[Executive Edge] Making your pitches come alive

Ezra Ferraz

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Steam Engine Studios CEO Gino Caparas spoke of the need to internalize your vision, because once you do, your passion will be more palpable to others

Ezra FerrazAs the CEO of Stream Engine Studios, Gino Caparas knows the value of a good pitch. In his day-to-day work, he may go from pitching a potential client for their explainer videos one moment to pitching a potential employee the next.

No matter who he speaks to, the success of his animation company rides on getting the coveted yes. And he’s gotten them from brands as successful as Sulit and Kickstart. So how does he get there?

Throughout our talk, Caparas spoke of the need to internalize your vision, because once you do, your passion will be more palpable to others. Then you must channel that passion as you craft the four-part sequence that effectively structures your elevator pitch.

From there, you must pitch, pitch, and pitch, both at pitching sessions as well as networking events. This will give you the practice you need to become a great pitcher.

More importantly, it will allow you to the opportunity to iterate your pitch based on people’s reactions and responsiveness. You can then simultaneously personalize and perfect your pitch so that it’s maximally effective.

Here are snippets from our chat:

EF: The explainer videos that Stream Engine Studios makes are essentially company pitches in animation form. What advice do you have on how to craft a great business pitch in general?

GC: Pitching, I believe, is like a theatrical performance. Once you have the floor, everyone’s looking at you and listening to what you have to say. Yes, it’s important to rehearse your lines, but it’s also very important to internalize what you want to say. As an entrepreneur, one of your strengths is your ability to convince people of your vision, and it all starts by sharing your own dream with everyone. You have to believe in what you’re selling. So get out there and talk to people!

You also wouldn’t want to bore your audience. Keep your pitch short and sweet. Our explainer videos, for example, are usually less than 2 minutes long – we’ve learned through analytics that after 2 minutes, people already get bored. Everybody on the Internet has ADHD. It’s a bit different in person — you have a lot of different visual and spoken cues to keep your audience engaged — but nothing beats a short but concise presentation. Don’t beat around the bush; time is extremely valuable, especially for entrepreneurs, so manage it wisely and practice that elevator pitch.

EF: How should a pitch be structured?

GC: Most of our explainer videos at Stream Engine Studios follow a certain format – we begin by stating the problem your startup aims to solve (show issues with the status quo, or how the current way of things is highly ineffective, or present a question to the audience), presenting the proposed solution (reveal your startup or business idea), adding value to it (by showing the audience why it’s good, how to sign up, etc.) and wrapping it all up with a call-to-action (“Sign up now!” or a call to visit a website). Certain aspects may vary based on the requirements of the client, but this serves as a general outline for our videos and is highly applicable to pitches as well.

I also highly recommend Pollenizer’s Universal Startup Pitch Deck. It allows startups to “quickly and succinctly tell the full story of the business without thinking about it too much.”

EF: How much should you practice your pitch versus letting it flow naturally?

GC: Unless you’re good enough to not hone your craft through practice (Allen Iverson’s “practice?!” rant comes to mind), I highly suggest you constantly practice your pitch. Always. Every waking hour. Practice it when you wake up, while having lunch, in the shower, just before you go to bed. Run through your lines so you don’t flub them come showtime.

Now, here’s the thing: I also believe that a pitch should be practiced on other people. By talking to others, you can get excellent feedback on what works and what doesn’t. This will help you polish your pitch. What’s most important is that you practice improvising. Get ready for curveballs and off-the-script questions. Most ideas aren’t bulletproof, and the best way to fortify your defense is to take a couple of shots and address the most important questions on your business idea. This is where practicing your pitch with other people comes in handy.

EF: What’s the most effective way to deliver a pitch?

GC: The most effective speakers are those that speak from the heart. They truly believe in what they are talking about and they have taken their own message to heart. If you speak about things that you truly believe in, then it becomes easier to convince people. It will show in the way you speak and how you deal with people. Just keep it real!

Personally, my style is to keep things light-hearted. I try to get the audience relaxed by telling a few jokes every now and then, and sharing some personal anecdotes that others can (hopefully) relate to. It’s easier to pitch to a relaxed crowd. Be warm, genuine and inviting – it goes a long way.

EF: What other things can you do to improve your delivery?

GC: I suggest watching videos of TED talks. The quality of their talks and speakers are very high, and you will learn a lot of new things as well. Other than that, I still believe the best way to learn is by doing. Pitching is an art, and as with most art forms, it is meant to be experienced. Books and articles will teach you everything about concepts and theories, but the real value of an entrepreneur lies in how well he executes.

EF: Can you give us an example of a way in which pitching has contributed to the success of Stream Engine Studios?

GC: I’ve talked to a lot of people who are also considering taking the leap into a startup, and some of the usual issues that come up are fear of failure and the need for financial security. They’re all legitimate concerns, of course, and I respect that. The startup life isn’t for everybody. The trick is to find people who are ready for the challenges ahead; in fact, the first few partners & employees will be crucial to your startup’s growth.

