David Beckett: exclusive interview for TechUkraine

Interview with European Top Pitch Coach David Becket, who has trained over 900 Startups to win over €225Million in investment, working with accelerators such as Startupbootcamp, ThinkAccelerate, MassChallenge and Rockstart. He’s also trained more than 14000 people at companies such as Booking.com, Tommy Hilfiger, ING, PwC, Google and IKEA in 27 countries.
22.11 David visited Kyiv for the first time and trained Ukrainian startup community by his own methodology The Pitch Canvas© within the event “How do you pitch to win investment”.

TechUkraine: In 1998 you relocated to Amsterdam, then you let your mind and feet wander during a nine-month trip around the world, in 2011 you published a book “Amsterdam…The Essence”, which pushed you to move forward and to change the vector of your professional life – became the world-known Pitch Coach. According to your rich personal experience, what are the key points of jumping into your own business and how did you find out your niche?

David: It has been quite a journey! And I think the first lesson I learned is how much I have to learn about everything. I worked at Canon for 16 years, and knew pretty much everything about the company. But in the last 10 years since leaving, I have learned how to film and edit movies, create a website, design brochures, create an online academy, train startups, give keynote talks,,, and so much more. This was only possible because I took the attitude – “I am changing my life, so I have to learn more.”

On top of this, I tried a lot of different things – and then focused on the one thing that had most value and which I was most passionate about, pitch coaching. Once that focus happened, there was a clear acceleration in the way customers responded to my work.

TechUkraine: You created a complete methodology for building a pitch, which called Open-3-Close©. What kind of unique techniques, tools do you use and why it’s really effective?

David: Many people find building a pitch or presentation very daunting and difficult. They start with PowerPoint and try to organize their thoughts in the software, which is almost impossible. We need to get thinking first,and get our story straight before we start to make the graphics/slides to support the story.

Open-3-Close© is all about getting clear who you are pitching to, and what your objective is with that pitch. Then you brainstorm the pitch using Post-Its, so that you can see the flow of your information and adjust the order of content very quickly and simply. After this, we need a strong opening, keep focused using the Power Of Three, and a well planned close with a clear Call To Action.

None of the individual parts of the Open-3-Close© model are rocket science, but when you put them together and do the work to follow the methodology, these steps are a really powerful way of getting you closer to the story you really want to tell.

TechUkraine: You coached corporates, professionals, and innovators in 27 countries. What’s the difference between teaching startups at accelerators and global giants like IKEA or Booking?

David: In one respect, there is very little difference. Everyone presenting ideas or products needs to communicate in no time at all, with clarity and simplicity – because nobody has more time, no-one wants things more complex. Everyone wants to hear a simple, short, easy story which gives them enough to make a decision about going further or not.

In another respect, things are quite different. Companies offer training and employees quite often are presenting internally – they have presentation training. The challenge I to help them go from 30 minute presentations to 3-minute pitches, which they find very challenging! But it’s all possible, Startups have less legacy, have usually had very little or no training, and are very keen to learn how to improve this skill.

I love doing both! Training a startup to pitch and raise investment can make a difference to the founders’ lives, and training a professional with years of experience to make a powerful pitch can massively increase their confidence and self-esteem.

TechUkraine: How do you feel when your clients raising investments (ed., total – over Є225million)?) Have you any measurement of readiness for a successful pitch? What are your KPI’s for that?

David: I’m absolutely delighted to read when clients of mine have raised money! Often I am training teams that have more purpose than just the product, and genuinely want to make a difference on social or environmental issues, and when they raise investment, I feel like I had a tiny influence on making things better in the world, in at least a very small way.

A measurement of readiness for funding? Having a clear problem to solve, and proof that people will pay for it; a balanced team that is connected and is genuinely committed to solving that problem; and people in the team who regularly engage with customers to find out the true strengths and weaknesses of the proposition are. On top of this, the CEO needs to be great at pitching!

KPI’s for this are limited. In the end investors often go ahead on a combination of numbers and intuition, and each one has their own numbers or criteria that matter most. But a team that builds, learns from customers and is committed is a great start.

TechUkraine: 5 minutes before a pitch. How do you recommend to get started with creating the message to get the action of the audience you need?

David: If there is no time at all to prepare – then simply get post-its and a flipchart, write down the problem you solve, the product you created to solve it, what’s unique about the product and the team who created it, and what you need to make it happen.

The opening of every pitch is critical – so practicing the first 20 seconds is important, sharing a big fact about the market, or something surprising, or telling them who you are, what you do and who is buying your product are great ways to begin.

TechUkraine: Who is your team? What’s your personal style of managing? How do you facilitate productive interactions across the company?

David: We have a very lean team! It’s me and Sheila Schenkel, with a third coach in the UK, called Sudha. I learned all kinds of skills over the years, and manage a lot of the marketing myself. Sheila and I both coach, and Sheila is also handling a lot of the customer interaction.  My style of managing has been the same since I first became a manager in 1997 – identify what people are doing right, and tell them; deal with problems as early and as honestly as possible, delivering bad news when that needs to happen; be clear on what the purpose of each role, and the whole company is; and set agreed goals with each person, so they can progress at their own speed. With such a small team, we use digital tools – Slack, Dropbox, Signal etc – to streamline communication and we have a very high standard of professionalism when communicating outside of the company. Internally, we are less formal and very quick. My goal is not to build a big company – it’s to have a big impact. Through our training we give entrepreneurs and professionals a voice, and this can result in them going on to raise money and resources, which empower them to create change in technology, environment and social issues.

TechUkraine: Have you ever visited Ukraine before? What’s your first impression of Kyiv and participants of the event, Ukrainian startups teams? As a person who closely works with the Dutch Tech ecosystem what could you recommend to empower for our global path? 

David: I have been to Ukraine twice before – to Odesa and Lviv! Those were for leisure, not business, and I loved both cities.  Now I have been to Kyiv and during the workshop we did together, I saw a lot of great pitches, with excellent English levels, and a lot of commitment to the task of pitching. I know Ukraine has a strong pool of tech talent and I am delighted that the Startups are turning that talent into local businesses that can take on the world. I saw at least four pitches of businesses I think have a chance of growing. Great work and commitment by everyone – it was a pleasure to be in Ukraine.  Lesson form the Dutch EcoSystem? I think the biggest one is to act as one unit, and build a brand and reputation as a group. That means combining as tech hubs and organisations (such as Lift99, TechUkraine etc), the government, investors and startups/scaleups themselves, and working as one unit. This works well at events like WebSummit, Slush, CES and other major moments in the year, because you build a collective image as a group, and people can talk about you – ‘The Ukrainian group was cool, great ideas there…’ etc. It also works well when attracting foreign investment, because investors see a cohesive plan within the country.

Special bonus for our readers by David Beckett: workshop materials of the winning pitch are here