I've judged a few startup pitch competitions and hackathons, but I rarely go as a spectator, unless an angel investor like Terrence Yang insists that I go to watch him panel. Some people go all out for these things, training as if they're a part of the Olympics. Others just go up and try to get their message across without any clue what to say.

I was recently introduced to Eric Golman, the founder of Javazen. Eric and his team recently won $75,000 in cash prizes at the Cupid's Cup pitch competition put on Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank.

Eric and his team had been pitching at dozens of competitions. As they progressed through pitch after pitch, they slowly started to refine their message. This time around, they won a pile of cash. But how exactly did they do it?

Here are Eric's top 7 tips for creating a winning pitch:

1. Pander to your audience

The first time Eric pitched at a tech event, he missed the mark. He talked about coffee but everyone in the audience was there for tech. The judge told him that he needed to pander to his audience.

He took that feedback to heart and went back to recraft his pitch and cater to his specific audience. This helped him win the first place prize as DC's Startup of The Year Award by Tech.Co.

2. Study the judge's faces

Pitching to anyone you don't know is difficult. You're on stage and in the moment. The pressure gets intense. It's easy to choke.

Eric's business partner Aaron figured out a trick to get over this. Two days before doing any pitch, he would change the screen on his computer to the person they were planning to pitch. Now the whole team does it. This helped them get more comfortable pitching to the judge, because it helped them visualize the audience and created a sense of familiarity with the judge in their minds.

3. Get help

If you've practiced pitching before, you know just how hard the first 10 times are. You stumble over your words. You forget what you're saying. You feel like a fool.

The problem is that practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. The only way to get a perfect pitch is to practice in front of a variety of people.

Pitching is a unique form of speaking. During most public speaking, it is ok to skip over a point or two, or go over your time by a few seconds. For a pitch, there are specific points that you must address in a precise amount of time and there is a lot of strategy that goes into a short pitch.

This is why you need an outside perspective. If you're too familiar with the product, you may say something that might not make sense to everyone else. Eric wanted to make sure he would perfect his pitch, so he hired Ryan Foland for help.

When you're preparing, you need to practice in front of hundreds of people until you get your pitch down.

4. Focus on you

It's easy to want to compare yourself to everyone else, but the problem is that it is detrimental. Not only is it a waste of time when you could be focusing your efforts on something better, it psychs you out from your competition.

Instead of focusing on what everyone else is doing, remember that you were chosen to compete for a reason. And that's because your company and your message has value.

5. Make a pretty deck

Don't skimp on your deck. It's a representation of the care and effort that you put into preparing for the pitch. The more amateur the deck looks, the less anyone will take you seriously.

6. Look good

If you win a competition, someone is going to give you their money. You need to take it seriously. One way to show people you are serious is to dress to impress.

Studies have supported the adage, "when you look good you play good!" Plus, on top of that, your every move is being watched.

This is why you want to look your best. You should try different outfits and make sure that you plan to wear one that makes you look and feel like a million dollars.

7. Speak positively about your competition

Pitch competitions are not only opportunities to network with high profile judges and win money, they are also a great networking opportunity with the other competitors. They are likely facing the same challenges as you and by networking and collaborating, you are certain to learn something and improve your business.

They say that you can't make it alone in the startup world, so it's always best to have a team of supporters who know exactly how hard it is to build a startup to talk to.


These are just seven of the tips you can implement today when you prepare for your next pitch. Do you have any other tips you like to use? I'd love to learn more! Comment below.

Published on: Aug 25, 2016