Pitch advice for French Startups


Last Saturday Jason Calacanis stopped by Le Camping for the fifth edition of TWIST Paris. This edition was the first which he had attended in person, a trend we hope to continue in the future.
Alongside co-host Tyler Crowley, Jason was pitched by LifeShow, PrepMyFuture, and Pictarine – three great examples of French Startups. While I will probably be talking about these startups in the future as they do more and more great things, I wanted to talk a little bit about the advice that Jason offered to the three pitches. I think, in combination, they provide a good checklist for your pitch, whether it be one minute, 3 minutes, or 10 seconds:

Make it Personal

It’s no secret, people want to know that your startup means something to you. Did you work in the industry? Are you a disgruntled user? Was your mother killed by a competitor? Whatever it is, make it personal. When pitching a user case, make it about you. “I used to… and I always hated… I wondered why I couldn’t…. and so I decided to make ….” The good news here is that people identifying with your user case is proof of concept – the bad news is that if no one identifies with your story, it might be a bad idea. Either way, you learn.

Address the Four Trends

While I may not agree with this entirely, I understand the reasoning behind it when you’re pitching VCs for money. VCs have a mental checklist of key internet trends that they know money is being put into now. Whether your product is entirely social, or if it just has a twitter plug-in, throwing out how you address these trends is a good way to reassure a VC that you are aware of these trends, and that you’re not behind in the times. So say it with me “Social. Local. Mobile. Video. Social. Local. Mobile. Video”

Success to Projection ratio

Jason threw out a quick formula, which I think holds true pretty well: For every 5 ‘units’ of success you have achieved, you are allowed to give 1-2 ‘next step’ pieces in a pitch. That is to say, if you are Mark Zuckerberg, you can say “these are our next three steps,” and the audience will go “of course they are.” However, if you lack the track record, it is a little harder to tell a room full of VCs what your plan is without getting rolling eyes.

Add a “Killer Feature”

When pitching your product, you may have 10 features that really sum up your product, but you need to decide what the one killer feature. Whether it’s a feature that encompasses all the value of your product, or just the feature that is going to wow your users and the VCs, make sure you put one feature in front of the rest and say “This is what people will be talking about.”

Know what the “Take Away” is

Startup pitches come and go, and it’s difficult to remember every number, projection, graph and product. If you want to stick in someone’s head, make sure you know in advance what the message is that you want your listener to take away. Perhaps it’s your differentiation from your customers, perhaps it’s your killer business model, or perhaps it’s your solid growth metrics – whatever the case, mold your pitch around that idea coming across well.

Your best years are ahead of you

While this does not pertain to pitches, I thought this was an interesting point. As startups grow, they are (read: “should be”) constantly innovating, iterating, and adjusting their idea as they learn about their users. While year 2’s product may look completely different than the product you envisioned on day 1, Jason Calacanis says it’s not until year 3 or 4 that startups really come into their own. Startups need to be able to push through the terrible 2s and make it to age 3 and 4 if they want to really innovate in their space.
As more and more American angels and VC firms look to European startups for potential investments, it’ll be up to our startups to show off their value. The right idea with the wrong pitch can change everything, and while the advice above is by no means exhaustive, it’s certainly a good checklist of things to keep in mind.
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18 Responses

  1. ziad salloum

    I will share with you my story with pitching 🙂
    Once I was giving 10min presentation to BAs.At the end they looked impressed (this was clear on their faces). However there was a drawback they pointed to, which is the small number of users using my app. I agreed, saying part of the money is to get more users via different ways. When they asked about the destination of the other part I replied it will be for dev efforts which was us (the founders). In here they dismissed the case telling me you can’t ask for a salary from a BA !!
    While I understand the attitude of not wasting a penny, what I don’t understand is how two people can work, eat, pay their rents without any revenues…
    Founders are handicapped from the start by the fact that BA / VC do not value sweat equity, and at some point in time tehy must stop whatever they are doing to generate revenues (like day time job) in order to focus 100% on their startups.
    Any magic solution for that ?

    • Liam Boogar

      If you want a paycheck, I hear Orange is hiring.
      I would say pitch better. If what they didn’t like was what you said, and if what you said was not changeable, then the only remaining variable is how you delivered the answer to where the money was going.

