Month: November 2010

Pitching for investment any time soon? – some dos and don’ts


Yesterday I was part of the IntertradeIreland Seedcorn judging panel chaired by Intertrade’s CEO Liam Nellis – that’s a photo of the two of us taken last week on the steps in Stormont.  Also on the panel were’s Terry Clune, Xing’s Bill Liao & e-synergy’s Fergus McIlduff.  Over the course of the day we watched 6 pitches as if we were an investment panel, then scored the companies & selected winners to go through to the next stage of the competition.

I thought whilst it was in my head – because I know a lot of my friends & associates are entrepreneurs who are no doubt entering these sorts of competitions or pitching for investment – I would scribble out a few dos & don’ts for anyone that’s interested:

·         Work hard to distil your value proposition & get it out there early in your preso – remember that the investment or judging panel will be seeing loads of companies, often in a short space of time

·         If you have a tangible product & have brought samples, pass them round early in your pitch

·         If you turn up with a colleague, which is a good idea, only one of you pitch – it hardly ever works to try & share the pitch between you so let the person who’s best at presenting do it; also do try & behave as if you are a team

·         Don’t ramble & do stick to your allotted time – it’s annoying when people go over time because they either haven’t rehearsed enough or because they spend too long telling you irrelevant stuff

·         Use some pictures or graphics in your presentation to bring it to life

·         Don’t use a video that’s longer than a minute

·         If you’re very early stage, think about your sales and marketing plan – it isn’t enough to state the market opportunity – you need a go-to-market plan that hangs together

·         Don’t argue with the panel – it just makes you look bad

·         Be honest when answering questions

·         Know your numbers back to front and the assumptions behind them – expect to get asked about anything that isn’t self explanatory

·         If you’re referring to high level numbers in your presentation, make sure you have identified what they are – are they £s, people, units

·         Include some innovation – you don’t have to be an inventor – it might just be something unusual about your business model or your presentation that makes you stand out

·         Keep your pitch consistent with any business plan you’ve already submitted

·         Finally – don’t use corny or gimmicky presentation techniques unless you are very certain of your delivery capabilities – they can be excruciating to watch (think Angelcot woman on Dragon’s Den insisting on singing…)

I know there’s a lot out there about this stuff for entrepreneurs but I thought I’d take 5 minutes out to share my take – interested in your comments so keep ‘em coming.


Find Time to Give


I’m proud to serve my local theatre group in Derry as a voluntary non-exec director.  I find it satisfying to convert some of my free time to serving the local community that Learning Pool is based in and I live in.  It’s also a lot of fun.  The photo above is of me with the Millennium Forum & Derry Theatre Trust’s wonderful and inspiring Chairman, Martin Bradley, & Ed Vaizey (Minister for Communication, Culture and the Creative Industries) – it was taken at the party thrown by the theatre the day after Derry’s success in bidding for UK City of Culture 2013 was announced. 

I only wish I had enough free time to serve as a councillor but my working life is just too demanding right now – maybe later…

So what made me apply in the first place?  My first three years living in Northern Ireland were spent working in one of Belfast’s busy high tech start-ups.  Our customers were based predominantly in the Bay Area & Japan which led to a very long working day – start early to catch Japan before it went offline and stay late to welcome the Californians to their new working day.  By the time the company was sold, I was close to burnout and wanted to be involved in a project that was enjoyable but also included an element of “putting something back”.  I decided to join the theatre board because they were seeking someone with a commercial financial background.  Seven years later I’m still on the board and the benefits I have enjoyed during that time have been many fold:

·         I’ve met lots of interesting new people

·         I’ve been able to satisfy some creative leanings in some small way

·         I’ve helped the theatre flourish by working with the rest of the Board and the executive team to improve governance and financial management – the theatre’s creative direction didn’t need any help as the executive team have always had that side well covered

·         I’ve been able to re-use some specialist experience and that was satisfying

·         I’m proud that Derry is going to be the first UK City of Culture 2013 and glad that our theatre will be a key player in that.

My day job didn’t get any quieter.  Indeed quite the opposite…it got busier.  But I have no regrets about volunteering and figure I must have got better at managing my time.

If you don’t currently put something back, I urge you to have a rethink and consider what you could do for your community, however small.  I promise you it will be fun.


A Whole Lotta Love…


That’s certainly what the audience was feeling for Robert Plant and to be fair the rest of his fabulous Band of Joy on Monday night at Dublin’s intimate Olympia Theatre.  Janet Harkin and I were there too – diehard Led Zep fans both – and we had a truly momentous evening – even though we had to run from the theatre via the back door on the stroke of 10.30pm like a couple of latter day hard rock Cinderellas (last bus back to Derry was leaving Busaras at 11pm and we needed to be on it – even though it did appear to have a bullet hole in the front windscreen).  We did stop briefly on the pavement outside just to jump up and down on the spot for a minute with excitement and remark to each other how buzzing we each were from the gig.

Last time I saw Robert Plant was in Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown, California.  He was next to me in the audience, jigging about & singing along to Wanda Jackson’s version of “I Saw the Light” – and shouting out “Worcester” when Wanda asked “Where y’all from tonight?”  Just a normal guy enjoying a night out at a local music venue admiring the legend that’s Wanda.  I chatted to him of course & listened to him talk to the musicians in the band after the gig, which he did at length.

There’s no doubt he’s a force to be reckoned with and a legend in his own lifetime.  When I think about all the bands and performers I’ve seen in the last three or five years (and believe me there have been a few) Robert Plant and Leonard Cohen are the two that for me have ridden the waves of time most successfully…Cohen because there is such substance to him as a poet and Plant because he keeps going on to do new & interesting projects.  The Band of Joy’s certainly one of those.  The gig was like being at a party where a few friends pick up some string instruments, start jamming and find out they’re actually quite good together – so they keep going and it gets better and better.  It was like peeking in at a gang of good friends having a great night together or it was like dying & waking up in Hillbilly Heaven.  Buddy Miller & Patty Griffin were as good as we hoped they would be and Plant didn’t hog centre stage all night – when it was someone else’s turn he was happy to blend into the background, sing backing vocals & play his harmonica.  He also told stories, entered into a bit of banter with the audience and even answered a few of the comments that were shouted over to him.  I liked his story about how he and his friends at school in the West Midlands in the 60s used to listen to Howlin’ Wolf and the Reverend Gary Davis – it was all Motown and northern soul by the time I went to school.

So – the big question – did they play any Zeppelin songs.  They did – but not in a way you would straight away recognise – they Nashville-ised them and played Tangerine, House of the Holy, Misty Mountain Hop and Gallow’s Pole – Plant parodying his 1970s on-stage persona a little – curling his still impressive mane into ringlets with his finger.  Everyone in the audience sang with him – it was like being part of a religious experience – and you really could feel the love – you could almost reach out and touch it.

Robert Plant – thank you and long may you reign.  Nothing else is getting a look in this week in the Fig – Band of Joy is all I need.