How we won the QPrize without being great presenters: Our QPrize Story – Part 2

Our startup, Deck – www.deck.in – won the last Qualcomm QPrize India event and this is our QPrize story. 

deckNew

I am sure you have seen a great presenter — someone who looks like they were born to walk up to a stage and capture your undivided attention by the force of their charismatic personality and powerful oratory. I know I have seen people like this – they could walk into a room and ‘own it’. On the other hand, my first natural instinct when I walk into a room is to find the remotest corner and dissolve into the shadows hoping to stay unnoticed!

However, once I became an entrepreneur, I quickly realized that being an introvert is a severe handicap – running a startup requires you to be a pitch-man all the time. You need to be able to ‘talk the talk’ whether you are interfacing with customers, investors or employees.

At first, I found it difficult to battle my instincts and adopt an extravert persona. Over time, I learnt that the tricks of the trade and figured out how to overcome my deficiencies. The biggest lesson that I learnt is that one does not necessarily have to be a ‘great presenter’ to win over audiences.

The rest of this post details how we went about preparing for the QPrize and how we managed to win it without actually good, much less great, presenters!

I have also appended our actual pitch at the end of this post hoping that this information will serve as an illustrative example for those planning to compete in this year’s event.

Sumanth R

Sumanth R

STEP 1: MAPPING THE ‘LAY OF THE LAND’

The first step in our preparation for the QPrize was to understand and get a handle on the ‘lay of the land’ – this involved understanding the event structure, the pitching format, the judges and the judging criteria.

For our edition of the QPrize, these details were as follows (NB: Please check if these have changed in any way for this year):

  • There would be around 10 startups pitching for the prize.
  • Each startup would get a slot of 15 minutes – 10 minutes for the pitch and the remaining five minutes for Q&A.
  • The judging panel would comprise of around eight people — a mix of early stage investors and Qualcomm representatives.
  • The judging criteria would largely be congruent to those used by seed-stage VCs to evaluate potential investments – team, solution, value proposition, market, differentiation, and business model. The only allowance was that since the companies participating would typically be quite early in the startup lifecycle, these criteria would be scaled down to judge ‘future fundability’ rather than assessing the status quo. Also, since this is a Qualcomm event, alignment with Qualcomm’s world view on mobility would help.

STEP 2: IDENTIFYING THE PITCH ‘GOALPOSTS’

Once we understood the lay of the land, the next step was to identify what we needed to do to succeed.

The most important aspect here was to keep in mind that this is not a real-world funding pitch. When you stand before a VC and present your case, you do so with the knowledge that the investor has the option to simply pass if the pitch doesn’t meet her exacting high threshold and more often than not, she exercises this option!  On the other hand, the QPrize event is a competition where there has to be a winner. So you don’t necessarily have to be great in any objective sense (though that doesn’t hurt!) – all you need to be is better than the nine other companies that you are competing with. To wit, “You don’t have to be the BEST. You just have to be better than the REST”!

Once you frame the challenge in this way aligning yourself to an ordinal pattern rather than a cardinal one, it is a lot easier to figure out what you need to do to win.

And that is just one thing – “STAND OUT FROM THE COMPETITION”!

So how does one do this?

First, let’s look at this from the judge’s perspectives.

In their day jobs, they are probably evaluating multiple pitches every single day and given the low hit rate of pitches to actual investments, there is a good chance that a number of these pitches would be of little interest to them during the delivery itself, much less post the presentation. One defense mechanism that they have probably developed to guard against getting bored to death day in and day out is to “zone out” – you are still there physically but hardly paying any attention to the presenter.

In a competition scenario, there are 10 startups pitching one after another in quick succession over a long period of nearly three hours and it is very easy for the entire session to become one continuous blur in the minds of the judges by the time they are ready to deliver their verdict.

So the challenge is to figure out how to “BE MEMORABLE” – make it really easy for the judges to understand and appreciate what you are saying and also remember it at the end of the session, whether you happen to be the first presenter or the last.

