Screen shot 2010 03 21 at 13.05.54 Startups: Get Pitching, Ditch The BitchingEditor’s Note: In part one of a two-part guest post, David M Blumenstein of New York’s The Hatchery discusses his experiences of how UK Internet startups differ from those in the US.

His advice could well be useful to startups worldwide. Firstly, ditch the reserve and show some self-confidence.

Much of my travels in the past 5 years have been to the United Kingdom, specifically London. Each journey, I throw myself into the mix, total immersion into the scene: parties, meetups/tweetups, cocktail receptions, and pitch presentations. Not a night went by without something popping up in my diary.

It is not all fun and games, and I spend a great deal of time making mental notes and images of discussions and presentations going on around me: how presentations are made, how details and thoughts are expressed, how the audience: investors and strategic partners react to the presenter and the respective content. It’s what I hear and do not hear which takes me aback.

· Why were startups being so reserved?
· Why the reticence in talking up their projects?
· Are they being trained by anyone on pitching?
· Why is hand wringing more prevalent than handshaking?
· What’s up with all the negativism?
· How did failure become a badge of shame?
· What are investors waiting for?

Don’t be scared to pitch with confidence

Startups lost the plot in the face of the enviable position to make contact with investors and leave a favorable impression. They failed to take the initiative, to put their best foot forward and extend their hand to introduce themselves. When asked about the reticence I was met with “That’s our culture”, “We’re not brash, nor are we boastful” and “This is how we have brought up to be”. These traits are admirable in certain situations but not this one. Such were the opportunities lost in the space of an evening.

An invitation to a pitch event stated that each entrepreneur would get 3 minutes to address an audience. The make-up and demographics of the audience was not clearly specified. The event could have been open to the public for all I know. It would have made sense such to be evident to those presenting for a number of reasons. First, it would assist presenters in tailoring their presentations and second, it would help them to gauge whether or not the event would be relevant and worthwhile to them.

Three minutes would not be enough time to adequately present and cover the salient aspects of a startup. There is more than a fair bit of information that needs to be brought to the table.

Pitch presentations tell a series of stories, not just one. The sequence and content of presentations alert investors to an entrepreneur’s ability to convey that they understand their company conceptually, operationally and financially.

Back in New York, The Hatchery runs an event called Are You Serious where 6 startups are given 5 minutes apiece to present to a panel who will take another 5 minutes to constructively critique and score them. The startups are given a detailed outline regarding their PowerPoint presentations. The ability meet criteria and follow instructions speaks volumes.

These are The Hatchery’s Are You Serious 11 Points to be used at the event and as a checklist for aspiring entrepreneurs.

– List your team
– What is the aim of your product/service?
– What issue/pain is being solved/addressed?
– What is the solution?
– How big is the addressable audience? Target Markets?
– What is the competitive landscape?
– Are there any present customers/clients? Pipeline status.
– Revenue streams/sources?
– Financial projections?
– How much are you asking for in investment?
– What are the plans for the money? How will it be spent?

Ditch the bitching

Apart from the startups not being assertive, up-front about themselves and their respective investment opportunities, I encountered wholesale negativity. Startups took to actively backbiting their peers. Ironically the most whining/winging came from those whose companies were in no way connected or relevant to the targets of their scorn.

Failure is not embraced in the United Kingdom. It is looked upon with disgrace and disdain. The very notion that one can bounce back and demonstrate resiliency lives on in the United States but not in its cousins across the pond. It’s a shame to see how many are held back by this and how investors are less likely to pay them notice. In the States the prevailing attitude is that startups learn from their misdeeds rather than repeat them and are rewarded for doing so.

Don’t hold back

For a host of cultural reasons, British startups for the most part tend to hold back when presenting in public. There are indeed successful ones and to the other extreme those who over compensate. This is not necessarily a bad thing as along with this demeanor, they are more selective and deliberate in the words they choose and the manner in which they speak. Let it be said, that a British accent in the States is worth its weight.

Perception trumps reality, so presenters must be acutely aware of how they are perceived in cultures outside their own. It behooves them to scan the Internet for videos of pitch presentations in the States to see not only how presentations are structured, but also, if possible, to gauge how well they are received by the audience.

Next week, David offers his thoughts on government support for startups.

[Image credit: Union Jack by Masochimtango]