Saturday, February 8, 2014

So You Think You Can Start Up? | Pitching Event | Sydney CBD

So you have heard of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ but have you heard of ‘So You Think You Can Start Up’? One thing is certain and that is both competitions require competitors that are talented, hardworking, passionate and can generate results. There can only be one winner in the end.

What is ‘So You Think You Can Start Up’ all about?

For the first time in Australia, digital publication StartupSmart joined with major sponsor Servcorp, to deliver a live pitching event on Thursday 6 February 2014 in Sydney. The competition was designed to encourage start-up businesses to showcase their brilliant ideas in front of a panel of expert judges, leading entrepreneurs and investors to compete for a worthy prize to the value of $250,000 of Servcorp office space anywhere around the world to kick start their business, as well as six months public relations services with PR expert Sam Dybac and mentoring sessions with Sydney Seed Fund and StartupSmart’s publisher Private Media.

Servcorp also offered the two runner ups its virtual office package for six months for free. The other seven finalists received a two month virtual office package for free.

Talented start up founders who pitched to a panel of distinguished judges, including Ruslan Kogan, BRW Young Rich entrepreneur and pioneer of Kogan Technologies

About the pitch night

The night’s event held in Chifley Tower at Servcorp’s offices had a good attendance, ensuring an ideal environment for networking over a glass of wine and canapés. There was a mix of start-up founders themselves who were to deliver 3 minute pitches on the night, venture capitalists, investors, successful entrepreneurs, media, and consulting firms.

I met a venture capitalist looking for new businesses to invest in that evening and when I asked him what he looks for before investing in a start-up company, he said to me he follows the Warren Buffett principle, “What is your competitive advantage? Is what you do unique? Can someone else copy what you do?”

In essence, can you fill in these blanks in 30 seconds for your business? If so you may be a winner.

My company, __________, is best at ____________ because ___________.

The pitches then commenced with finalists including: Next for Sale (property), Crowd9 (marketing), Bocastle (accounting), Enarah (HR/professional development), Geepers (digital, search platform), Legal Vision (digital, legal), Seed the Change International (NFP/eCommerce), Energia Austraia (energy), WeTeachMe (education) and Crowd Burst(Audio).

As an observer in the audience to these 3 minute pitches, I noticed some were very good at their delivery and very clear on what their ideas and revenue stream were, more so than others. After I heard all pitches from the finalists, there were two that resonated with me for those reasons. These businesses include Bocastle and Legal Vision. I can explain Bocastle’s business after hearing the 3 minute pitch and it can be simply described by way of example: you know how you have taxi receipts and you would ordinarily keep them in your wallet, then you wait until you get back in the office, by which time you hope you haven’t thrown it out, you give it to your personal assistant to input into some bookkeeping system so there is a record of the expenditure? Well, rather than going through all of that, Bocastle has this advanced software where you can take photo of your taxi receipts and the data is automatically verified and goes directly into your bookkeeping system, coded, reconciled and all. That easy, and imagine the amount of red tape that can be reduced for small businesses. I can see government being interested in this product, given reducing red tape for businesses is big on the government's agenda.

Legal Vision is a pretty simple idea. I understand it and the need for it given I’ve worked for many years in a related field. Essentially, what Legal Vision does is bring together the small businesses and quality lawyers who use to work in the big end of town law firms but are now retired to do their own consulting work. There are a lot of them around and a lot of them are from the heart of the baby boomer generation, where I've witnessed single finger typing to be the norm and their eyes glaze over when you mention social media marketing. This is not ideal for a freelance consultant lawyer if they want to win clients in this new age. Legal Vision has a platform that brings the two together so that lawyers can just focus on what they do best - the legal work. The best thing for small businesses is that all services are at a fixed cost (a relief for those who have been in the profession (or the client side of it) and understand the pain of time cost fees). One of the judges on the panel asked how Legal Vision curates the quality of lawyers they use and the founder replied the lawyers must have a specialty and they must have worked in a top tier law firm. The judges were happy with this response.

In the end who won?

I wasn’t far off in picking the winner. The winner was Bocastle, with runners up Legal Vision and WeTeachMe.

Tim Stroh founder of Bocastle with Servcorp CEO, Marcus Moufarrige

It is worthwhile mentioning how the judges came to their decision and what they were looking for, all three meeting the judges criteria in varying degrees. One of the judges, Rose Powell mentioned she has seen over 900 pitches and what the judges look for are: whether the idea is clear, sizable (i.e. would a lot of people be interested in it? Is there are huge market for the product or service? Who are the target customers? Is your vision compelling enough and have you executed the idea and found a market that wants to purchase it? Was the delivery of your pitch good?

The judges gave good constructive feedback to the pitchers noting things like: not answering the judges questions, not presenting or discussing the core team’s competencies, or presenting irrelevant information.

WeTeachMe was announced as a runner up. WeTeachMe’s business is essentially a community marketplace to list, discover and book in-person education courses eg dance classes, cooking classes etc. The judges feedback was that there is a lot of competition in this space and for this reason, the business is not unique, but nevertheless the business did fit the judges criteria given the need.

Bocastle won the competition on the night. The judges mentioned no slides were used during the pitch presentation thereby making the presentation less compelling in comparison to other finalists. However, there is big problem that Bocastle solves and for this reason, the business will get traction.

Final word for start-up businesses…

It is worth sharing some tips and insights offered on the night from Ruslan Kogan, named BRW’s Young Rich for building his multi million dollar business, Kogan Technologies. Ruslan is a pioneer of online retailing, who has challenged the bricks or mortar retail business model. You can watch him on You Tube but to summarise, his 3 tips to run a successful business include:

1. What is your core competitive advantage? You need to be very clear on this and why your customers will choose you over someone else.

2. What is your value add?

3. Does everyone think you are crazy? i.e are you challenging the status quo?

And finally, Ruslan notes: it is easy to ‘talk the talk’ but not easy to ‘walk the walk’. Ideas need to be executed and as Ruslan says, Nike has given the best business advice over the years: Just Do It.

Further information

For further information on the start up finalists’ businesses go to the startupsmart website. Also, monitor the website if you are a start up business wishing to enter into next year's pitching competition.

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