Of course, all of this is good in theory but how does one apply it in practice? This is what we decided to do:

  • BE UNCONVENTIONAL: The conventional manner of pitching in an event like this would be to follow the tried-and-tested ‘horse and pony’ show format – create a presentation about your company, project it on the screen and routinely go through each slide sequentially talking over each aspect. We decided that we would junk this routine and do something unconventional to stand out.
  • DITCH THE SLIDES: The major decision that we took was to ditch slides completely! This was in a sense ironical as our product is itself a presentation tool but rather than use it to create a presentation and project it, we decided to structure our pitch as a narrative that could stand on its own without any visual cues. We would complement this narrative with a product demo at an appropriate time within the pitch where we would interleave visuals when necessary to take our story forward and simultaneously demonstrate our product’s strengths.
  • START STRONG: Studies have shown that people decide whether they like you or not within the first eight seconds of your interaction. So it is very important to start strong. The traditional starting line in a pitch would be something along the lines of this – Start presentation. As the judges see the first slide, you introduce yourself, “Hello, my name is John Doe and I am the founder of Acme Corp”. This is a boring cookie-cutter template and beyond that the fact that you are starting your slideshow and your talk at the same time means that the judge’s attention is divided and neither will register in any meaningful way. Also the judge might be seeing the screen while you are talking and you lose out on an opportunity to establish eye-contact with him. We decided to abandon this beginning and instead start off with a story – an anecdote that would serve as an amuse-bouche for the rest of our narrative.
  • LEAVE THE JUDGES WITH A MAXIMUM OF THREE POINTS TO REMEMBER: The traditional funding pitch format prescribes that you cover every possible facet of your company, product, competitive landscape, business model, team, etc. While that might make sense in a real-world funding pitch, it probably doesn’t fit the bill for a 10-minute monologue. Instead, we decided that we would focus on just three points – points that would communicate our strengths to the judges in a succinct manner that they would be able to easily remember when judging time comes. The points that we decided to focus on were the following:
    • A unique mobile-first product that offers a meaningful value proposition
    • A simple repeatable business model within a large growing market
    • The right team to execute the plan
    • END STRONG: The narrative should end on a strong note to help make it memorable. We decided to close out with a big-bang vision statement that would communicate our ambitions – investors love growth more than anything else, so establishing that we are “dreaming big despite starting small” provides a nice balance to this dialectic.

PRESENTATION AND TIPS

Deck

During the event, our presentation went well and exactly as planned – our narrative-lead, no-slides approach was in hindsight a bit risky but it helped us strike up a good rapport with the judges by engaging with them on a person-to-person basis and convey our thoughts and points effectively. The questions that the judges asked were intelligent and showed us that they understood what we presented well enough to ask meaningful queries rather than desultory ones.

One of the judges sent out this tweet after the event that we took a lot of pride from:

Here are a few additional tips that we believe helped us win:

