Pitch perfect: Startups should focus on problems, not platforms

This is the ninth article in a continuing monthly series chronicling the growth path of Screach, a startup based in Newcastle upon Tyne in England’s North East. Screach is an interactive digital media platform that allows users to create real-time, two-way interactive experiences between a smart device (through the Screach app) and any content, on any screen or just within the mobile device itself. We invite your feedback.

By Alexandra Reid 

Not everyone understands a platform. But everyone understands a problem.

That’s a hard lesson a lot of startup teams fail to grasp.

You’ve seen this pitch before — The technical cofounder goes on at length about the ins and outs of the wonderful new technology his team is bringing to the world. He explains what it is, what it does, and shows you all of its cool features. But when you look to your left and right, you see your fellow audience members’ eyes glazing over, and before you know it your mind begins wandering to dinner plans.

He was enthusiastic in his pitch, and it’s awesome technology, yet he failed to reach you.


He showed off his technological wizardry but didn’t deliver a jaw dropping story about why his product matters to you, what problem it solves, and why you must have it to mend an otherwise gaping pain in your life, plain and simple.

Following one such pitch that failed to get him into Y Combinator, Rocketr CEO Andrew Peek wrote a (not so new but fascinating) blog post urging pitching businesses to “Lay it on thick. Tell a story. Get them to empathize.” Indeed, while you may love your innovative solution with all your heart, telling your audience about the tech won’t necessarily make them care.

As neuromarketer Bob Bailly wrote in his post, “The pitch from a neuromarketing perspective,” pitches have to persuade the “old brain” — the ancient, emotional brain that controls the decision making process. Pitches “should always identify a clear problem, provide a compelling solution and be differentiated, aspirational, inspirational, and visually communicative,” he wrote.

The pitch

Screach cofounder Sam Morton and COO Richard Dodd put this lesson to the test while pitching their latest product, Screach TV, two weeks ago at Web Summit – Europe’s biggest technology conference.

ScreachTV is Screach’s first physical product. For the last couple of years, Screach has been demonstrating the potential of a software platform that allows people to interact with screens using smartphones.

But people would sometimes complain that they loved the product but didn’t have the budget or resources to adopt it, said Sam. ScreachTV was the affordable solution.

Richard, who pitched the concept at the Summit’s pitch competition, found that he got a much more positive reaction when he talked about the issue the technology solves rather than the technology itself. Similarly, both he and Sam received positive reactions from several investors and potential partners when they used this strategy.

“The Screach platform is very cool,” said Sam. “However, we realized that to sell ScreachTV, we didn’t need to talk so much about the platform.”

Curious to hear his pitch, I asked Sam what ScreachTV is all about.

“TVs in venues sit around not showing anything a lot of the time. We’ve developed a product that allows people to put local, relevant and engaging content on their TVs, from the venue’s own ads to Twitter and Instagram feeds, as well as Screach’s own unique interactive experiences such as pub quiz games,” he said.

He had me at, “TVs in venues sit around not showing anything a lot of the time.”

In addition to opening with the problem the technology solves, they also showed their audience how it works, tying in the “visually communicative” element of a strong pitch.

“We didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the platform and the technology,” said Richard. “We just showed people what it does, and they responded really well to that.”

How large-scale pilot testing informed the pitch

While the team was confident the product would solve a problem for venue owners, they knew it was vital that the product was perfect before they put it on the market. As a result, they spent several months working with a firm to road test the ScreachTV boxes in select pubs.

This testing process helped the team identify problems that might come up in the pubs themselves, such as wifi connection issues. It also enabled them to work out exactly what sort of content was best suited for a pub environment.

“The only way to work out if you’ve got the right content is to get out to the venues and show it to the people who know – the staff and the customers,” said Richard. “We didn’t get it right the first time, but we listened and learned, and with our flexible platform were able to quickly change the content to make it relevant.”

By talking to the prospective customers in their marketplace, the team learned about what matters to them, tailored the product to fit customers’ needs, and honed their pitch to reach them.

The team made the decision to pitch ScreachTV as a B2B product, and offer it to venues and organizations that were looking at new ways to engage their customers.

“We’ve been into so many pubs where the owners or breweries have charged the manager with the task of coming up with a social strategy,” said Sam. “This product provides that for them because it’s a way to keep people engaged and keep them in the venue longer.”

With the testing complete, ScreachTV boxes are being rolled out with participating venues. They’re currently running on 45 screens in 10 U.K. locations, and are also being switched on in a couple of New York venues.

“We’re aiming to have boxes installed in around 100 venues in the U.K. by Christmas, working on about 600 to 1,000 screens in total,” said Sam.

We’ll check in with Sam, Richard and the rest of the Screach team in the coming months to hear more about their progress.

Alexandra Reid is a content marketer at Francis Moran and Associates. 

Francis Moran and Associates is an associated team of seasoned practitioners of a number of different marketing disciplines, all of whom share a passion for technology and a proven record of driving revenue growth in markets across the globe. We work with B2B technology companies of all sizes and at every life stage and can engage as individuals or as a full team to provide quick counsel, a complete marketing strategy or the ongoing hands-on input of a virtual chief marketing officer. 

Francis Moran
Francis Moran
Francis Moran is principal of Francis Moran & Associates, a consultancy that provides business-to-business technology ventures with the strategic counsel required to make their innovations successful in a highly competitive marketplace. Francis can be reached at [email protected].

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