Mika Tanner

Surviving the Shark Tank – the art of pitching


By Mika Tanner

In my past blog posts I’ve been pecking on the importance of pitching. I decided to give it a stab myself and so I enrolled to my first official pitch last week at Kasvuryhmä’s Scale-Up Talent Pitch. There I was, in front of a school of scrutinizing “sharks”, 100 pre-screened young and seasoned professionals seeking for careers in inspiring scale-up companies. Bilot was one of 11 pitching companies on stage at the magnificent Musiikkitalo in Helsinki.

“We look for people who are passionate about something. In a way, it almost doesn’t matter what you’re passionate about.” – Mark Zuckerberg

Searching for the hidden story

My pitch was designed and co-authored by a handful of co-workers from different parts of the company to avoid having to present glorified corporate lip-stick fairy tales. We came up with a story we felt was worth telling. The true story about us maturing from start-up to grown-up, about our inspiring customers, about our amazing people, about what we do, about our ambitions and about who we are looking for. At the end of the pitch, I was supposed to hand out ‘our future talent’ dummy business cards to all the participants.

The secret to successful hiring is this: look for the people who want to change the world. “ – Marc Benioff, Salesforce CEO

How well did I do?

On a scale from four to 10, my overall score was close to eight and most importantly, we managed to convince 34 people out of 100 to voluntarily connect with us. And I survived unscathed.
It was interesting and brutally educational to read the verbal feedback. Here are some comments from both ends of the spectrum:

What went well? Interesting story – Good energy – Excellent presentation, I immediately felt like I want to be part of Bilot – A story always works and it is easy to remember –  Clear and good presentation, raised my interest – Interesting and topical company – Easy to pick up on what is important for the company, good vibe – The business card was a genius idea.

Areas of improvement? Good presentation, but the distinctive factor was absent – took too long to get to the point – A minute has gone and I don’t know what they do – A little bland, not very inspiring – Where was the beef? – Unclear value proposition – What is their main challenge?
The art of pitching

Deny or erase & rewind?

Well, I could always get very defensive – those who didn’t get it, weren’t paying attention! But I won’t, it was my responsibility – and the main goal – to get my message through. If you have gone on for a full minute without talking about your vision, half of your sharks will have swum elsewhere and the other half will have eaten you up alive.

If someone thinks it takes too long to get to the point, your structure is too back-loaded. If by the end of your pitch someone is utterly uninspired, you missed all the buttons.

Surviving the Shark Tank – the art of pitching
Copyright Voah! Kenny Ronkainen / Arttu Karvonen

Now, it is your turn

I strongly recommend this real-life pitching exercise to everyone. Until you’ve really done it, it is easy to have a false impression that it is easy because it is just a three minute speech.

My three pieces of advice for your first dive:

1. Fit your message into a bottle
Squeezing your thing into 180 seconds is surprisingly tough. It is less than one page of text. How to build an explosive start, a tantalizing middle and an unforgettable end? How to crisply articulate your ask? How to do this so that it creates emotions, even excitement? Imagine you’re scripting a movie – not a business paper.

2. Use a wind tunnel
Test your pitch with an external audience. The most useful feedback comes from someone who does not know your business at all. If you can, find someone who represents the target audience. Rehearsing in front of colleagues won’t cut it, but it helps too.

3. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Pitching is just another one of those disciplines in which you get better at the more you do it. And don’t forget that your audience won’t know what you are about to say – if you fumble, just roll with it….

Now back to the drawing board. I have a long way to go until I have perfected my pitch, but I’m on my way now. And I will get there soon enough.