The Coffee Meeting Pitch Mistake
by Charlie Gunningham, Commercialisation Adviser
Department of Industry, Innovation & Science
I was speaking with an American CEO a few years ago, just after he had been in Perth a few months.
“What’s the biggest difference between doing business in the States and here?” I asked him.
“You guys sure love your coffee meetings,” he remarked, “Everyone just rings me up or emails and says ‘Let’s catch up for coffee!’ ‘Can we
do coffee?’ ‘We should do a coffee!’
If I said yes to all those requests, I’d be able to sky uphill!”
Yep, that’s how we roll in the great state of WA. The coffee is great, the weather is lovely, and there are plenty of good coffee shops
around. A $4.50 mug of skinny flat white can last an hour, and in that time you can get a lot of business done.
The Coffee Pitch
When I assess a likely startup or innovative project that comes to me for some grant funding, I like to start with a coffee meeting.
For starters, it’s a neutral venue, so is less stressful for either party. Stress is not conducive to learning the best about a particular
idea or person. You want both sides to relax, and be themselves.
I also have a very fine coffee shop just a 3 minute walk from my house, which overlooks a lake. Very nice, very convenient.
If things go well, and there is something worth considering, then the next meeting may very well be at the company’s own office. But for
now, we’re in a coffee shop near where they work, or by the lake.
So we sit down, order our drinks, and start a conversation.
This is where I get to observe the entrepreneur(s) in question. How well can they articulate their idea? How well can they explain their
solution, and give me a potted history of their own experience to date. I want to hear about their team, and what they have built, and the
market they are attacking.
But most of all, I want to hear one thing coming through – I want to hear them tell me all about the big, global problem their potential
customers have, and why those customers will pay them to solve it.
Often, this is not what I hear about.
Too often, I am feature bashed with whatever gizmo they have built. They have fallen into the simplest and most obvious trap there is –
falling in love with their product.
Of course you have to build a product or service for your customers. This is the thing they are going to buy right? It has to be wonderful,
disruptive, novel with superb UI.
Sure, but building the product is the easy bit.
Selling it is going to be the hardest thing. And you will only make a sale if you are solving a big, hairy problem for your potential
So, the first thing I want to hear from the coffee meeting, after the initial small talk is, what huge problem have they uncovered, that no
one else has, and explain why customers will pay to have it solved, and solved by them.
Forget the product for now. As you take it to market, new information will arise and they will have to make product changes anyway. If they
are wedded to the product, they will be less likely to change it. So don’t tell me how great it is, and all its features. It will change. It
will have to.
Tell me about the customer problem. Tell me about the customers. Who are they? Why do they have this problem? Why will they want you to
solve it for them? Why will they choose your solution? How are you going to reach your customers? Why will it be YOU that solves this, and
not someone else? How many of them are there?
If you are pitching, over coffee or on stage or in a boardroom, START with the problem. First slide. First sentence.
Spend most time on this, and the rest of your pitch will flow naturally.
Because only if the potential investor or government grantor believes there is a real deep customer problem will they believe there is
someone who might pay to have it solved. And only if customers pay will you have revenue, and only if you have revenue will you have a
Accelerating Commercialisation is a federal government programme which looks to give free commercial advice and matching grants
of up to $1M to innovative, pre-commercialised Australian projects.
For more information about the Accelerating Commercialisation follow this link