Geo AR games went through lightning lab xx 2016. Geo AR games gets kids off the couch and physically active outside through mobile outdoor AR games. We spoke to CEO & Founder of GEO AR GAMES, Mel Langlotz about the art of pitching your startup in New Zealand and abroad.
Where did geo ar games start out & what is the vision for your business?
Before my co-founder Amie and I decided to get serious with my idea of developing a digital playground, we took about 2 months to intensely research the market and get clear what we were building, our vision/mission statement, and ensuring that there was a market for our idea. We had an idea for an outdoor game called “Sharks in the Park” which was in some ways similar to Pokemon Go, but using a more advanced technology. Our mission statement is to get kids off the couch and physically active outside through mobile outdoor AR games.
We applied for the Chilean pre-accelerator S-Factory, which is part of Startup Chile, a famous international business incubator in South America. We got accepted and with that got granted $20K equity free money to investigate our idea based in Santiago Chile. We had our first pitch experience there and put a lot of effort into the slides, explaining the problem and solution and eventually we got to pitch to 3 judges, but just for feedback. After 3 months at S-Factory, we moved directly to Lightning Lab XX in Wellington, which gave us a further $20K for 6% equity to get ready to pitch for investment. Looking back I think we were naive to think that we would be able to impress investors enough to part with money right away. Sure, that may happen to some startups early on, but it is not the norm.
So at Lightning Lab we got to refine our strategy and someone asked us how people will find us on the App Store or Google Play store. This question was key to bringing in revenue. So we started to develop our 2nd product Magical Park, which is a digital playground councils subscribe to in order to turn a selected normal urban park into a magical wonderland that gets tech savvy families outside and kids to be physically active. By now you can find Magical Park across Australasia and we will release a premium version of Sharks in the Park later in 2017.
How much preparation goes into a 5–7 minute investor pitch?
By now we have a range of prepared pitches and presentations which we can chop and change to suit. We worked on our first 3 pitches for weeks, memorising the script and working on slide details. I learned very fast though that if you are in front of investors who will ask you tough questions afterwards, it helps to go last in the pitch order and watch other pitches first. Get an idea what the key concern for the people you pitch to is or what level of technical understanding they have and then be prepared to change your script on the fly if you feel you are missing an important point or are too wordy in your intro of the problem/solution scenario. If possible ask your angel investors if you can sit in on a pitch and watch, listen, learn, note the questions they ask and get familiar with the dynamic in the room.
In the end they all want to know how are you making money, do they believe it is a problem worth solving? Is there is a market and how fast and realistic is your growth projection?
By now we have done so many pitches that I am comfortable to pitch to anyone, anytime. You have your key phrases and convincer sentences and you need to be able to deliver them with confidence. If it is a big pitch, like when we went to China, – I do write a script and learn it, because especially in front of a foreign audience where your pitch is being translated on the fly by an interpreter, you need to make sure every sentence is clear and easily understood or the translation will be garbled and make no sense what so ever to the Chinese investors. To give you an example, – the word augmented reality doesn’t exist in the Chinese language and was creatively translated as “earth-space-technology”. For China I took a day to learn my script and deliver in the right pace (super slow to give the translator a chance) and we spent a week working on what to say within the 10min we had.
But even if we were to deliver a pitch in another English speaking country, I would ensure that I would use the correct English terms for that location, so that it is easily understood and people can relate to what I say without wondering about kiwi expressions. Technology terms are another thing to be mindful of. If you have a tech startup or work in an industry that has got professional terms that are second nature to you, they may not mean anything to someone else. We have pitched to people who didn’t know what iOS and Android meant.
Why is it important to be engaging and impressive when pitching?
Everybody likes to be entertained and it makes it easier to remember the content. If you are not the only startup pitching, then it is even more important to stand out and ensure that your presentation has got the sticky factor. Repeating certain key words or messages you want your audience to remember helps, but also to be upbeat, charismatic and delivering with balanced body language, tone, volume, pitch and pauses for effect.
Make sure you don’t do, say or wear anything that is too distracting. Some people waive their arms around or can’t stand still and get into some sort of nervous dance or keep saying “um” or “like”, “you know” or they don’t realise they stick their hands in the pockets, cross their arms or don’t make eye contact with the audience. Make sure you wear something that is slick and elegant but not distracting. Make sure it is comfortable and if you think you might be nervous, wear something that doesn’t show you sweat 😉
Here is something that helps me when I pitch. So I don’t like scripts because I struggle to be charismatic and inspire people and connect with my audience. When I prepare a pitch I think about my audience and what would excite them and then think about my pitch as a story. The story has to flow in my head and it has to link from one subject to the next effortlessly. I know my company better than anyone else and confidence in a pitch delivery is key! So make sure you have your story straight. Think about it as a story you would want to “Wow” someone with, but with the “wow” factor being the incredible opportunity and the revenue that can be earned. How would you package that and build it so it sounded exciting?! Investors want to be entertained. So give them what they want!
