MetaBUILD Mentorship Series, Episode 7: Pitching & Demoing

Maria Yarotska
Hackathon Coordinator, NEAR.

November 14, 2022

Hey builders! We have one more week of hacking left, and it is a perfect time to fine-tune your submissions starting with a pitch. One of our previous hackathon winners advised to spend at least 30% of the time at the hackathon working on your presentation – this advice was about 48-hours IRL hackathons, but the importance of a good pitch couldn’t be overstated.

So if you’re done with most of your coding, read a recap of our weekly mentorship series which was all about pitching. This week we were joined by Karina Lapina, a seasoned startup mentor and a head of scouting at Startup Wise Guys. Here’s what we learned.


How Important is the Pitch at a Hackathon?

Because of the structure of the hackathons you are limited in time and despite the main idea that you should build something, in most of the cases this is just a part of the job. Another important part is to deliver your idea and impress the jury. Do not underestimate pitching as such. I suggest every team -from the very beginning- to identify who is the spokesperson for the project. This person should be dedicated to creating the structured presentation, and work on every word to create a meaningful pitch from the very start!

Do not let this task be an afterthought because, by the end of the hackathon, most of the teams are super exhausted. You cannot just turn on your brain and start building up the perfect pitch. Start writing a pitch from the very beginning. Even if you don’t deliver a perfect product, you can still rely on a solid presentation.


How Much time Should your Presentation Take?

MetaBUILD participants receive 5 minutes to pitch, a huge amount of time! Usually startups are getting up to three minutes, this is a classic golden standard for any hackathons with many participants. With all of that time, my suggestion would be to show exactly how your solution will work. Don’t get into specifics like creating an account. Show how it actually works with an use-case or story. Spend most of the time on delivering the visuals, and make sure that the demo looks clear enough so the judges would understand what is going on.

Certain things have to be mentioned from the very beginning. You have to identify what is the problem that you are solving, and what is the reasoning behind it. Do not forget to emphasize how many things you did through the hackathon, as this is one of the most effective ways to measure your progress and determination. Looking at the result you cannot understand how much time and effort it took.


How to Structure the Pitch? Should you Answer any Specific Questions?

First and foremost, listen carefully to the organizers because usually they provide specific criteria: what kind of things are they looking for in a project. Other than that, your pitch structure would be putting the problem and reasoning behind it first. Why is this problem still happening? What's the reason behind that? Who is struggling, who is experiencing this problem – your target audience? If you're talking about opportunity, who could benefit from this opportunity? 

Then you are going straight to the demo of the solution – what it does and how it will work in three to four sentences max. My recommendation would be to answer why you think your solution will be or is needed, and why it was not invented before. You can emphasize once again the uniqueness, the value of the solution that you are bringing. 

Of course you have to mention the team who is participating. My suggestion is to not to mention every person one by one, because your team could be really big. Try to identify the unique characteristics and fun facts, talk about the team as it would be one person you know. Don’t spend more than 30-45 seconds describing your team. 

After that I would suggest describing the work you’ve done throughout the hackathon. How many things have you done so far? 

Always finish your pitch with an ask. Startups should ask for investment, but in your case you probably might need something else to go on the next level. What do you need now to grow, to move forward, to continue working on your product? That could be team members, expertise, mentorship, money, something else, anything, any perks. 

If you did some kind of market research you can also mention it, and if you know your competitors you can elaborate on how you're different from them. Do not use more than 1 slide for each topic and keep it down to 8 slides max.


Design Hacks for Pitching Online and on Stage?

Start with the visuals, put as much information and visuals and icons and pictures and graphs as possible. The more text you will put on the slide, the less people will hear you. Keep slides boring enough so people will still listen to you. Go with the numbers or short bullet points instead of long sentences because people are trying to read it and then.

If you're still putting text on the slide, make sure that you are using the same terms, the same wording you are using when you speak. Make sure that you are aligned with your own slides. 

If you're going on stage, make sure that you have a bottle of water with you that you can sip just before your pitch because your mouth will get dry. If you are delivering a pitch online, make sure that you are sitting in front of the light, and show your face to the camera. People are watching the person's expressions, gestures and smile, so at the end of the day you are delivering your story which is much more important than slides.


What are VC’s Looking for in the Pitch?

They are primarily looking at the problem-to-be-solved, the reasoning behind it, and if the solution is aligned with this. You would want to show what you managed to do during the hackathon because that means that the dynamics within the team is working properly. 

Many VC's or scouts will look for dedicated teams. They are looking for teams who are willing to move forward, dedicate their time and energy to this product. 


What’s Your Advice for the Builders?

No matter what your goal is, my suggestion is to be mindful of why you are participating in a hackathon, and why you are putting your time and effort into it. Every pitch should have a goal, every action should have a meaning, especially as a founder or as a team member. 

My suggestion is to always be honest in terms of pitch. If you didn't manage to do the market research, OK, just say it and do not lie about the things that you don't know about because that it's always seen. Be honest and transparent with your potential investors and mentors, that’s my best advice.


Stay tuned for the final mentorship session hosted in partnership with Spill dedicated to the founders’ mental health and avoiding burnout. We will host it on Zoom this time for even more meaningful interaction with the mentor. See you on Friday!

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