Why Ditching the Start-Up Pitch Is Good for Innovation

Opinion by Masimba Biriwasha, March 21, 2017

The start-up pitch, which involves making a rapid fire presentation of an idea followed by a question and answer session involving selected judges, is increasingly a waste of time and non-efficient in propagating the tech start up ecosystem in Zimbabwe.

The start-up pitch is based on the traditional business planning methodology and ignores the fact that start-ups are in essence an exercise in exploration, that cannot in an way provide full proof answers. One of the most mundane questions asked at start up pitches is: how will you make money? Really? Not all ideas are geared at making dollar bills from word go. The right question is how is your idea of service and how are you planning to grow it in that manner.

Understandably, tech entrepreneurship is a hit-or-miss proposition but using pitching as a determinant of entrepreneurial success especially in a tech deficient context like Zimbabwe is simply a wastage of time, passions and resources.

The reason why the pitch model is favoured is that it allows for the evaluation of a large number of ideas in a short period of time. But in sifting through many ideas in a short time, a lot is missed that is key to making an entrepreneurial idea succeed particularly in the Zimbabwean context where a lot of data that is key to the tech ideas is missing.

If we are going to seriously influence the local tech ecosystem, we need more evidence based entrepreneurship that takes ideas through rigorous testing instead of a mere live performance which has seen the rise of pitch-prenuers glorified presenters.

While the start up pitch model is employed in many parts of the world, simply having a polished pitch cannot be a guarantee that an idea can succeed in Zimbabwe’s skewed marketplace. As I see it, much more work needs to be done to ensure the growth of ideas which can kickstart the local tech scene.

An implied assumption in the start-up pitch model is that by making a good presentation one has done all the groundwork and data gathering. Another assumption is that once a pitch is made and is successful everything boils down to execution buts that’s missing the point. Start-ups are not execution, they are discovery.

Given that Zimbabwe is a late comer to the tech start-up scene, we need to find new ways to boost the ecosystem. We need to flip the start-up pitch model for a more sustainable model that provides a better ROI and launch of real products in the digital marketplace. That model must not be based on conjecture or anecdotal evidence.

The evidence-based approach requires facilitating aspiring entrepreneurs to engage in more thorough background work, team building and prototyping of their ideas as well as talking to real people who might really use or buy the product, to find out details, and to record the results of the interviews and bring them back to the design board.

More importantly, Zimbabwe needs to develop its own playbook that details the strategy and tactics of how to build a scalable start-up. In that approach, its important to underline that a data-centric approach is a non-negotiable and will lead to building start-up that respond to the gaps and solutions to our most pressing problems.