When I interview people for a job, I don’t really do formal interviews with them. I don’t ask usual HR questions like “Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?” Instead, I pitch to them Stream Engine Studios – what we stand for, what we believe in, how we work and what kind of challenges to expect (there are a lot!). It all starts with my pitch to them – I’m selling our dream of World Domination Through Animation. Will they be ready to buy into it and pursue that same dream?

A lot of us in Stream Engine Studios are very young, idealistic and impressionable. We can also be very brash and ready to prove ourselves. By setting a goal early on, we’re able to temper our passions and get ourselves ready for the mission at hand. I’ve pitched our dream to all our employees, and all of them have responded with much fire and gusto despite it being a bit of a moonshot. And these guys are some of the brightest, most talented and driven young talents in the industry. I’m their biggest fan, and I’m very proud of how they’ve responded to the challenge.

EF: Can you give us an example of your own pitch for your recently launched Stream Engine TV?

GC: Stream Engine TV (http://streamengine.tv/) is an online channel dedicated to showcasing Original Filipino Animation. By creating a platform for creatives to showcase their works, this gives our local animators an incentive to create their own stories, share their talents with the entire world, and foster the growth of the local animation industry.

Gino Caparas is the type of fun-loving, humble CEO you would expect of an animation company.

Filipinos are a very creative bunch, and we have excellent stories to tell the world. We have a very unique blend of Western perspectives and Eastern cultures. Sometimes, the best way to tell these stories is through animation. We want to mobilize the entire animation industry and market all our works to the entire world so we can make our mark as a nation with our creativity and ingenuity. We want to build the Pixar of the Philippines, and we want to start a new wave of Original Filipino Animation through Stream Engine TV.

EF: When you make that pitch, how do you gauge how people respond to it? How can other entrepreneurs get better at reading people in this way?

GC: People have been very receptive about the things we do at Stream Engine Studios. Some are surprised that these videos were actually made here in the Philippines! I usually show a Stream Engine Studios animated clip using my mobile phone every time I talk to people, and while they’re watching, I look at them and I see a certain sparkle in their eyes. There’s a sense of wonder and awe that’s very similar to a child watching a cartoon. After all, a lot of us grew up watching cartoons (including me!), and watching animated clips always brings back the kid in all of us. Once they’re hooked, it’s easier to communicate to them.

In my experience, it’s very important to have a solid proof of concept ready once you’re pitching. Having a sample of your product in hand helps solidify the concept with your clients. In my case, my product is in the form of a video. Even if you don’t have a product yet, having even a video proof of your product will greatly help with clients and investors. Hey, it worked for Dropbox!

EF: How do you respond if the person is clearly just not interested in what you’re pitching?

GC: There’s one word I’ve learned in the startup circles: flearn. It’s a portmanteau of fail and learn. You won’t always be successful in your pitches, so take them as learning opportunities and gather the proper data so you can improve. If something doesn’t work, take a step back and see where you can improve things.

Don’t expect everybody to fall head over heels in love with your dream. Not everyone will believe in you. In fact, a lot of people would probably think you’re outright crazy, and that’s okay, because you are crazy. Just stay on course and find the right people. Keep pitching.

You’re not alone in your journey. You will find other people who share the same goals and values, be it a mentor, co-founder, or employee. I’ve been fortunate enough to find like-minded people who are willing to duke it out for a better world, and that has made all the difference.

Once you do find those crazy people, congratulations! Remember that you are working with them to achieve a common goal. This is especially true for your employees. Don’t ever think that they work for you! This is a team game. Always keep the goal in mind and tackle it together as one.

EF: What events would you recommend going to in order to pitch to like-minded people?

GC: I consider myself to be very active in the local startup scene, and I always do my best to attend events such as Juan Great Leap’s Open Coffee events or Startup Weekend. It’s a great way to meet like-minded people and learn from great mentors. Some events will also let you practice your pitching skills – be ready to do a 2 minute fire pitch in front of other entrepreneurs! I’ve met a lot of great people in these startup events. Just be ready with your elevator pitch, some business cards and your A game.

I highly suggest attending informal startup gatherings like Kickstart’s #raidthefridge and Founders Drinks. These are not formal events, and there won’t be a stage where you can come up and talk to the crowd. Instead, they’re more intimate events where you can talk to other founders one-on-one. Great way to get to know other founders and the startups they’ve put up.

Through these you can build your network. The adage “It’s not what you know that matters, it’s who you know” still rings true to this day. Get to know everyone. They too have ideas to pitch, and it’s always great to hear what they have to say. You never know, you might learn something new!

EF: How often should a person try to pitch at events like these?

GC: You should always try your hand out at pitching. Even if you don’t get a chance to talk to an entire crowd, you can still go one-on-one with other participants. The feedback and questions you’ll get from other entrepreneur-minded people are extremely valuable. You don’t attend those events just to sit back and devour the free food (some events may offer free drinks — just remember you’re not there to get smashed!). You’re there to network, learn and hone your pitch. Use your time wisely.

Remember: Pitching should be part of the entrepreneur’s DNA. Life’s a pitch!

Rappler business columnist Ezra Ferraz graduated from UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California, where he taught writing for 3 years. He now consults full-time for educational companies in the United States. He brings you Philippine business leaders, their insights, and their secrets via Executive Edge. Follow him on Twitter: @EzraFerraz

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