After our qualifying rounds back in March 2018, we were selected into the Top100 for Echelon Asia Summit 2018 out of 17 countries in the Asia Pacific region. At the Top100 fight club, we had the opportunity to pitch to judges and investors and were competing in the Travel and Lifestyle category. With our team’s speaker, Chee Yim, pitching her heart out on the stage, we were chosen as the top 10 finalist for Echelon 2018. During the 2 day event at Singapore Expo Hall 7, we were given a booth to promote our ideas to different groups of people, and listen to different feedbacks to our business solutions.
In the remainder of this article, we would like to share our journey to the top 10 finalist for Echelon 2018. We hope to encourage more entrepreneurs to persevere on this tough, but exciting journey. If you would like to skip this section, head on over to our 6 learnings we had in this journey.
Leading up to the event
With little time remaining to the event, we had to ensure that we were all ready not just for the pitch, but also to continue validating and refining our business solutions, and to market our services.
- Our pitch deck was re-designed to make it look more polished, and also our slides were refined to emphasise on how each of our solutions points to solving the current rental problems. Going through with the team, different ideas were formed to allow for a greater impact for our audience during the pitch.
- Chee Yim had to practice her pitch countless of times to get the pitch within the 3 minutes mark that is set by Echelon.
- We got more traction by securing a partnership with Grand Global to promote Grand Medini for vacation stay. At the same time, we are in discussion about partnership with Marimo (Japanese developer).
- IdealHub platform was launched after the approval from the payment providers.
It was great effort from everyone in the team to get all those things done before the Echelon event. One day prior to the event, we were setting up our booth, and also looking at all the booths of the startups. There were certainly a lot of interesting startups like RunCloud, HungryHub, TourPlus, TreeDots, Teafolks, etc.
We got to the expo hall as early as 8.30am with excited hearts to meet people and to present our ideas. It was not before long where everyone’s booth was bustling with many people.
We met many different groups of people from house owners to business owners to VCs. Interestingly, we got caught slightly off-guard when a series-B VC approached us and asked very direct questions. He allowed us to answer each question with short answers before he would cut us off and go onto the next question. The entire talk was just slightly over a minute. It was definitely a refreshing approach that we encountered, and allowed us to think through how we could present our business key essence in a very short amount of time.
The time came when it was our turn to pitch. Chee Yim, though nervous, did an excellent job without missing a beat in getting our idea to the audience within the 3 minutes. Her efforts in practising finally paid off.
We could only know wait for the results that will be announced to us the next morning.
Morning came, and we were so thrilled when we received the email informing us that we got into the top 10 as finalists. The other finalists were Bookmebus, Energolabs, Hungryhub, Kargo Myanmar, LeckerLabs, Runcloud, Treedots, Vitaboost, and Webtotem. While we were joyous about this achievement, we had to prepare for the pitch for the top 10 that included a Q&A session with the judges. We brainstormed on questions that judges may ask on top of what we already know. Back at our booths, we had even more investors, VCs and journalists compared to day 1 that visited our booth to find out about our business ideas. Soon, it came to the Fight Club (pitching) for the top 10, and Chee Yim once again delivered the pitch without fail. She calmly answered all the questions that the judges threw at her, even those tough ones. We as her team members are so proud of her.
Finally, announcements were made for the winner of each category. Unfortunately, we did not win under the category Travel and Lifestyle. After which, the winner of Echelon 2018 was announced, and it went to TreeDot. Congratulations to them. Even though we were disappointed that we did not win it, we were extremely grateful for the exposure that we had in this events and the friends we had made. It was the first time we entered such an event, and are thankful that we made it to the top 10 on our first try. From here on, we will continue to persevere to fulfil our vision of simplifying rentals in South East Asia.
Our learnings in this journey thus far
These are our learnings that we have through this exciting journey that we would like to share with you.
#1 Take every opportunity to share your business ideas
Often we do not share our business ideas as much as we are afraid of rejection or that someone else may copy the ideas. However, if it was really that easy to copy an idea, it most probably meant that you need to go back to your drawing board.
Sharing to as many people as possible allows you to validate your idea, and also to be able to capture issues in your solutions that you may not have noticed before. As you continue to share and test your idea, along the way, you might even meet someone who is willing to invest in your idea. Hence, take every opportunity to share your idea to as many people as you can.
#2 Continuously refine your pitch
As you share your ideas with or without your pitch deck, you would soon realise that there may be some common questions being asked. It may mean that your audience does not understand certain points you are trying to make or you may even be missing out those points. Clarify with the person you are pitching to, and refine your pitch. Test again with your family or friends to see if the changes make a difference.
You would continually refine it till you find a sweet spot where your audience clearly understands the problem you are trying to solve, your solutions that can solve the solution, your target market, your revenue model that allows your business to survive and grow and your team’s capability to execute the ideas.
At Echelon, the judging criteria are based on 5 areas which you can use as a starting point:
- Problem and Solution – Product design, technical finesse and creativity of the solution, and problem solution fit
- Market – Size of the market, market opportunity and fit
- Revenue Model – Creativity, feasibility and scalability of revenue model
- Team – Ability to execute, potential, pass success, the X-factor.
- Pitch – Clarity of presentation, creativity of presentation, ability to answer questions effectively.
#3 Practice, practice, practice
We cannot emphasise how important it is to practice your pitch. It is very clear to judges or even the person you are pitching to whether you are able to articulate your pitch well enough. Someone who has practiced enough would be able to pitch with a seamless flow (this would also do with refining of your pitch), be comfortable with the audience and not have a sudden rush when the timer shows the last 30 seconds during a timed pitch.
Practising will give you clarity on what you want to present, and allows you to make a compelling pitch to your target audience. This can make or break your opportunity to get into the finals during events such as Echelon or getting your investment from a potential investor.
#4 Have an elevator pitch ready
Not every investor will want to listen to your entire business pitch. They just want to get the key essence of what you do and determine if your company is a potential investment. If it is of interest to them, they will then get you to send your pitch deck to them for further discussions. During the echelon event, we encountered on 2 occasions where both VCs (one was a series-A and another was a series-B investor) had a very short time and only gave us about a minute plus or so. We managed to pulled it off and they had requested us to send our pitch deck to them.
A good way for you to practise this is at networking events. When someone asks you what do you do, take the opportunity to practise your elevator pitch.
#5 Strike while the iron is hot
At one of the FireSide chat with VCs during Echelon, a question posed to the VCs was “What would put you off as an investor?” One of the answers that was agreed by the VCs was the communication time between the VC and the startup that is pitching to them. If a startup takes 2-4 weeks to get back to them, they take it as the startup is not interested in pursuing with them and would be totally put off by this.
Learning from the above, we immediately sent out our pitch decks to the investors that had asked us to drop them our pitch decks right after the Echelon event. We also sent our decks to investors who left their name cards with us. What that got us was phone calls with the VCs and from there on, it was doors of opportunities opened up to us. However, that does not mean you stop there. You would need to continue to make progress and update these progress back to these VCs who would potentially invest in your company.
#6 The friends you make today maybe your future partners
Do not just be stuck in your comfort zone, go out there and talk to people. Make friends.
During this event, we got to know a lot of people from the different startups. In fact, when we got back to Malaysia, we are actually talking to some of them about how we could enter into partnership that would benefit both parties.
As a startup, you would definitely need all the help you can get. Working with startups that you meet may be complimentary to your business and serve to benefit both sides.
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