Pitching Tips from Startup Grind Baltimore’s Aaron Hsu

I attended an event organized by Startup Grind Baltimore. The topic was pitching competitions, and I learned so much. Aaron talked to us about the differences between the pitching competitions you’ll likely come across during research. 

He also talked to us about ways we can make winning more likely, which I thought was very insightful. He knows because he’s done it after all. Aaron Hsu is the founder of Clearmask, an innovative company that wants to bring a better surgical mask into the world. One that happens to be transparent. 

We strayed a bit into things like product development and market research as well. Overall, great presentation, and I’m looking forward to putting his recommendations into practice myself!

Here’s the podcast episode:

Or if you’d rather watch the video:

Important Tips for Pitch Competitions

In June, I attended a Startup Grind Baltimore event for companies that are growing and looking at investing, pitching, and things like that. Aaron Hsu was the speaker that night, and he gave us all lots of things to think about in terms of pitch competitions. 

Keep in mind that my understanding is pretty basic because I’m just starting to look at pitch competitions. Basically, you go and talk about your business for a predetermined amount of time.

You may be able to have slides and props, or you may not. You may have 5 minutes, or you may have one minute. That’s the competition. Usually, some pre-stated amount of money is also on the line. Depending on the organization, they may or may not require you to report heavily your activities. You really have to look at the individual organizations. 

Good Public Speaking

However, he gave us some tips that cross over into what you’d consider good public speaking. One of the first things he said is that you want to project confidence and be relatable during your pitch. He said that if you’re doing an impromptu pitch, 2-3 minutes is normally ideal. That’s because of the human attention span. You go on much longer than that, and people just stop paying attention. 

Pay Attention to Recurring Questions

He also mentioned something really good. You can pick up on what people didn’t understand or what you didn’t say by listening to the questions they direct you. If you consistently get the same questions, you can add that into your pitch. I thought that was a super awesome tip. 

Ask about Your Allotted Time

When you’re going to a competition, Aaron said that you always want to ask what the allotted time for your presentation and Q&A is. You don’t want to have your presentation and come up too short, in which case you might not be making the best use of the time given to you. 

Do Your Research

He mentioned researching the investors and then structuring your pitch accordingly. Some organizations are a bit more about social/world impact and what good things you’re doing. Then, some investors are all about the money. 

If you know you’re going to one that’s more about impact, spewing numbers and statistics at them about how you know how your product is going to do, would not be as beneficial as exploring statistics on the actual impact your product could have. So it’s not that the information you have is invaluable. It just may be that you may not have the right audience for it if you don’t do that research ahead of time. 

The Problem and the Solution

Aaron also says that you should pitch the problem and why anyone would care about the solution. People may not initially understand your product, but they’ll be able to understand the problem. 

Be Selective

Then, he mentioned knowing which competition to go to. Aaron, he used Google a lot, but then as he talked about his idea with people, he was able to leverage his network to be his eyes and ears. So whenever they heard of something, they would come and tell him. 

How great is that? It’s basically like the referral network you’re looking to build as a small-business owner anyway. Hearing about pitch competitions where your product/service would be of interest to investors is something you might miss, especially if it’s relatively small. 

He also mentioned foundations like Twitter. So if you’re looking to get into pitch competitions, you might want to check out Twitter and look for some relevant hashtags. 

He definitely said that a targeted approach is better than the spaghetti-at-the-wall approach. You throw a handful of spaghetti, see what sticks. A targeted approach helps because it keeps you from doing wasted work filling out applications. That’s why researching the foundations will help you not waste time. 

Relationship-Building

Aaron also recommended that you build relationships with the organizations that you’re looking to apply to. This means looking out some time ahead of the competition, but he’s said he’s even done some relationship-building at the competition. 

You might want to go chit chat with the judges/organizer and not ask about your pitches. You just talk about other things. Everybody’s got their own life, and showing interest can gain you some favor. 

Formulate a Master Deck

When you’re putting together your pitch deck, he recommends that you have a master deck and tailor it to the competition you’ve applied. Eventually, you’ll end up saving time and you’ll have a more targeted pitch deck. 

I do something similar with my content marketing proposals when we’re working on a big, long-term, or ongoing project. I try out proposals that I’ve used to structure new proposals. That is something I would definitely recommend. 

Remember to Reach out

Another thing Aaron said is to keep in mind that you’re competing as soon as you apply. So if you are interested in applying, it doesn’t hurt to reach out ahead of time to see whether or not you’d be a good fit. 

It also gives you an opportunity to start relationship-building by not wanting to waste their time. How many people just apply, and then never reach out? Reaching out shows that you take initiative, which is typically a good sign of someone who works hard.

Why It All Matters

One thing people often forget in their pitches is why it matters. Aaron said you can always work on completing your pitch in the most perfect way. but what about the why? This matters more than most people think, so it’s good to have an answer ready. Aaron also said that it’s best to be explicit. 

Do your homework, establish rapport, keep your master deck, and a structure including the problem and the solution. 

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