How to nail your pitch: wisdoms from Jan Erik Solem, founder of Mapillary

Once a month we set up an Open Pitch session hosted by pitch expert Nick Hawtin, where our entrepreneurs and people in StartupLabs can practice their pitching skills and get constructive feedback from a panel of professional coaches and others used to pitching.  

This month we invited the founder of Mapillary to sit in the panel and share his expertise with us. Jan Erik Solem, a computer vision specialist and a former maths professor, isn’t new to the pitching game. His last startup, Polar Rose, was one of the first companies to sit in the Minc incubator, and he later went onto selling the company to no other than Apple.

After the sale he started working on Mapillary, a collaborative photo mapping service for street level imagery that allows anyone to capture, share and explore photos of the world. The company has raised $9.5m from some of the world's most experienced VCs, including Atomico, and Silicon Valley based Sequoia.

We took the opportunity to ask Jan Erik a few questions and for him to share his three best tips on how to nail that pitch:

Tell us about your first ever pitch - how did it go?
I actually don’t remember my first pitch - it was such a long time ago. When I first started, around 2004-2005, I was pitching face recognition - and I remember that no one understood what I was talking about. It wasn’t my pitch per se that they didn’t like, they just didn’t understand the technology - which made it difficult. Pitches in general weren’t very good at that time - neither visually nor lengthwise. If you look at pitch decks from big, successful companies from that time, they’re pretty horrible. I think the quality is much better today.  

What have you learned since?
No matter who you are meeting you should always have a one sentence summary - one for your mother-in-law and one for the salesman. You should be able to present your product or idea to anyone so that they understand immediately. Do that and you will notice how they react and then you adjust thereafter.  

For your “real” pitch, it’s important to keep in mind: what’s my point; what is it that the crowd needs to know, and then deliver the point to them without over-fuzzing it. Keep it simple! I often use the same slides for 40 meetings in a row, but the message changes depending on who I’m presenting it for - it could be investors, salespeople or future colleagues. Decide what you want the outcome to be before you present, and then the rest will come naturally.

Your three best pitch tips?

- Adjust the message to the audience
- Learn how to improvise
- Keep it simple

Do you have any tips for overcoming the nervosity?
I normally don’t get nervous. But sometimes if I’m pitching or holding a big presentation, I find people in the crowd to focus on - that way you get immediate and concrete response, and an idea if people understand what you are talking about and if they are interested. Try to connect with someone in the crowd - that makes it a lot easier.

Tell us about a situation when you nailed your pitch / when something went wrong?
Again, it’s hard to come up with a concrete example, but in general you know that you’re nailing it when you can tell that people are listening and that you don’t have to convince them - that you’re on the same level as your crowd. Sometimes the pitch is just a demo where you show your product, without slides or material, and then the wow-effect is the confirmation that you’re on the right track.  

Want to hear more about Open Pitch? Read more here or contact maisa at minc dot se.

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