SXSW: Accelerator Judges Reveal Must-Follow Pitch Tips

We caught up with judges of this annual competition to find out what works and what doesn't.

learn more about Jacob Hall

By Jacob Hall


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Entrepreneur is on the ground for SXSW. Check back for highlights from the festival as well as insights on trends from a range of thought leaders and innovators.

Now in its seventh year, the SXSW Accelerator competition brings together companies and entrepreneurs from all over the world to pitch their products to industry experts.

Entrepreneur caught up with some of the judges to find out what works, and what doesn't so your next pitch goes off without a hitch.

Keep it simple.
Explain your vision succinctly. ISXSW producer Chris Valentine, who has overseen all seven consecutive Accelerator events, actually begs for pitches that are easier to comprehend. "I can't tell you how many times I hear a pitch that is so complex that I have to tell them to say it like they're talking to their 80-year old mom." hSoftTech VC partner Charles Hudson says effective pitches explain what the product does, who would buy it and why people should care. "If you can cover those things," he says, "I will want to know more and will ask additional questions to fill in the gaps."

Know the bigger picture.
To impress, show that you understand your product's wider implications. For instance, relaying an understanding of how your product will integrate with social media and generate demand shows you understand exactly how your company will find success once the two-minute pitch is over and reality sets in. Contestants are getting savvier about this, according Kleiner Perkins partner Mood Rowghani, so soon you'll need to establish this just to keep pace. "There's now a much better understanding of how things fit into an ecosystem," he says.

Find your hook.
A strong start that grabs attention quickly is key. Grabbing interest is essential to rising above the noise and making your vision memorable to judges. "With a two-minute pitch, you have about thirty seconds to grab my attention and make me want to listen," Hudson says.

Related: Talking Vegetables, Selfie Pods and More Insane Products From SXSW's Tradeshow Floor

Be prepared.
After multiple presentations you might think you've got your pitch down pat. But don't take anything for granted. "Oftentimes, you've got [presenters] who are too casual," Valentine says, "It comes across as cockiness." Those who fail to prepare seriously aren't ready for tough questions and waste their opportunity. These are the presenters who stumble out into the hall later in a daze.

Exude confidence
Nerves can undermine a strong product and scare away potential investors. Some of this year's Accelerator participants set off alarm bells for GGV Capital managing partner Hany Nada. "I saw a lot of pacing, a lot of nervousness," he says. "A lot of lack of breathing." Even if you have an exceptional product, every pitch is also about selling yourself and prove you are the best person to execute your idea. "As an investor, it's very uncomfortable to get behind somebody who is not confident," Nada says.

Related: Introducing Smart Textiles -- Designers Predict Wearables' Next Phase

Address your faults
Judges want to know that you know what could go wrong – and where you and your team falls short. "We always say that you should not only look at the hole in one, but know where the sand traps are," Rowghani says. Knowing what could go wrong allows you to showcase a keen understanding of your company and your market. "In a normal pitch, you want to make sure that [everyone] is mindful of the counter-thesis," he says.

Jacob Hall

Jacob Hall is a writer living and working in Austin, Texas. He writes about movies, books, games and technology.

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

The Dark Side of Pay Transparency — And What to Do If You Find Out You're Being Underpaid
Thinking of a Career Change? Here Are 4 Steps You Can Take to Get There.
A Founder Who Bootstrapped Her Jewelry Business With Just $1,000 Now Sees 7-Figure Revenue Because She Knew Something About Her Customers Nobody Else Did
Everything You Need to Know About Franchise Law
Growing a Business

Scaling Made Easy: How to Scale Your Business like a Fortune 500 Company

Once you have the night-vision skills of Fortune 500 restaurants, scaling becomes effortless. Here are 3 ways to scale, hidden in plain sight.

Business News

Report: Amazon, Jeff Bezos Eyeing Purchase of AMC Theaters

AMC operates 600 theaters across North America, Europe, and the Middle East.


Streaming TV Is the Future of Advertising — Without Breaking the Bank

Today's consumers expect personal, impactful ads. There's an advertising method that can get you there for half the price, making it the next frontier in digital advertising.

Business Ideas

55 Small Business Ideas To Start Right Now

To start one of these home-based businesses, you don't need a lot of funding -- just energy, passion and the drive to succeed.