Pitching, selling, storytelling, whatever you want to call it, communicating your vision and business is vital to building a great company no matter what the type or stage (think hiring, fundraising, literally meeting anyone new). For hardware companies, this list is longer and storytelling takes more forms. Crowdfunding videos are a great example of the importance of communicating the story well. Point of purchase (POP) displays are another. Even the packaging of your smart thing is a form of storytelling for hardware companies.
When crafting your story in whatever form it may be, it can be easy to get lost in the details and overwhelm your audience. Too much detail and complex explanations can be lethal to keeping your audience’s attention and achieving your goals. To avoid getting stuck in the weeds remember the purpose of why you will be onstage/on the call/in the meeting/sharing, and keep going back to this throughout the work. Most often, this can be boiled down to three goals:
With these goals in mind, it’s time to start building the storytelling material. There are a lot of great resources out there on how to construct and hone your pitch. We’ve listed some of our favorites below. To build on these existing resources, we’re going to focus on three key areas where we see many hardware founders falling flat.
Just like a first impression when you meet someone new, the first slide in a pitch deck will impact the audience’s lasting opinion of your startup. Yet many founders waste this great opportunity to kickstart their story.
At a minimum, the first slide should include your startup’s name and logo, be visually appealing and convey your company’s brand. Sounds easy but so many startups neglect the design aspect of this slide, bogging it down with too much text or stale visuals. Design carries a lot of weight in instilling confidence in your ability to build a great product, grow a brand and a company. Core stuff here. In other words, design is really, really important and should be applied consistently through every part of your business. But back to the first slide…
Get your designer geared up. Even if you don’t have an in-house Milton Glaser for slides or a friend to help, there are a bunch of free/cheap tools out there to help — Canva, Unsplash and even Google Slides now has a design function. Or use sites like Fiverr bring in pinch hitter designer.
Once you have a good looking first slide, level up and include a short tagline and powerful visual that includes your product. This serves a few purposes: it informs the audience that you are building a hardware product, gives you a chance to show off the design, and depending on the product, it introduces what you’re building.
2. Problem: Don’t be a gadget
The Problem Slide is a big deal for any pitch. As Dave McClure says: your solution is not my problem. The point here is to make the audience care and agree that this problem is a really big deal! Winning slides often explain what the problem is in an obvious way, who has it and why current solutions are not cutting it. Stories work well here. Another pro tip: tie the visual you use on the Hello World slide to the story you introduce with the problem.
For many hardware companies, the Problem Slide is particularly important to combat the “just a gadget” shrug off. In these early days of IoT, hardware startups’ problem slides often seem trivial: this thing is not connected to the Internet so why not connect it?!
I recently had this very conversation with a software-only founder about our portfolio company, Kello, a connected sleep device in the form factor of an alarm clock. His first thought was it already exists: the alarm on your smartphone and other apps and programs to help you sleep better. This is the classic build a painkiller-not-a-vitamin response, or getting the gadget label: it’s a nice to have but you should really focus on solving an immediate pain. In this case seemingly it’s just the need to get up on time.
In this instance, the response from the software founder was because I didn’t do the following.
3. Solution: Smarter than smart
Time to let your technology shine! This is about how you use tech to address the problem and where you start building your case for why the best solution is connected hardware. Be sure to anticipate these kinds of questions from investors:
“Why should I buy and use your connected device when I already have an app or a functional, non-connected solution?”
“What’s the value that pushes your solution over the line?”
Wearing my investor hat, this gain needs to be clear and big enough to combat the fact that hardware has higher startup costs, greater complexity and tougher distribution.
As we know, “simple can be harder than complex.” It’s very likely that whittling down your ideas and product into simple slides and explanations will take time and hard work. But it will be worth it to achieve the core goals to be clear, be memorable and inspire action.
Finally, here are just a few other great resources on how to communicate your startup.
And of course, looking forward to seeing your hardware pitch deck!
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