In the past several years, I’ve participated in 13 business plan contests and have been fortunate enough to experience a fair bit of success. Going by that experience, here’s the good news. If you have an idea so good that its burns, business plan contests are the way to go. Yes, the money is not too much but, it sure is a confidence boosting mechanism. Based on my own experiences, I’d like to share a few thumb rules that you could adopt before you stand on that podium and hope to sweep the panel off their feet.
Thumb Rule 1: Keep it simple
Beauty, more often than not, is simple (okay, the Iron Man suit is an exception). Beautiful things are easy to grasp, read, understand or experience. If your deck has a bright red background and dark blue text, it is simply repelling. No, it’s torture. Make a 10-point presentation, allow only one person to present and keep the text to the minimum so that attention is focused only on you. Now, you have made a good first impression.
Watch out for the tell-tale signs: If a jury member checks his or her phone while you are presenting, you are out. This mean they have a low attention span and are looking for something different. Give them a shock and less time to absorb.
Thumb Rule 2: Team, team and TEAM
The panel doesn’t judge just the idea. They need to estimate the capability of the team to execute the idea. They wont magically make out that your Clark Kent is indeed Superman. Tell them. Don’t boast though. Just make your team credibility obvious and leave it at that.
Mentor muscle: If you are a team of two undergraduates saying that you are building the next big thing, the jury already thinks that you are day-dreaming. Crack this by putting in names of mentors with more experience in their respective industries than your life-span. That might bring the situation to hospitably equitable levels.
Thumb Rule 3: Numbers
Never go into too much detail on cash inflows, projections or target-markets. The jury doesn’t want to know how much you would spend on buying stationery or what is your NPV. Your focus should be the novelty of your idea and your ability to execute. Slides with numbers should be backed by a logical deduction which should be put forward only if asked. And they will ask you.
Steer clear of opportunity statements such as “The market size of the fashion industry in India is $1 billion. If we capture one per cent, we are millionaires.”
Thumb Rule 4: Flaws are good
You should portray your weaknesses. If you think you don’t have them, you are yet to identify them. Once you identify your weaknesses, project them. Talk about them. Juries often find it hard to believe a rosy picture. Show them some practical issues.
The thought process should be: Your idea addresses a huge problem. You can solve it. You have implemented the solution for a segment and have user metrics. Your financials look perfect. This is just not possible. The jury wants to pick a flaw. Give them that window. This is an opportunity to floor them.
Wrapping up here for now. There are many more thumb rules and variants that can be shared. It would be great if you could post some in the comments section.