  1. 10 minutes is a long time…use it well: The typical reaction when being told that you should limit your presentation to 10 minutes would be a sense of worry that we won’t have enough time to finish our pitch. I guess this is partly because of a mindset where a meeting can go on for hours where you go through slide after slide and talk about each point at length. However, if you ditch the slides, 10 minutes for a monologue is a very long time! If you don’t believe me, try standing in front of someone and talking continuously for 10 minutes – you will probably end up boring yourself in addition to the poor soul in front of you! In order to sustain the interest of your audience, you need to be entertaining as well as informative. The way we did this was to look upon our pitch as a movie script – create mental milestones segmenting our pitch into discrete sections that took our story forward.  We structured it in a way where each part communicated at least one key takeaway and that no single part would seem too long. We tried to be humorous where possible without coming across as being disrespectful and we made sure that we sounded confident without seeming arrogant.
  2. Never ever read your slides: If you do use slides in your presentation, an easy way to tell that you are doing it wrong is to check whether you end up reading your slides word for word – if you find yourself doing this, you need to fix it! You can do this by taking out verbiage from your slides and making them “twitter-like” – try to fit the entire text within a tweet. Constraints like this help you be succinct and ensure that you don’t use your slides as a crutch.
  3. Try to fit in your product demo within your narrative: Nothing that you say on a slide can communicate your idea as clearly to the judges as an actual demo of your product, so try to fit that in within your presentation. We were lucky in that our product was a presentation app – so we managed to fit it easily within our narrative when we explained certain parts.
  4. Don’t forget the Qualcomm imperative: You need to keep in mind that Qualcomm is a company that breathes and lives “mobile”. To get them excited, you need to clearly establish how your product will push the boundaries of what a mobile device can do –for instance, in our case, we highlighted how our app converts a mobile from a device that is largely used for consuming content to one that someone can use for creating content. While it will obviously help if you have a mobile app, you should see how you can clearly communicate that your product enhances the mobile experience in some unique and significant manner.
  5. Practise, practise and then practise some more: Given our afore-mentioned lack of presentation skills, we practiced our narrative a number of times to get it down pat. We first did it in front of the computer, speaking it aloud and iteratively fine-tuning it until we were satisfied. We then did it in front of mirrors to see how we came across. Post that, we cajoled friends to listen to our pitch by simulating the actual judging environment. Finally, we recorded a video of the pitch and kept going over it to make sure that we were as good as we wanted to be.
  6. Winning the QPrize is the startup equivalent of Charlie winning the golden ticket in ‘Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’:  Winning the QPrize was a life-altering experience for us – it opened up so many doors that we wouldn’t have dared to even knock on, left to our own devices. As has been well-documented, raising VC funds is a formidable challenge and probably even more so here in India.  A contest like the QPrize gives you a great chance to get in front of world-class investors like Qualcomm and Accel Partners – VCs like these probably reject 99% of the ideas that get pitched to them but since this is a competition format, they will choose someone from this pool to back! So while you have a one-in-a-hundred chance to succeed in the real world, within the contest itself, your chances dramatically increase to one-in-ten (NB: This year, there are apparently going to be multiple prizes, so your chances are even better!).

While the prize money might not be exactly the same as a real-world funding, it is of great help as it signals the start of a relationship between you and these marquee investors and there is a good chance that it could lead to something far more significant. So treat the QPrize as a golden opportunity to win your golden ticket and send in your application at www.qprize.com today! Best of luck!

