Judging the judges

Business plan presentation or “pitching” is very popular in Hong Kong these days – either in the setting of trying to win a business competition or a chance to get into an incubation or accelerator program.  Whilst there are always gonna be areas of improvements for the startups, sometimes I do wonder – how about the judges of these competitions?  Can they do a better job?

These are some of my observations:

1. Many judges come from a traditional large corporate/organisation/government background.  Therefore the natural instinct when they evaluate pitches is to provide feedback/comments on areas that they have concerns.  That’s what management does in large corporates!  However, I believe one of the responsibilities for the judges is to provide more ‘positive’ feedback because ultimately the purpose of these events is to generate more interest in the larger public community (while giving very basic funding to the startups).  If these are real pitches, they won’t need judges, they only need investors who put money where their mouth is.

2. Both the presenters and the judges need to understand a 5 minute pitch/presentation is never a thorough presentation of a business plan.  Imagine the most successful businesses in the world (StarBucks, Coca Cola, Google, Apple), and their CEOs present their businesses in 5 minutes, most of the judges in these competitions will probably still provide feedback on why things won’t work!  Again I believe 5 minutes presentation or any similar arrangements are really there to generate excitement!!  So be intrigued, be excited and be ready to ask questions in a way that shows you are interested and supportive.  You don’t really need to ‘judge’ just because you are called the judge…

3. Some judges may not have the appreciation for some of the new phenomenon generated in the digital age.  For example, sharing economies or other ‘platform’ based businesses and how users in those communities interact with each other.  I do doubt if the judge has bought anything on TaoBao, or used Uber or AirBnB if the first question is “how would anyone trust these sort of systems”?

4. These are some questions I think judges should be asking more often: a/ how do you plan to reduce cost or design the pricing better b/ how do you plan to enhance the user experience c/ how do you plan to build the initial critical customer base (or simply what’s your growth ambition) d/ how do you plan to increase efficiency (product and internal operations)? e/ what does your market tell you about your product (market view is always way more important than the judges’ views) f/ how would I (the judge) pitch this myself

5. At the end of the day, I believe every business is worth something – yes some will be close to 0 – so instead of making comments on why it will or it will not work – shouldn’t the focus be on how much does it worth and how can it be improved upon so to increase its “valuation”?

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