The founders of Silofit reflect on their experience at TPG Sports SportsTank 2018 pitch event in New York City, and give advice to emerging startups looking to participate in next years competition.
At the start of our quest for seed funding, we kicked off the month of May with a big event. We were invited to TPG Sports’ SportsTank 2018 event in New York City, from April 30th to May 1st. This is the largest sports specific pitch event in the world, and there were many fantastic sports & fitness based startups attending, along with industry experts and venture capitalists. Out of 300 applicants, Silofit was one of the 30 selected to be featured in the NextGenArena, where 30 startups were displayed and presented to strategic investors. It was the perfect opportunity to start the month on the front foot.
It was an action-packed weekend. We drove overnight from Montreal to New York. Practiced the Silofit pitch deck 100 times and made 30 revisions. We met with investors for two days straight. Yet we left New York at 2 AM on Wednesday morning energized, because of the fantastic feedback and momentum we gathered at this great event.
I sat down with our three founders Wilfred, Adrien, and Johan, to speak about the experience and what Silofit learned from TPG’s SportsTank 2018.
First off, how was the drive down? Enough legroom with all the equipment you were lugging down to NYC?
Wilfred: Luckily I flew down, and had a quick flight. Economy class seems to be getting smaller every year and legroom is more of a luxury than anything else!
Johan: We had a really nice overnight road trip driving down to NYC, luckily Adrien has a nice comfy car and is a great driver.
Adrien: The car was fully packed, but yeah it was a smooth trip down. And we got to leave Montreal with a beautiful sunrise.
What did you think of NYC? Could you see yourself living there?
Wilfred: I could definitely see myself living there. There’s so much to do and just so much opportunity. The deal flow and capital available for startups is 10X vs Montreal. I think we have developed a great niche and come a long way in supporting startups north of the border, but most of the capital is still in NYC and SF. Also, the weather is slightly better vs Montreal.
Johan: I’ve visited NYC plenty of times, I definitely like the vibe and open-mindedness people there seem to have. I was actually very close to moving there once but went to Montreal instead. NYC is great to visit, and just a short flight away.
Adrien: I think I would only move to NYC for necessities, if we had to with Silofit for example. I really enjoy it when I come down for few days, but that’s it for me. I believe Montreal fits more with my lifestyle than NYC. Having the activities and variety of a big city but with the proximity of a smaller city. Montreal is the perfect in-between to me.
What went into the application to SportsTank? Did you know how important it would be to Silofit before applying?
Wilfred: We were referred to SportsTank through a friend and we actually only become aware of it the day before the deadline. It was a long shot but we only realized how important it was after the fact. We didn’t realize it would be such a big event, and also have such a large impact on our future success. We managed to get tons of feedback, we became closer as a team and we also managed to meet with several VC’s after the event.
What went into the Preparation for SportsTank? Was there anything you didn’t expect?
Wilfred: We had to prepare our pitch and material. SportsTank is rather unique because it's more a speed dating event so you’re pitching to 50 people one after another. We basically made sure that all our resources and handouts such as the one-pager, executive summary, and pitch deck all lined up and explained everything clearly. We also practiced our elevator pitch with each other 100 times.
Johan: Other than the pitch and deck, we prepared the one-pager, printed business cards and stickers, and a roll-up. It was difficult to foresee the size of the actual space that we were supposed to exhibit in, but once we got there it felt great!
Adrien: I had no idea what to expect. Thank god Wilfred was there to give us directions on what we had to bring and helped us prepare our pitch. We had to plan what we were going to bring, organize the logistics to bring everything down from Montreal, etc...
Let’s talk about pitching. First the slide deck. How many revisions did it go through?
Johan: The slide deck went through 18 revisions since its first creation. Also, the elevator pitch went through double the amount revisions. I think that anyone can create a lengthy pitch, but the challenging part is really distilling things down to a simple, clear message that your mom can understand - that’s what I call the “mom test”.
Johan, what helped you most in allowing you to revise the slide deck to be better each time? What do you think makes a great slide deck?
Johan: Research and feedback. I spent tons of time reading and listening to pitches online. Receiving feedback from the team, iterating my pitch, and then some more iteration. I also read a few really good blog posts that outline the flow and order a successful pitch deck should include. It’s like most design really, you have to boil the concept down to the bare minimum, to what’s just needed to communicate your message. It takes longer time than you think though. Some say the process of developing the pitch deck never really ends.
Then comes the pitch presentation. Wilfred, you really do have a great ability to pitch. Where did that come from? What makes a strong pitch to you?
Wilfred: Thanks, Marcus. I used to be a Commodities Trader which involves a lot of sales. I also switched over to sales at a few startups in Montreal. I think that any great CEO usually has some background in sales because you need to be able to sell yourself, the company, and vision. Most of my practice came from my work history but I have also done a lot of public speaking, especially going through the capital raising process for my first startup. I think that if you are astute you eventually learn to speak the same language as investors and can tell them what they want to hear or what they are looking for - Like the right KPI’s, traction, and metrics. The info you provide always depends on what stage you’re at in funding.