  2. ziad salloum

    Let me put it in another way.
    We all know that startups take on the average 3 years to become profitable or to generate enough money to pay its expenses including salaries.
    How can anyone (not rich enough) be able to live 3 years without income?!
    Suppose the money was spend to hire more developers (increasing man power), how could the founders support themselves during those years ??
    So unless founders are still students, living with their parents (which is not available to everyone) I kind of see it very hard to make any real thing.
    Even though someone had worked for few years, in a high taxation system like in France it is almost impossible to have enough savings to make it.
    As a response to your sentence “the only remaining variable is how you delivered the answer to where the money was going.”
    There is not so much maneuver to make in this case. You tell the money will be used on developing more features, adding scalability etc etc..then you will be asked about the team who will do that you have no choice then to reply “the founders” ::):)

    • catwell

      Of course, the startup game is easier if you have lots of money. You can afford to spend a few years without income. But this can be dangerous too: without pressure you won’t try to generate revenue as hard.
      Now let’s forget rich heirs and go back to normal founders. If you need money, you have to earn money. It’s as simple as that (I said simple, not easy).
      The two most straightforward ways to do this I know are selling white-label software and consulting. If you’re a good developer, you could make at least 40k a month “full time” (40h/week). You need 20-30k, you should be able to find a way to make at least that and still work on your project, especially since you probably work way more than 40-hour weeks.
      TL;DR: if angels don’t work, bootstrap. Start with services, then move to products. Look at 37signals or Joshfire in France for examples.

    • ziad salloum

      “If you’re a good developer, you could make at least 40k a month “full time” (40h/week)”
      I think you are very optimistic in here 🙂
      I do not know if you live in France but to give you an idea. Being independent software engineer working in the finance field (which pays better than other ones) let’s you earn at TOP TOP MAX 500€ per day. You need to pay half of them as taxes. Which leaves you 5000€. Of course this is not bad, but does not give you the possibility to work 100% on your startup nor recruit someone to help you.

    • ziad salloum

      by 5000€ i meant per month (250€ * 20)

    • dan (@phrawzty)

      40k per month – as in Fourty Thousand Dollars per month? What the hell kind of one-man consulting company clears two million in net revenue annually? Christ, if I was doing that well, I wouldn’t even dream of leaving it behind to found a start-up. 😛

    • ziad salloum

      Totally agree 🙂
      But I believe @catwell meant some 4k per month or 40k per year.
      Otherwise you are right why the hell bother opening a startup :):)

    • catwell

      Oops. I meant 40k€ / year, not month (obviously).

    • catwell

      OK, let’s be more precise: 40k€ / year after taxes. That’s approximately the salary you would earn at a service company. As an independent I would say you’d make even more.
      I’m not trying to be precise anyway, it’s the idea that matters: you can earn a lot more than what you need to live.

    • catwell

      I’m tired. *Before* personal taxes. After company taxes. You get what I mean 🙂

    • catwell

      By the way Dan, even 40k / month is not 2 million / year net 🙂

  3. John Best (@redrookdigital)

    Its a fact that no Angel will want to hear that their investment is going to pay for your living expenses. I know it’s counter-intuitive, and that salaries are as “genuine” an outgoing as any other, but I think the general perception is that founder’s salaries are not something vital to growing the business (tell that to the starving founder living in his shelter made of overdue bills, right?) which is what you should be using the investment for. I wouldn’t advocate lying to the people you’re going to be working with, either.

  4. Pierre (@paduc)

    An entrepreneur is a bit like an artist: you have to learn how to live with almost nothing at the beginning. It’s pretty damn hard in Paris I agree (even ppl with decent salaries have a hard time). It’s also tough to say no to “safe”-job propositions. Being an entrepreneur is tough!
    I totally agree with catwell, you need the pressure to succeed. For living expenses, do some freelance. In my experience, a month of services allows me to survive ~3-4 months. (FYI I don’t live in Paris)

  5. Taylor

    studio rent / or room in paris 550-600 pm€ (
    transport: navigo 1/2 zones – 62€
    food – eat pasta 10€ week
    +smokes 150€
    +phone 50€
    + other 100€
    basic living expense -1042€ a month , or 260.50 pw
    you dont need to be a student living with your parents to survive, just cut out all the luxuries in your life 🙂

    • Liam Boogar

      Love it: “+smokes 150 euro… Cut out all the luxuris in your life”
      I’m not sure if you were suggesting that this a luxury to cut out, or if 150 euros of cigarettes a month is the bare essentials – either way, Hiliarious.

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