Guest post by Brian Odhiambo.
I recently attended Pitch Night hosted by Kukula Capital and co-sponsored by BongoHive. This was part of the Mobile Monday series of events that see Lusaka’s best and brightest entrepreneurs gather together to listen to and discuss the best means to contribute to Africa’s fast-growing startup community.
I was intrigued by the four ideas;LuseMarketData, Study Mate, BrainCliQ and Yanga and left pretty optimistic about the startup scene in Zambia. Briefly, LuseMarketData is a platform providing real-time and historical data and analysis on the Lusaka Stock Exchange. Study Mate aims to provide digitized school revision materials via netbooks and tablets to those who cannot access them. BrainCliQ is a social networking platform that aims to connect individuals based solely on their academics and to bring academic and intellectual discourse online. (and) Finally, Yanga is an e-commerce site that allows individuals to buy or sell items using and integrated SMS system that leapfrogs the need for credit cards that are largely not in use in the Zambian market. My descriptions obviously do not do justice to what were quite excellent presentations but my goal really is to highlight my observations and lessons, which are largely anecdotal since this was the first Pitch Night hosted by BongoHive and similarly the first one I’ve attended in Zambia.
I’ll preface that by admitting my slight bias having been to several other pitch events in East Africa and abroad. Several things stood out to me:
The presenters were largely passionate about their ideas with an audience member awarding BrainCliQ a hypothetical investment of 100million Kwacha simply for the presenter’s gusto. It goes without saying that a good pitch must demonstrate passion and care for the idea. Why are you doing what you are doing and how long are you willing to do it? What have you sacrificed to get the idea off the ground? Evidence of personal investments and demonstration of sacrifices that the founders have made to make the idea work will help to sell the idea.
Although the first presenter, LuseMarketData, had what I thought was a clean deck, the following presenters could have done a bit more with their slides. A clean deck is important especially in a case where one has only 3-5 minutes to make their case. Clutter, mixed fonts and font sizes, disproportionate pictures and uncreative templates generally make for disappointing presentations. If you have a good story to tell but a terrible handwriting then no one will read your story. I find that a simple Google search yields various sites that can provide elaborate guidelines on how to prepare a solid deck. Additionally, if you are developing a Web 2.0 application, it is expected that you will demonstrate the site or at least have a prototype. This is particularly the case when during your pitch; you claim to have met several milestones with your startup. All talk and no show is as good as a no-show. No one will remember.
Presenters at the event did not demonstrate clear evidence of having done research on various levels but primarily their markets and competition…two key components of any business plan and thus any pitch. The business plans often fell apart here since only assumptions and hypothesis about the market were made. That’s not how a business should operate. There are various layers to research such as: understanding who your target customers are, what their purchasing power is, where they are, who your competition is and what your value add is to the space. If your idea is remotely related to an existing one that is well established in the market then you need to have a clear execution strategy that is fast and a solid capital base or fundraising strategy to be able to scale quickly before the competition comes and takes over. This is the case for all the presenters each of whom has significant competition in the various areas particularly from companies abroad. The take-away, do research beforehand and demonstrate that knowledge in your pitch. The argument that ‘this is made for the Zambian market’ will hold for only so long. The world is increasingly becoming a village and international products are being consumed locally. Startups should act locally but think globally as well.
I barely heard any of the presentations say anything about how much they would need to execute their ideas and when I did hear it, it was largely inaccurate and not well thought out. Understanding the economics of your business is vital if anyone is going to take you seriously. Typically, investors are interested in the nice stories and models but ultimately the questions are: how much do you need? What for? How much will you make in revenue annually? How much should I expect to get back and when? While watching the presentations I couldn’t help but reflect on my conversation with Lukonga, one of BongoHive’s co-founders on the importance of having ‘fundable’ ideas. From what I saw, the ideas presented could’ve been fundable but there was some fine-tuning required in understanding what the costs of the businesses were, where the revenue would come from and how this revenue was scalable.
Overall, props to BongoHive and Kukula Capital for hosting this exciting event and good luck to the various startups that presented. Zambia is a quickly growing economy with a lot of gaps in the market that will need to be filled with great solutions. The season is ripe for the Zambian entrepreneur.
Brian Odhiambo graduated from Yale University in May 2012 with a double major in Political Science and African Studies. In Tanzania Brian helped develop two microfinance start-ups: Investours and Maisha Finance. After graduating from Yale, Brian helped start Sabunta, the largest e-commerce fashion store in Nigeria, and three months later was part of a team setting up Jumia Nigeria, which looks to become the Amazon.com of Africa. He is currently living in Zambia where he started Zamsolar and Zamfood along with two of his business partners.