A word with one of our Trainers
At eLab, we understand that we’re only as good as our people - which is why we go to great lengths to source talent from around the world for our team. One of the most important parts of that team are our trainers. Passionate, knowledgeable and adept at bringing out the best in each and every student, our trainers really are the heart of eLab and, we caught up with one of them, Pascal, to find out what makes a trainer tick.
You work with a lot of start-ups and business owners, what inspired you to become a trainer?
Had you told me ten years ago that I’d be speaking on stages, let alone teaching startups how to give compelling pitches, I would first have laughed at you - and then asked, “Wait, what’s a startup?” Ten years ago, I was studying physics and was pretty much the typical socially awkward nerd with no clue about the world of entrepreneurship. Luckily, after a few pretty unpleasant presentation experiences, I realised that if I ever wanted my work to be appreciated and heard, I had to learn to speak in front of strangers. So I joined a public speaking organisation called Toastmasters. Within a year, I competed in speech competitions and even went on to defeat previous world championship finalists. It became clear that public speaking is kind of my thing after all.
A part of me always enjoyed the idea of teaching. Whenever I learned something new that fascinated me, I wanted to share it with the whole world - so why not share my expertise in public speaking and help others experience that same empowerment? That’s when I decided – with a little encouragement from my fellow trainers - to give my first workshop. From there on out it was only a matter of time before I found myself sitting in the audience of a pitch event and I immediately fell in love with the Berlin startup community.
Initially, what inspired me was my own personal development thanks to learning the art of public speaking. But what really gets me out of bed these days is knowing that I can help others bring their own innovative ideas, concepts and solutions to life.
What do you see as the greatest challenge for start-ups developing their pitch deck for funding?
I often find a founder’s greatest asset is equally their biggest challenge when it comes to communicating their work: they are experts in what they do. When you spend several months or even years delving into a project, that project and all its facets become second nature to you. That’s fantastic for you - your audience, on the other hand, is new to it all. Bridging that gap is what I see founders struggle with most.
That’s why a big part of what I do is asking the right questions, guiding founders to approach the pitch from the perspective of the audience. What seems important or obvious to the founder isn’t necessarily important or obvious to an investor, let alone the general public. Anyone can Google how to structure a pitch, but having a sparring partner with an outside perspective is where the real value is created.
How important is storytelling when presenting a pitch?
As one current world leader would put it, “Huuuuuuuuuugely!” There are generally three types of stories that can be told in a pitch: The founding story, the customer story and the business story.
The founder story lets the audience take part in what motivated a founder to create their startup. It creates an emotional connection to the founder and gives an understanding of their deeper purpose. This is especially powerful in the medical industry. Tell me about how the market for diabetes solutions is growing and I’ll nod. Tell me how you watched your mother succumb to diabetes shortly after your own diagnosis and I will sob. Do both and I will listen to every word you’re about to say.
The customer story assures the audience that there is actually a use-case for your product. It takes us through the experience of a typical customer, from the initial pain to the unburdened life ahead. This is especially important when your potential customers are different from your pitch audience. If we can’t relate to your solution’s problem, at least make us relate to the hero in your customer story. That way we know there is a real market opportunity at hand.
The business story assures the audience that your startup has a track-record of successfully overcoming obstacles. It gives us an insight into what you have achieved so far in terms of business and the type of resistance you’ve already overcome on that path. Essentially, it showcases your market validation and business acumen. Something every investor is looking for.
I’m not saying that these things can’t necessarily be achieved without stories, but stories will make your pitch more memorable and your audience a lot more attentive. My advice: use it whenever you can.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
This goes off on a slight tangent, but: Success is a team effort, so find your team. Whether that means getting a personal mentor, being part of a supportive community, joining an accelerator/incubator programme like eLab, hiring a trainer or even finding a co-founder - embrace the expertise around you. What’s great about the startup culture is that this support often comes for free from within the community. So even as a solopreneur, you are never truly alone in your venture. Use that potential!
That and proper pitching – obviously ☺
How has your experience been with the first eLab cohort?
Having worked primarily with accelerator programs targeted at later-stage startups, it was a refreshing experience to mentor such a diverse group, ranging from pre-prototype projects to established local market leaders. What really struck me about the cohort was their thirst for knowledge and input, which not only made it a real joy to work with them, but it also showed in their final pitches. I can’t wait for the next round!