Johan & Adrien, for guys who say they had no experience in pitching, you guys really seemed to know your stuff at SportsTank in the NextGenArena! How did you push yourselves and develop your pitches?
Johan: We practiced in front of each other the night before the event, which was loads of fun actually! It's pretty much like role-playing, There’s no way around than practicing really. What I learned quickly was that I had to find my own way of pitching, since we all have different backgrounds and look at things through different lenses. The important thing to remember is to touch on certain key points whilst pitching, but also developing your own voice in your pitch to suit you, and the person you are talking to.
Adrien: After working on the project for a year, even if you never pitched before, you pretty much already know everything you need to say. Then, it was a matter of structuring the pitch, and that’s where Wilfred helped us a lot. There isn’t really any secret, just practice as much as possible, to each other, family members and friends. That is key. When we had to pitch for the first time it didn’t matter how prepared we thought we were, it was stressful. But with each pitch you grow more and more comfortable.
At the NextGenArena, what did you find to be the most effective strategy to capturing interest from investors, when there are so many floating around and 30 startups featured in the room?
Wilfred: Definitely location and advertising are important. You are assigned a small table in a room of 30 investors. You must, must, must, bring a banner or else there is a strong chance you won’t get noticed. Also, make sure to have material on your table - an empty table doesn’t capture much interest. Beyond that just smile, stand proud, and be inviting, but not pushy. No gimmicks necessary like free stress balls or pens, but a one-pager is always nice and make sure to have tons of business cards. Try to leave people with a lasting impression by seeming professional, inviting feedback, and genuinely curious. Your goal at these events should not be to ask for money. It should be to create interest.
Johan: It was fun trying different techniques for approaching people, humans tend to have have an idea of who a person is just by looking at them, I love challenging this and getting surprised! Remember to be yourself, approach people the same way that you yourself would like to be approached. Be interested, humble and an all-around nice person. It was fun trying out different “catch phrases” for “luring” people in.
What do you think Silofit displayed that set it above the competition at the NextGenArena? AND what do you think Silofit lacked compared to the other startups in the room?
Wilfred: I think Silofit displayed a unique value prop statement on its banner that captured the interest of many investors and visitors in the room. We also really knew our numbers and that helped us get meetings with a few VC’s later on. There were also three of us at the booth. I strongly suggest being 2. What we lacked perhaps was the fact that we were pre-revenue. Although we’ve had great traction so far with tons of interest and pre-bookings, the investors did like projects that already showed some revenue.
Johan: Banner for sure, I spoke to several people that just kept staring at the banner and told me that they wanted this service today! Crafting your message is so important. It’s like advertising, you have to try and catch the audience within the first second.
Adrien: An explicit, beautiful and GIANT banner, 100%. I think, we were a little bit too early stage compared to the other startups, we don’t have any revenue yet and from what I understood, it would have been hard for the panel to make an offer on stage with a startup as early stage as we are.
What was each member's biggest takeaway from the whole event & trip?
Wilfred: Fail hard and fail fast to learn as much as possible - at the end of the day investors and advisors want to see you testing things and learning. That really only happens if you think outside of the box and attempt different versions of your MVP (minimum viable product). I truly believe in the lean startup methodology. You can be running hard but standing in one place - you need to do more than come up with a good idea. You need to get money through the door and prove that people are willing to take their hard earned money and buy your product or service. I view a startup as just a series of tests trying to prove a hypothesis. You need to do that in a scientific method to learn and keep progressing.
Johan: That traction means different things to different people, and investors often think of it as revenue. If you can prove just a small seed of revenue people are gonna be interested. You never know when or where your breakthroughs are gonna happen, hence you have to take all opportunities that come your way. If you don't’, you’ll never know what you might have missed out on...
Adrien: Don’t let rejection or negative opinions bring you down. Even when you think a meeting went bad, try to turn negatives into positives.
If you could give advice to an early stage startup about to hit the road for its first-ever pitch event, what would you say?
Wilfred: Practice as much as possible with different groups of people so that you are exposed to different questions. That way you can tackle all of them when the time comes. You could sit at home trying to think of all the different possible angles, but really you should stand on other people shoulders, let them do some thinking, and learn from them. Pick up the phone, go for coffee, do whatever it takes to learn your market, numbers and, value proposition.
Johan: Pitch to everyone you meet! You have to live and breath your business, learn to take on different roles, but also realize that you might not be able to answer every question and that’s OK, that’s why you have a well-diversified team.
Adrien: Be as prepared as you can. Practice as much as you can. Don’t be afraid to change your plan once you get there, you don’t know what kind of opportunity is going to come your way.
Adrien, what keeps you awake on the road back home at 2 AM after an action-packed weekend of pitches & meetings?
Adrien: First of all, it takes a great playlist. Dr Dre and Tupac definitely helped me keep the wheels moving on the way back to Montreal. After all the meetings we had there, we left with a ton of really exciting ideas for the future of Silofit, so just brainstorming those ideas and the excitement for what was to come really helped me stay awake.