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The Pitch Doctor: Founders Believe They Need To Address The Investors’ Brain First. That’s a Mistake

Christoph Sollich is known as The Pitch Doctor in the Berlin startup scene and beyond. He’s also known for coming regularly to Sofia during DigitalK conference to train pitchers participating in the Startup Competition on how to make the best of their 5 minutes presentation and secure their next big major leap.  After working in advertising, he got into startups in 2007 and has since worked in many roles related to that industry. All his own startup ideas have failed miserably, but he always had great pitches.

For the last 7 years, he’s helped 1800+ startups, and an ever-growing number of corporate intrapreneurs, improve the way they pitch to investors, partners, management boards etc. Sollich is a mentor and coach for dozens of accelerators, incubators, corporate innovation labs and startup competitions around Europe, with clients such as Airbus Bizlab, Bayer Grants4Apps, hubraum (Deutsche Telekom), Daimler, Allianz, Roland Berger, etc.

Moreover, Sollich is known as the world’s only “Startup Comedian”, doing funny pitches –e.g. RydeMyPony (the “Airbnb for Ponies”), the meanwhile famous Berlin Pitch and “2020” (the best year startup ever) – at conferences such as 4YFN, SXSW and Bits+Pretzels. We talked to The Pitch Doctor to help you better prepare for the DigitalK Startup Competition this year, so read carefully:

Trending Topics: What’s the single most common mistake companies make when pitching in front of investors? Is there a universal formula?

Christoph Sollich: Not a universal formula, but understanding how humans work definitely helps. And the biggest mistake with that is founders believing the investors’ brain is what they need to address, where in reality it’s the investors’ heart! Investors only care about pitches once they have an emotional reaction to the pitch. And only once they care, they will use their brain.

What are the main differences between pitching a B2C and a B2B startup?

I think the difference is actually less important than most people think. To get people to care about my business, I have to make them feel the pain of my customer – no matter if it’s a B2B or a B2C customer.

What’s the right ratio between story/numbers/presentation of the team in a good pitch? Is there an ideal length?

The story has to come first, maybe with some key numbers mixed in. Once that emotional part of the pitch is done, we can move to a more numbers-heavy “business part”. As for length, I would always say as short as possible. Any details should be opt-in for whoever is receiving the pitch. The same is true for e-mailed slide decks – don’t send something that takes 30 min to read. The first time, an investor will probably only spend 2 minutes on your deck. And if it’s a long one, they get none of it.

Does the way you pitch in front of investors vary in the different stages of development of the company?

Yes, absolutely. Early stage investors are much more gut-driven, later stage investments are much more driven by numbers. But in any case, you should get investors excited about what you do and also show them you are absolutely obsessed with solving the problem your startup tackles.

I’ve recently got asked “what’s the acceptable amount of buzzwords and exaggeration in a pitch?

I’d say no exaggerations, but optimism is allowed. How much really depends on the stage and the type of investor. US VCs expect a lot more optimistic numbers than e.g. German VCs enjoy listening to. Buzzwords become buzzwords only when they get thrown in places where they don’t belong. And investors can tell if what you’re doing is really “AI”, or if you just put it there because it sounded cool.

How important is body language in pitching and what would be your tips & tricks in this regard?

The entire performance aspect is hugely important, because especially early on you’re selling yourself as much as you’re selling your startup. Which is why I work with an actor and performance coach for most of my clients. However, the goal should never be to “act”, but to feel comfortable being yourself on stage or in a meeting. So I don’t believe in strict rules, like “don’t put your hand in your pocket”. If you feel comfortable being yourself with your hand in your pocket, go for it. Just don’t try to be something you’re not.

Which is the greatest pitch failure you’ve seen? Which is the pitch that has ever excited you most?

I’ve seen my share of people completely forgetting what they wanted to say, live demos going wrong, etc. But I have to go with the cheesy answer here: The biggest pitch fail is not pitching at all! Because no matter what happens, you’ll always be better off by pitching. Even if it’s just to get better at pitching.

I do get very excited by incredibly precise pitches, no matter how “boring” the topic may be. But I also obviously love a good “creative” pitch, if it fits the startup. So the Mankini Pitch will always be special to me, as I was involved in the creation. But also the Rap Pitch is amazing (unfortunately, I wasn’t involved).

What led you to the role of pitching doctor in the first place and what’s the business like? 

It was a number of coincidences, but in retrospect, it makes sense. With a background in advertising (creative) and consulting (PowerPoint battle), I was always the guy ending up working on the pitches in the startups I worked or consulted for. In the end, I pitched at a Startup Weekend, people loved the pitch (and hated the idea), and somebody from an accelerator asked me to do pitch coaching for them. And the rest, as they say, is history.

If I only worked for startups directly, I would probably be very poor. But since I work for a lot of accelerators,  incubators, corporate innovation, and intrapreneurship programs, I’m somewhere between very poor and very rich.

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