James from the Ventures team had the opportunity to attend the #Edupreneurs “speed mentoring” session in Joburg tonight, hosted by our friends from the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund. This gave us the chance to connect with a cohort of changemakers from across Africa, looking to build new solutions to the continent’s education challenges.
Speed mentoring consisted of one four-minute session with each of the entrepreneurs. Mentors were asked to play the role of a customer (as opposed to an investor). Each entrepreneur had prepared a sales pitch, and mentors were invited to ask questions and provide first-take feedback.
There was amazing energy and a lot of inspiring personal stories in the room. James had the opportunity to speak with more than a dozen founders, and every one of them showed passion—and commitment to the transformative potential of their businesses.
There were some lessons that came across from the customer pitches, which the mentors shared in a summary discussion at the end of the evening:
1. If you come in with a ready-made customer pitch (and slide deck), don’t get thrown off guard if the customer wants to talk about something else. Rather than feeling that the customer is derailing the conversation, take the opportunity to listen, to understand, and to directly and fully address his or her concerns
2. Know what your competitors are doing. Even if you’re a startup in a space with no significant incumbent, know what other startup offerings are in the market. It will be impossible to have an exhaustive view, but you need to be able to help your customer understand what he or she should be benchmarking your offering against. And demonstrate a total confidence in the unquestionable superiority of your product offering
3. Gauge as soon as possible what kind of person your customer is, and what kind of approach he or she is likely to respond best to. In the simulations, some customers wanted to know in the first 30 seconds what the impact of the product would be, and wanted figures to back up claims. But others were more receptive to a storytelling approach. Look for cues and trust your intuition (which will get stronger over time). But be prepared to change tack if your customer sends off signals — subtle or explicit — that he or she is looking for something other than the approach you try first!
Congratulations to the entrepreneurs who participated. Maybe some of you (or your friends) will be applying for our accelerator programme, whether this year or next!