OUR ORIGINAL QPRIZE PITCH

  1. We would like to begin with a story. A story about a young entrepreneur struggling to find an investor for her startup.
  2. So one day, our entrepreneur finds herself entering the elevator of a high-rise building and sees that the only other person there is the angel investor that she always hoped to pitch to.
  3. She realizes that this is a golden opportunity for her to make an elevator pitch as the angel was her captive audience for the next two minutes.
  4. She thinks about telling the angel about what her company does but decides that it would be more effective to actually present it to him.
  5. Now, even if she was carrying her laptop with her and managed to open it, boot it up and fire her presentation in time, if our entrepreneur was an engineer with rather poor design skills what if her presentation did not sway the angel investor?
  6. But what if she had an app that will not only allow her to deliver a stunning presentation despite her lack of design skills but also present it on her tablet or even just her mobile phone. This would probably impress the angel so much that he whips out his check book and funds the company right then and there.
  7. Now of course, all of this is fiction…all of it except one thing – the presentation app.
  8. Good afternoon, this is Ravi, I am Sumanth and we are the makers of deck.
  9. Deck is the easiest way to create compelling presentations on any device whether you have design skills or not.
  10. With deck, anyone can effortlessly create awesome presentations anywhere.
  11. We built deck on the back of two big drivers.
  12. Firstly, even though presentation apps have been around for a long time, it is still very difficult for normal people to create good presentations. To create a good presentation you need to be a good copywriter, editor, graphic designer, painter and animator all at once. But unfortunately, most of us are not particularly good in any of these. So we end up with slides that have 20 bullet points, five colors, 8 point font with each character appearing in a pinwheel animation accompanied by a whoosh sound. “Death by PowerPoint” as it is affectionately called.
  13. Let me show you how deck is better.
  14. Here you can see the deck editor – you start off by outlining your key points and constructing your narrative arc.
  15. Now one of the big problems with presentation apps today is they encourage people to put a lot of text on their slides.
  16. Deck limits the number of words that you can use to make your point – forcing you to be pithy and concise.
  17. For each point, you can then add supporting points and graphics. Deck supports images, charts, tables and even animated smart art – everything that you expect in an enterprise-grade presentation app.
  18. The other big problem with presentation apps today is that people tend to waste an enormous amount of time debating design decisions that are potentially meaningless – which font to use, what color, what animation and in many cases, take rather poor decision choices.
  19. Deck solves this in the simplest manner possible – by completely eliminating all formatting options and reducing all design options to just “one single click”.
  20. The idea is that this lets you focus on your content and telling your story.
  21. Once you have actually crafted your story, you have a grand total of one design decision to make and that is to choose a presentation theme from our library.
  22. Each theme here is unique and crafted by professional designers – whichever theme you choose, you can rest assured that your story is supported with great graphics, animation and typography to help you deliver a stunning presentation and take you one step closer to a standing ovation.
  23. At any point of time, you can switch from one theme to another and your content will seamlessly slip in appropriately without requiring you to do anything manually.
  24. Now as you might have noticed, deck is a mobile app and is running here on my iPad.
  25. We conceptualized deck as a mobile-first app that would work on all major mobile platforms.
  26. As we all know, tablets and mobiles are becoming ubiquitous but today these devices are used primarily in the lean-back mode – for consuming content. As we go deeper into a Post-PC environment, we see a world where tablets will be used for in the lean-forward mode – both consuming as well as creating content.
  27. Market: According to a recent AdMob study, 1 out of 4 users already use their tablets as their primary computing device. These are the folks that we are targeting. It is not entirely coincidental that most of these type of people are those who care about their presentations because the quality of their presentation could determine the difference between success and failure in their work lives – for instance a sales person who is pitching to a customer on the go or a teacher who is teaching a class or an entrepreneur making an investor pitch.
  28.  The options available today for these platforms are primarily companies that have attempted to take existing desktop apps and shoehorning them to fit into a mobile form factor. But deck is different – we realize that tablets are not small PCs and that is why we believe that the PowerPoint of the post-PC era will look nothing like the PowerPoint of the PC era and has to be built from the ground up for this age.
  29. Business model: We follow a freemium business model – our apps are distributed through the app store at a low or no cost and we upsell premium themes and features that can be unlocked by paying a fee. We actually have had our apps in the marketplaces for a few months now – this was primarily intended to be an open beta where we could validate our customer hypothesis and take in feedback from early adopters. But much to our surprise, our apps have already been purchased tens of thousands of times. So much so, that we are now profitable. But I must confess that this is something that we neither planned for nor anticipated. At some point of time in the near future, we plan to add an inside sales team to sell to enterprises and forge bundling partnerships with Android OEMs to multiply our market reach.
  30. Team – So why do we believe that we know better than others? Well because we have learnt a great deal about the office productivity market the hard way. We started deck in July 2012 but prior to that for five years, I was the founder of another company where we developed an online office suite that attempted to do everything that Microsoft Office did but in the browser. While that attempt did not succeed in any significant way, we became experts in developing office productivity software and learnt a number of lessons from that experience that we are bringing to bear in deck.
  31. Deck makes creating beautiful presentations a cinch and a joy, whether you have design skills or not. We believe that deck will change the way the world shares ideas and tell stories and we look forward to your support.
  32. We welcome your questions.

qprize2014You can read more on the Deck part 1 here -

http://yourstory.com/2014/03/qprize-story-deck/

To read more on the QPrize and how to apply for QPrize 2014 Click Here

About the author

Sumanth Raghavendra is the founder of Deck App Technologies (www.deck.in), a Bangalore-based startup attempting to reimagine productivity software for the Post-PC era.

Disclaimer: This article is an advertorial.