Make sure you don’t talk to fast and monotone. Stress the right keywords, find good moments to put in a pause to let information sink in. Think less is more. They can always ask questions, but give them enough that they are hungry and think this is an awesome opportunity not to be missed.
You pitched your business late 2016 in China, were there cultural differences to be aware of when pitching your business abroad?
I wrote an entire blog about doing business in China (And then we went to China…) and the key difference I mentioned earlier is that you have to deal with translators who will struggle to translate the essence of your startup. It almost pays to have something written up and translated in advance and give the translator to quickly read so they have an idea what this is going to be about and how to translate it.
Make sure you get someone who is fluent in both Chinese and English to check your pitch and the subtitles of your slides or videos. Sometimes translations can be seriously clunky and come across the wrong way. I had 3 of my Chinese friends explain our startup back to me after reading our Chinese marketing material and it showed which sections were unclear, unprofessional translation or even had grammar mistakes in them. See if they get it and what questions they have. You will be surprised what cultural issues may come up you haven’t considered at all, but which may be obvious to your friends, i.e. our business is about turning urban parks into digital playgrounds. Well, in Beijing for instance the parks are so crowded, you wouldn’t be able to play!
Be mindful that Chinese investors will always expect you to move to China and set up shop there. Are you prepared for that? Also remember that most Chinese investors are looking for a finished product that can be relabelled and sold as is. They often are not interested in raw materials or something that doesn’t quite fit the market and needs modification. Contracts work differently in China and reflect a moment in time, but are not taken as seriously as in our Western World where they are binding.
In a nutshell, only go to China to pitch if you really think that’s the market you want to be in. A lot of western investors will lose interest in your product if you have sold in China and have no strong patents. The reason being that your idea may be easy to copy, which China is known for and therefore your idea wouldn’t be original anymore.
If you are like us and you don’t worry so much about investment because you don’t want to part with equity and are happy to take the risk in order to bring in revenue to grow the company, then go for it! By the way, we will not relocate to China, but have found a local Chinese company in Auckland, who we trust and who is facilitating business in China for us and will facilitate the local presence in China on our behalf.
What are some of the key differences between pitching to customers sponsors/partners and investors?
Pitching doesn’t always mean you are looking for financial investment. It could be that you are pitching to find a joint venture partner, someone who would buy your company, sponsors, partners or customers. The main difference is where your value proposition lies depending on your audience. So an investor will want to see proof of growth and that there is a market. A sponsor may want to focus on who the team is, whether there are marketing opportunities, more about your company values as well as your business model and sales verticals etc. Someone who is interested to buy your company will want to know where you think the value of the company lies. That could be the revenue or the customer database, the data you gather or IP your company holds. A customer, in our case the council or parents, will want to know our game is safe, easy to install in the park and good for kids.
Sometimes it is also important to be aware of the technical understanding your audience has. We have learned to scale our language down and not assume even the most common terms like Android, iOS or Google Play store can all be terms we may need to explain. So we will tailor the content of every presentation and every pitch based on the audience, their needs and/or most burning questions.
What is the most challenging aspect of pitching?
Having proof that what you say or claim is true! It’s the hard work that goes into getting the numbers and figures that show your company is valuable, not just on the face of it but even when you dig into the numbers. We present stats how many people are using our game during a certain time frame, how long they play for, our revenue growth curve, but also how many new councils are signing up every month or how many new parks we are setting up. Your pitch may not represent a hockey stick growth curve investors are after, but it may have other appeal, like you have developed a disruptive technology or service and especially angel investors like to get in on a deal early. Can you prove that now is the right time for an investor to come on board?
Tell us your top 3 pitch hacks?
- Think about your pitch as a story you want to tell. Your purpose is to inspire, not to sell, no one really wants to be sold to.
- Start every pitch with a few statements to break the ice, use something everybody has to agree to in their mind.
- Repeat your company name a few times during the pitch, but especially at the end so investors won’t forget.
- Make sure your slide deck is slick, strong and vibrant. This helps people memorise what is being said.