to have some insights as Seedstars is also an investor and pre-assesses the teams.

Late afternoon pitches were delivered to a, to my surprise, full room with over 100 persons attending. As a side remark, I must admit that I was impressed with the level of English as very good and never I have heard a remark about not using the local language. Same surprise in the taxis or restaurants where we could also use English as a way to communicate. Impressive. I like the format and the people from Seedstars. Agahuseyn we know for some time now and Daria, Dasha for the friends, was new and amazing. Somehow Seedstars teams are always amazing. We collaborate for some years now, thank you Igor Ovcharenko for the intro, and I hope for many years to come.

“I hate pitching” or “I pitch all the time” with a face like thunder. That makes me very upset. When you have a product or service, you sell ALL the time. If you really hate pitching so much, don’t start a company. It is every day, year-round, the same thing, convince customers, investors or coworkers. Same as pitching. That is one. Next, we have the quality of the pitch. Ninety percent just sucks at it. That simple. The structure is incomplete and NOT practised at all. It drives me mad that you want to win money or any prize and you don’t even do the effort to deliver perfection. Let alone that you pitch to an investor. How difficult can it be: problem, market, solution, competition, business model and team. That is the basis. Rarely I see a complete pitch and too often it is so foggy or even worse, so complicated, that you just want to send them home with homework (I try to sound nice). Remember the bitch, she raises her youngster to become mature wolfs that can survive in the wild.

Despite Serbia only now entering the startup ecosystem, no real investors are present for the moment, the 10 finalists were of good quality from idea/problem point of view. I missed good business-model-deep-dives and the way they pitched. Not enough practised and more importantly not enough practice on how to deliver the pitch successfully. The winner was there for a reason, the best of the pack, while the CEO/Founder preferred his 19-year-old coworker to pitch instead of himself as he is stammering a little. Nenad Nikolin is a great guy, had a great career as a basketball player and coach and today serial entrepreneur next to a winemaker. I immediately introduced him to Sinan Güler. And I still think he should have pitched himself despite the difficulty.

Now start practising that pitch and pitch like a bitch so you do not suck anymore. Do it as much as you can because you never know what will happen. Practice makes perfection, so no complaining anymore. Amin.

Patrick Bosteels, Stage-Co , Stagecoworking, hiGİ NGO Co-Founder

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patrick bosteels

Stage-Co, Urla Coworking, Now Sprint! Accelerator and Creative Academie co-founder, Facilitator, Accelerator Program Manager and Mentor