Interview: What Leadfeeder learned from the pitch competition at Slush

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With 15,000 attendees, 1,700 startups, 800 venture capital investors and more than 600 journalists Slush has clearly become one of the most important tech and startup events in Europe.

One of the highlights in 2015 was definitely the Slush 100 pitching competition. According to the event organizers, there were almost 1,000 applicants. A jury of investors and the board of Slush selected the final 100 for the competition. This year’s winner was CareMonkey from Australia (€ 650,000 prize money).

The Helsinki-based startup Leadfeeder was among the top 20. We talked with three members from the team to understand how the pitching process at Slush ran and what they learned. An interview with Herkko Kiljunen, Peter Seenan and Jaakko Paalanen:

When was Leadfeeder founded? Who are the founders? How big is the team now?

Herkko Kiljunen: Leadfeeder was founded in 2012. The company was founded by three guys Pekka Koskinen, Vincent LIongo, Herkko Kiljunen. Pekka Koskinen is the CEO. The first person he hired was Peter Seenan who started to work with customers and content. Jaakko joined Leadfeeder in the beginning of September 2015 and is responsible of general business development and channel sales strategy. In total, there are 7 people in the company now. Some of them are growth hackers and some of them are software engineers. The team is multinational from the beginning and currently Leedfeader can support its clients in four languages. Biggest strength is that every person is highly skilled in their area of focus but they have the skill-set to contribute to other areas as well.

What do you want to achieve within the next 3 years?

Herkko Kiljunen: We want to become the global market leader in web analytics for sales. There is currently no market leader in this space so the time is right for us. We want to make sales more intelligent. We need to hire a lot of talented people to achieve this and we will need funding to grow quickly. From the technical side of thing we need definately more integrations: CRMs, email marketing tools, investment in improving data quality providing support even more different languages.

What was the goal for Leadfeeder to participate in the pitching competition at slush/pitching comps in general?

Herkko Kiljunen: Thinking about what we’re pitching helps us to focus our business and understand more about what we’ve achieved and where we’re heading. It forces us to have an investor deck ready and this is something which helps to unify the team. It’s important that the whole team knows how to pitch the scalability of Leadfeeder. Introducing our service publicly is very useful for us and getting in front of the right people and showcasing our product is really important.

How was the pitching competition connected with Startup Sauna accelerator pitching. Was it part of the Slush 100 competition?

Peter Seenan: Startup Sauna pitching focus was useful because it underlined the difference between being able to present your idea and being able to pitch your strategy for growing a business. Testing new ideas, tone of voice, content, stories to an audience of startup entrepreneurs was very valuable, and so too was analysing people’s uninhibited and genuine reactions. Pitching is like many other things in life: you should know whom you’re talking to so you can push the right buttons and then simply be yourself. That normally plays out pretty well in most situations. What was all the pitching at Startup Sauna: I had to pitch Leadfeeder in a local round to be participant in Slush competition.

Do you have any practical tips on how to prepare a pitch competition?

Peter Seenan: I’ve done a lot of public speaking before but pitching like this takes practice to get it right. The greatest challenge is the clock and not rushing what you have to say. It’s important to have the confidence to feel like the stage is yours and not hide away in the shadows. I practiced in the front of the mirror (an old trick) and while playing sport because it forced me to cut down the fluff and focus on the nuts and bolts. I also pitched to people from different fields, backgrounds, genders, career stages etc, because there is no such thing as a homogenous audience. When you know you’re in charge of the clock and you own the stage you can enjoy the experience of pitching and focus on letting your body and face relax and speak to the audience. If you’re as stiff as a board, itching to get off stage or fake with your smiles it will come over. It’s also important to remember that as an audience we identify with people who seem to be like us, so a little slip here or there won’t do any harm; in fact it will enhance people’s opinion of you and that’s backed by peer-reviewed research. Remember to pause on certain phrases and emphasise key words and if you want to put yourself in a bit of control imagine how the audience would look naked, like in the sauna. That’s a good leveller if ever there was one.

What advice would you give for others who want to participate next year?

Peter Seenan: Unless you have a disaster on stage or you’re mind-alteringly wonderful then most of the people won’t remember your pitch the next day or even the next hour. However, if you’ve done a good enough job they will remember your product and that’s the most important thing. Once you come off stage you probably won’t remember how your pitch went so make sure someone films it. That’s also something worth remembering when you’re practicing: it’s good to have someone film so you can review your performance and give you a second opinion. Make the pitch something you’re comfortable and don’t be too pedantic about the precise words and phrases you use in your pitch. It’s not the semantics but the message and emotion that is important. People don’t remember how you phrased something; they remember a feeling and react emotionally not logically.

I saw your pitch. It was very confident and clear. How did you personally practice for Slush pitching competition? 

Jaakko Paalanen: Before Slush we went through the pitch many times back at our offices where I presented it to our team various times and developed it to fit my style of presenting. It was an on-going process where I was able to create the pitch to include everything that is necessary and then spice it up with a clear way of presenting. I practiced at home by myself and to some of my friends. Peter gave me insights from what he had learned in Startup Sauna and Pekka as an investor himself checked that the pitch doesn’t have any information holes for the investors judging it.

What is the most difficult / challanging part of the pitching, what did you enjoy about it?

Jaakko Paalanen: For me it was the ability to relax before the pitch and I managed to do that. There were lot of nervous pitchers around at the backstage which started to make me a bit worried at first. Then again I have background in competitive sports and used that feeling the same way before a competition. I thought it as a sport competition, and for me the bigger the crowd the better. I enjoy giving speeches to people when I can really genuinely be enthusiastic of what I’m speaking of. After the pitch it was nice to see people recognising me when I walked around the area with my Leadfeeder shirt, so the pitch definitely made a good impression.

What did you learn from this pitching. Is there something you would do differently?

Jaakko Paalanen: I learned the old saying, that if you just prepare well then you can take it really easy when it’s time to step up on stage and start pitching. What I would do different is to spice up the pitch even more. It’s always good to get people to laugh but when you do that, it should be natural and fit the story well. One key thing is to make the problem you are solving into a story-mode when you present. The audience can then easily follow what kind of problem is this and for who, giving them a better perspective than just telling the problem.

What advice you would give for others who want to participate in 2016?

Jaakko Paalanen: Practice, practice, practice. It makes you confident. Present to your friends, team and to unknown people. Check how much time it takes to do the pitch. For example my first round limit was 3 minutes and semi final it was 5. So 3 minutes is tight, but you can make it very informative with the right structure. In 5 minutes you can “storify” the pitch even more and don’t have to worry about the clock that much. Also my advice is to take part to smaller pitching events where you can grow your confidence and perfect the pitch time after time before the big event. Again, be confident, you know your on stuff so don’t worry, just enjoy your time in the spotlight.