Q&A with John Aguilar on Pitching Your Business

John Aguilar is a serial entrepreneur and the founder and host of the business reality TV show The Final Pitch.  He was a winner of the 2nd Mansmith Innovation Awards in the business model category. His new book “The Art and Science of the Pitch” cites valuable lessons, tips and techniques he picked up from years of producing and hosting the reality pitching show, and from interviewing experts from across the globe.  He shares more of these insights in this interview. 

Q1: In your years of producing “The Final Pitch”, what have you found that makes a pitch most compelling to investors?

A1: The most compelling pitches come from people who are out to solve a problem that they themselves are intimately involved in and want to solve. This usually comes from a close association with their “why” or perhaps a pain point they themselves want to alleviate and where they see an opportunity. I’d be lying if I said showmanship did not play a factor because the messenger sometimes has as much to do with the success of a pitch as the message. Sincerity and commitment, however, always trumps showmanship. At the end of the day, a successful pitch presents a problem that the entrepreneur is in the best position to solve, with the entrepreneur having done the work and with a minimum viable product to show for, with a solid team that has shown a solid track record in the domain or related field they are solving the problem in. The best investors know how to see beyond the charisma and the fluff, and dig deep into the ability of the entrepreneurs to deliver on their promise or potential. Some of the most successful pitches I’ve seen have come from entrepreneurs who have spent a considerable amount of time, resources, and effort to gain deep knowledge and expertise in the industry they are trying to affect change in. They have engaged their market, and in some cases probably have tried offering a related product or service that has given them the level of insight and knowledge to now come up with their current offering. The worst pitches are the ones that just present a theory or thesis with little research, work, and engagement done in the industry. 

Q2: Some entrepreneurs I know are very unassuming but have deep knowledge and high success rates in their businesses; but they fear public speaking. How are you able to draw out the passion and see beyond personalities? 

A2: Some people who fear public speaking or getting in front of an audience tend to look at themselves as separate from the message they want or need to impart. The fear may come from thinking that others would judge them, that they are not knowledgeable enough, that they cannot add substantial value to the conversation.  My advice would be to not be so focused on yourself but instead be focused on how you can best serve you’re audience-what they need, and how what you know can add value. Making it about you keeps you guarded and self-conscious whereas making it about others allows you to focus on the message instead and will take the pressure away from you wanting to look good and making a good impression. If at the end of the day your focus is on how to best serve your audience, the anxiety is replaced by the desire for others to do well as a result of what you share. Another way to draw out passion is to find your unique voice that makes you who you are unlike anyone else. 

Q3: How do you handle the so-called “endowment effect” where owners tend to think the value of what they have is much much more than the fair value?

A3: It always helps to put yourself in the shoes of the buyer or client you are pitching to. At the end of the day, the buyer/client/audience is always looking at what you have and asking the question, “Why should I care?” Oftentimes we are so enamored with what we’ve built that we don’t ask ourselves the question that will make them not just believe in but embrace what you have.  But rather than argue what “fair value” is, I would much rather venture the idea of how to build a product that is uniquely positioned not just to solve a problem well, but to create a totally new product or category altogether. If that is the case, the conversation then shifts from fair value to, “How can I have it?” Steve Jobs was a master at this, and I think sometimes we need people like that who can push the value of things beyond anything that came before it, perceived or otherwise. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Q4: What kind of businesses may not benefit from being pitched to outside investors? 

A4: Businesses that are not ready for transparency and a degree of openness to advice should not even consider outside investment. Getting outside resources and inviting people to be part of your cap table necessitates opening your books and being above board with your business dealings and plans. Ideally the investors you will be bringing in are providing “smart money,” possibly market insight, access to customers and networks, and other resources that can help you grow. If the above are not considerations for you, you would be better off perhaps taking out a loan which can come off cheaper as you retain your stake in your company. If the investment is not strategic, investor money is the most expensive as you lose a degree of autonomy and ownership in your company.

Q5: After a successful pitch, what are the common obstacles or problems faced by entrepreneurs that stall the investment or prevent the business from growing?  What should investors be on the look out for to anticipate this or to guide the entrepreneurs in avoiding this?

A5: For the entrepreneur, be clear with what you want and what you are asking for. Be specific on the exact amount of investment you are seeking and/or form of support, and for what percentage of equity in your company you are willing to give up for it. You should be clear with your usage of the funds, and all preliminary due diligence documents and information needed to be presented should be in a data room to make due diligence seamless for both parties. Assuming you’ve ironed everything out and the term sheet is signed, make sure that the next steps are clear and that there is a clear timeline of agreed milestones and deliverables from both parties. Investors should also be prepared that the entrepreneurs may not be in synch with the investor’s own processes and corporate culture, and must exercise restraint to not make this a sticking point. Both parties can learn from each other if they both know and recognize where the other is coming from. They can equally learn a lot from each other and should be open to considering different points of view and ways of doing things.

Q6: You won in the business model innovation category during the 2nd Mansmith Innovation Awards. Please share what makes the business model of “The Final Pitch” different from similar popular shows abroad? Are you planning to change your business model soon?

A6: The show closest to The Final Pitch is the highly successful business reality show Shark Tank in the U.S., where a cast of judges invest in startups who pitch to them. In those shows, the producers of the shows pay the judges to be part of the cast, and the judges then use their own money and resources to invest in the entrepreneurs who pitch to them. In our show, instead of us paying the judges, we flipped the model and have the judges pay us a seat fee- essentially making them co-producers of the show. We call ourselves a SAAS company, but instead of “software as a service,” we are a “show as a service,” with our primary clients being the judges and other companies who collaborate with us. Why would the judges pay us? Through The Final Pitch we are able to provide a funnel of the best startups to our investor-judges. These startups, by virtue of pitching on the show and getting an investment, are getting a head start in the public consciousness and in many instances, are able to get additional funding and partnerships outside of the show because of their exposure on The Final Pitch. So any investment our judges make on the entrepreneurs is like putting gasoline on the fire because of this multiplier effect.  Our show is also unique because we give our judges a platform to communicate to the public what they’re all about. Apart from the pitching component of the show, we also feature the businesses and personal brands of the judges through dedicated “investor episodes,” allowing them to be seen by the viewers who then learn from their stories of success. It is a great way to position their personal brands and thought leadership, and in some cases, their legacy and what they’ve built and will pass on to the next generation. Ultimately the audience of the show learn from the pitches of the entrepreneurs and our judges’ stories of success, and are inspired to take on entrepreneurship themselves. We are intent on bringing this business model across the globe beginning with The Final Pitch ASEAN  to be filmed in Singapore by next year, where apart from the Philippines, we will involve Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam. We will make The Final Pitch a global show proudly created by Filipinos, for the global audience.

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Josiah Go is Chair and Chief Innovation Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc. and Co-Founder of the Mansmith Innovation Awards.

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