By: Lexie Newhouse
Photos by: Deniece Griffin
Robert Hatcher (B.A. ’16) returned to speak with the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute on his experiences of pitching his startup Soundcollide. Hatcher shares his tips to fellow Georgia State students on how to “perfect the pitch” in competitions for judges and investors.
“Different judges have different expectations.”
– Robert Hatcher
How many pitch competitions have you participated in? How much money have you won?
I have participated in 5 competitions and have won about $20,000 in cash prizes.
What was the first pitch competition you competed in?
The first pitch competition I competed in was actually hosted at Georgia State when ENI was first established. Being my first time, I was definitely nervous presenting on such a large platform like that. It essentially was my first major speaking engagement.
How do you prepare for your pitches?
I feel that the best way to prepare is practice. Time and time again in the weeks leading up to the competition, practice your pitch so that you are comfortable and consistent when communicating your startup’s value proposition.
What kind of time frames should students expect when pitching?
It depends on the pitch competition. The shortest time I’ve pitched was 90 seconds and the longest time I was allowed was 15 minutes.
How does your approach to preparing for a 90-second pitch versus a 15-minute one differ?
Especially with quick pitches, it is all about hooking the judges. It’s a balance between not telling them all the specifics of your startup yet disclosing enough information that it peaks their interest. A longer pitch allows you to dive deeper into your value proposition, industry, and finances.
How does pitching as a pre-launch startup affect your presentation in competitions?
It is difficult to compete against founders that have a tangible outcome versus me speaking about estimations. What I really try to focus on is not necessarily having that tangible product or service but highlighting the business development side. As a pre-launch, we have these partnerships in place and other things of that nature to prove our market demand without even having customers.
Would you advise students to wait until their startup is more developed to pitch?
Pitch as soon as possible. An idea can change over time, but that experience pitching will help you to better communicate those ideas and pivots. Even in a premature stage, there is still that possibility of securing funding to bring those ideas to fruition as you prepare to launch.
What is the biggest difficulty you face when pitching in competitions?
There are not a ton of investors in the music-tech space, so therefore, there isn’t a ton of domain knowledge from the judges. Judges have approached me saying, “I loved the pitch, but I just don’t understand the industry.” It can be frustrating when you spend so much time explaining the industry that you’ve limited the amount of time to actually focus on your value proposition. There have been times where I’ve been passed up to a bio-tech company for example, simply because that particular industry is more familiar to judges.
How have you maneuvered around those difficulties?
I’ve been told, “It’s not their job to know it. It’s your job to communicate it.” It can be difficult to explain an industry thoroughly with a limited amount of time, but if you practice communicating, you will be a more effective speaker for judges to better understand your industry.
How you do navigate judges’ financial-specific questions as a pre-launch startup?
People care about the numbers, but they don’t care about the numbers. Everybody knows your numbers are wrong, simply because they are estimates. Then again, different judges have different expectations. Going into a pitch, some judges will find your figures to be realistic while others find them to be exaggerated. What’s most important from the judges’ standpoint is that you understand your KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) and how that drives your revenue. If you can identify those key costs, it builds your credibility as a founder to run a profitable company.
Despite all the other ways of securing funding, why should founders participate in pitch competitions?
Not only are you getting the opportunity to practice communicating your value proposition, you can earn money to help fund those entrepreneurial ambitions. Secondly, it’s viable way to raise money for your company. There is ton of competition for grant money and other sources of funding. With pitch competitions, it’s free money without having to take out loans or give away equity.
What advice can you offer to students planning to pitch?
The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to “be consistent” when practicing for competitions to help reinforce your value proposition to judges.