Interviews

How to pitch to billionaire investors like Virgin boss Richard Branson and win

10 min read

06 July 2015

Former deputy editor

Following the grand finale of the three-month Pitch to Rich competition, which saw JustPark, Fourex and Kino-mo scoop the big prizes, Real Business has rounded up the founders to determine how you pitch to a billionaire tycoon like Richard Branson and walk away with his money.

The big event itself took place at shared workplace Second Home, based in the creative London district of Shoreditch.

TV host Rick Edwards presented the proceedings and the judging panel was equally high profile. Virgin boss Richard Branson was accompanied by Jo Malone, Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts, Virgin Media business MD Peter Kelly, Shutterstock founder Jon Oringer and male model David Gandy.

Indeed, Gandy may sound like an odd candidate to review the efforts of startup owners, but we’ve observed that he’s a budding entrepreneur himself and has invested in a number of ventures – one of which he went on to acquire.

The Pitch to Rich contest, now in its fourth year, comprised three categories including Startup, New Things and Grow, which offered a total of £1m worth of prizes.

Nine startups, three in each category, secured a place in the final, but it was Kino-mo, Fourex and JustPark that won the respective awards and largest shares in the winnings.

Tech firm Kino-mo specialises in holographic imaging and secured a £150,000 marketing campaign, as well as one year’s worth of mentoring and advice from Virgin Startup.

Founder Kiryl Chykeyuk explained where his first lesson of pitching started – you might be familiar with his work.

“Our experience started with a pitch at BBC’s Dragons’ Den followed by two hour grilling. In the end we received three offers from the Dragons. After that we pitched a few dozen times, and in hindsight our pitch got better every time,” he said.

As for how he was going to face Branson and friends after staring down the Dragons, Chykeyuk was anything but complacent and said he was very thorough in terms rehearsing his pitch.

Read more on the brain behind Virgin:

The key for his preparation was “practicing, practicing and practicing,” he recalled. “And lots of analysis of course – what the judges want to hear, why and what would be the best way to present the information.

“You are alway nervous before the pitch but once you are there in front of the judges, all that adrenaline gets quickly redirected and you get totally focused on your pitch.

“As for the Pitch to Rich competition, the biggest concern was to fit everything in two and a half minutes. For example, we had to cut out a few sections about our team and some amazing features of our holographic technology.”

Real Business spoke to Fourex, a “currency exchange [service] on steroids” in June ahead of the Pitch to Rich finale. During that time, co-founder Jeff Patterson explained the company has contracts in place with TfL and Westfield which will see its kiosks installed at various sites.

Winning the New Things category provided Fourex with a £50,000 cash injection and also mentoring from Branson’s head of investments.

“Oliver [fellow co-founder] and I have pitched this idea to hundreds of potential investors while looking for funding,” Patterson detailed. “Pitching in the Pitch to Rich was quite different because we weren’t pitching to secure investment, we were pitching to get the idea across in under two minutes. We had always only pitched to a few people, and never to such a large audience.

The biggest fear for the fast-talking FX executive was stage fright, however. “While I knew the pitch off by heart, I was really nervous about freezing up,” he told us.

“I was very lucky because part of my pitch included giving each of the judges a sample jar of foreign coins and notes. Earlier, the presenter had asked Richard what he thought was important for the perfect pitch, and he jokingly replied ‘a good bribe’. When I started my pitch I used this comment as I handed out my jars of coins, and that seemed to capture their attention.”

Find out what JustPark – the most well-known brand in the finale – had to say about winning over investors on the next page, as founder Anthony Eskinazi draws upon pitching on an IMAX screen and charming BMW.

The most established brand of all nine finalists, JustPark, smashed records earlier in 2015 with the largest technology equity crowdfunding round in UK’s history at £3.7m.

That’s not bad going considering it was the first time the company, which embraces the sharing economy to help people find parking spaces and others to rent them out, used crowdfunding – something that founder Anthony Eskinazi was hesitant to do.

Having launched the business in 2006, Eskinazi took his concept to the stage just a year later on the silver screen.

“Back in 2007, I pitched in front of a startup audience at London’s BFI IMAX. My face was projected on to the IMAX screen, which did nothing to help the nerves,” he said.

“Since then, I’ve pitched to our investors – both to Index Ventures and BMW i Ventures – although that scenario is more of a conversation than a pitch. More generally, I’m regularly in situations where I need to explain JustPark to people and get them excited about the brand and idea.”

Preparing for the finale was a collaborative process with the JustPark communications team in order to make sure the pitch was as concise and well structured as possible, Eskinazi explained. From that point they continued working together to make sure it was as natural as possible until they were all satisfied with the finished product, spending hours each day to get it right.

Being victorious in the Grow category meant that JustPark pocketed a £250,000 marketing campaign, with all media and production costs covered by Virgin Media Business, as well as management of the campaign development.

“I wasn’t nervous about pitching in front of the judges – but the fact that the prize was so significant and such a great opportunity for us as a business did raise the stakes and spur me on,” said Eskinazi.

“My biggest concern was that I’d forget the flow or structure of the pitch and freeze, or that my question at the beginning to initiate some audience participation [he asked if anyone had had trouble parking in the last month] would be seen as rhetorical and therefore not answered. That could have been very awkward.”

Offering some closing words of wisdom on how to deliver the killer pitch, Kino-mo’s Chykeyuk, said: “Knowing how to present your company is crucial. It is decisive. You might work on your presentation days and nights, know it by heart and have solid reasons for every word to be there, but it is when you present it to someone else you realise that some bits have to be changed. So the key is to rehearse as many times as possible, to everybody you can – brothers, sisters, neighbours, friends. Until they hate you.”

For Fourex boss Patterson, he thinks that keeping the pitch as short and engaging as possible is the answer, adding that all product details and all-important numbers must be at the forefront of your mind.

Eskinazi, meanwhile, closed and suggested being yourself is the way forward. “Be authentic, passionate and personable,” he said. “Ultimately, they’re investing in you. Make yourself likeable, don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t come across as arrogant. If you can get them excited about the idea, you’re on your way.”

The three winners will also receive:

  • Up to £150,000 worth of telecoms from Virgin Media Business – inclusive of internet, landline and mobile calls – for a year
  • Unlimited travel on Virgin Trains for a year – worth £35,000
  • Free npower electricity for six months – worth £17,000
  • ICAEW business advice around financial issues including tax, business planning and more
  • Membership to the House of St Barnabus