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The Pivot25 mobile conference kicked off in Nairobi, Kenya, earlier this week to much fanfare and excitement. Pivot25 is a mobile apps and developer conference and competition for the East Africa region. Earlier this year m:lab East Africa, the organisation behind Pivot 25 (and sister organisation to mLab Southern Africa), put out a call for entrepreneurs in mobile apps and content services to pitch their ventures at the event.
Pitching is not easy — we all know that. It’s really hard to distil your product or service offering into a succinct and clear one-liner, short description, problem statement, solution offering, sustainability plan, team introduction, “ask”, and more. As difficult as pitching is, picking holes in someone else’s pitch is easy.
Overall, the elevator pitches at Pivot25 were of a high standard and really inspiring. Innovation and entrepreneurship in the mobile space is clearly alive and well in East Africa. Still, one can always improve a pitch, so here are four tips for doing that, two points related to mobile apps and two general tips:
Define your mobile target audience
A common question asked by venture capitalists, or judges in the case of Pivot25, relates to the fit between the app’s platform and the phones of the target audience, as in, “Your Android app is great; how many of your potential customers have an Android phone?”.
It is vital to have some figures on hand about the size of your audience and what percentage of it you are trying to reach. “All mobile users in Africa” is almost never a useful answer (unless you’re Facebook or Google). A much more nuanced answer shows that you’ve done your homework and allows you to set attainable goals in market reach.
It was interesting to note that many of the ventures are running their apps, or planning to port their apps, across multiple channels, e.g. an Android app as well as a USSD version.
Be explicit in your proposition
Be absolutely explicit about what your app does. My Social Web pitched for seven minutes, and only in the eighth minute – when one of the judges asked the question, “What is your unique selling point?” – did it become clear what the thing actually did. Granted, they couldn’t do their live demo due to technical glitches, which presumably would’ve made it all clear. But it’s still essential to have a short description — ideally a one-liner — that describes what exactly your app does.
WARNING: Coming up with a one-liner of your unique selling point is extremely difficult!
TIP: Start by saying: “[My product] is like [a well-known product] but [is different in this way].” For example, “Teachertube is like YouTube, but for educational videos aimed at teachers.” This technique also helps to answer the inevitable VCs/judges question, how are you different to your competitors?
Be explicit about what your ‘ask’ is
Often people do an elevator pitch and you are left wondering, so what does he or she want? Investment, partners, exposure, user growth, etc? Be explicit: “We are looking for partners to help us increase our user base in Namibia.” Or, “We are looking for US$290 000 to develop a USSD version of our Android app” (as Jamobi said, well done).
Spend time preparing a demo
Presenting a phone demo is tricky. One approach is to live film, at close-up range, the presenter using the app. This is very difficult. Hands shake, the phone screen reflects the stage lighting, the angle of the screen needs to be just right, etc. It’s impressive that some of such demos at Pivot25 were actually effective. Ideally, I think you should create a short video, or take screenshots and present them in the overhead deck.
If you have to show web pages, the safest option is to preload the pages in your browser, or take screenshots and paste them into the presentation deck. There are always technical glitches at conferences, especially at tech conferences!
Overall, I was impressed by the pitches delivered at the conference. In Silicon Valley, elevator pitching is part of the very fabric of life. You can imagine a VC telling his 10-year-old kid to give an elevator pitch about why his or her assignment is the best in the class. In Africa, where storytelling is the fabric of our history and time is plentiful, not scarce, pitching is a relatively new skill that is being learned in real time.
Pitching boils down to practice, practice, practice. With every pitch, it gets better. Big up to m:lab East Africa for Pivot25 and giving our innovators and entrepreneurs the chance to pitch and practice.