David Beckett is a pitch coach that coached over 500 startups to make outstanding pitches and raise over €120 million in investment and over €5 million in prize money at pitching competitions. He’s also the creator of The Pitch Canvas© which over 50,000 people have access to, and he’s currently coaching at Startupbootcamp Amsterdam, Innovation Studio (ING), Investment Ready (The Impact Hub), Startup In Residence (Gemeente Amsterdam) and Haarlem Valley (Present Your Startup). Find out more about his background, the valuable lessons he shares with founders & what he predicts for the Dutch startup ecosystem in the near future.
1. Hi David, thank you for agreeing to do the interview. Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you entered the startup world?
I spent 16 years in a very stable corporate career at Canon, going from being a Marketing Assistant to a Country Director across that time. I left in 2009, wishing to change my working and personal life – and then had a very unstable time with five jobs in five years, getting fired from two of them! 4 years ago, I finally decided I needed to take my destiny into my own hands, and started a presentation training business. Within a few months, I got connected to Startupbootcamp and began focusing on pitching for startups and corporate innovation teams. It was the best decision of my working life.
2. You’ve coached over 500 startups to make outstanding pitches and raise over €120 million in investment, and over €5 million in prize money at pitching competitions. Please share your top 3 lessons for founders you learned over the years of working with startups.
In terms of running and scaling a business, I notice there are three reasons startups hit a brick wall. Firstly, they don’t engage with customers enough and don’t focus on sales – they spend too much time raising money and building a product, instead of building what people need. Secondly, they don’t have the skills to manage their finances. And thirdly, they don’t have the people-management experience to grow a team from three or four friends to a team of 50 employees. Any weakness in any of these areas generally means it will be almost impossible to succeed. The best startups reflect on their inability in some area, bring people who are experts, and let them get on with it.
In terms of pitching a business, the first is to think deeply about your business and talk about it all the time. You can’t think yourself into a great pitch, you have to talk yourself into it. By discussing all aspects of the proposition and the product, the traction and the learnings you make, it’s so much easier to tell it on stage, because it feels natural.
The second tip is to recognize that pitching is not about inspiration or thinking – it’s about work. Finding out who the audience is and what they care about, adapting the story every time according to the audience and objective. It takes time, but with the right tools and work ethic, everyone can learn to pitch.
My third advice is to be professional: have a planned opening, be specific and clear about the pain you’re solving, don’t overrun the time by over-explaining, plan the closing seconds carefully, have a clear call to action… all of these aspects are about being a professional and doing the work to make it great.
3. Tell us about The Pitch Canvas© and Best 3 Minutes Presentation Services. What was the trigger for you to become so active on the startup scene?
I got started with Startupbootcamp (I’ve coached 59 teams there so far) and learned by doing. For some reason, this triangle of coaching people, presenting, and keeping it short just suits me. I also love being surrounded by people who are not holding onto the past but rather looking for the next big thing. It keeps your mind fresh and focused on the future.
The trigger for The Pitch Canvas© was a casual chat with one of the first entrepreneurs I coached, Geoffroy Simon. He mentioned: “There’s a Business Model Canvas, why not create a pitch canvas? A few months later, I made the first version, on Post-It Notes of course. Then I formalized it, put it out into the world, and revised it based on feedback. It’s now in version 7.8, and over 50,000 people have access to it. My dream is that over 1 million people have access to The Pitch Canvas©.
4. You’re currently coaching at Startupbootcamp Amsterdam, Innovation Studio (ING), Investment Ready (The Impact Hub), Startup In Residence (Gemeente Amsterdam) and Haarlem Valley (Present Your Startup). What is the thing you’re most proud of in shaping the Dutch startup ecosystem?
One of the things I love about Dutch culture is the lack of arrogance, and the unwillingness to brag. However, that’s a challenge for a pitch! Sometimes, you need to tell the audience what great stuff you’re doing, and I believe I have a good way to bring that message to Dutch founders, helping the overall level of Dutch startup pitches to gradually rise. Equally, I believe the Dutch startup ecosystem is about being international and helping startups from around the world succeed with their base in the Netherlands. I’m able to bring a lot of experience in international business from my previous corporate life (I did business in 41 countries in Canon) and adapt my message to different cultures. I’ve also trained people to pitch in 20 countries over the last four years, including Taiwan, Korea, and the USA.
5. What do you predict for the Dutch startup ecosystem in the near future? What are your plans, what will you focus on?
The Dutch ecosystem is on a roll, and we all need to keep that going. I gain a lot from the overall growth in the startup economy in my chosen country (I made my personal Brexit 20 years ago!), and I believe it’s important to contribute to that. My business is now bigger than my time, so I’m working on sharing what I know with more people – through video courses, and through a new online tool called Pitchy, which will be launched this summer. This will package all the tools that startups and innovation teams need to script, design and deliver winning pitches.
I also believe one of the great things about the Dutch startup ecosystem is the ability to bring startups and corporates together. This is also an area I work a lot in with clients including Unilever, Booking.com, PwC and Philips, and I believe this is the future: startups being supported, integrated or partnering up with large companies. This way startups can solve their biggest problem, which is distribution; and corporates can solve their biggest problems, which is working slow and not challenging the current norms of the company.
Thank you for the interview and sharing your insights David. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors!