I’m not pitching my startup again, unless it’s a life changing opportunity
I recently participated in a pitching competition for content creators and early-stage media startups and as is always the case — I have some thoughts.
Important context: The Story Untold ZW is a Zimbabwean media startup exploring the journey of local entrepreneurs/creatives/athletes. That’s the startup I was pitching and you can check out some of the stuff we’ve done so far on our YouTube channel: The Story Untold ZW — YouTube.
To pitch or not to pitch
First let’s talk about my rationale for competing to begin with...
I came across the announcement for the competition randomly on Twitter and thought, “you know what would be cool? If we applied and won.” Yuhp, I had no intention or preparation to go do this but I applied anyway. Yes, I have neglected my duties to find financing for the business as a founder but my primary focus thus far has been creating content. Sue me!
Despite not having the greatest why, I proceeded and formed one in the days following my application. See, I do have intentions for applying for grant funding but our startup (if we can even call it that) is still just a baby. So I told myself this would be a great way to familiarize myself with the pitching process.
Making top 20…
With a stronger why in the bag, I was informed 5 days before the competition started that I would be competing and had made it into the final 20 applicants from the initial 48 who had applied.
So when I had applied, I had glossed over on an important detail. Part of the call for the competition stated that the call was for media houses that were either
i) furthering social justice or;
ii) amplifying youth voices
In truth, non of these are really our mandate. On the channel we talk to a lot of people in the youth demographic, however, so I figured our pitch would be tailored to that criteria more than anything else.
The actual pitching
When it was time to pitch, I did what I believed would give us the best chance to win but it was also clear to me that there were a lot more people directly aligned with the competition’s goals than I had anticipated and it was going to be tough to beat those people.
We ended up coming 6th out of 12 startups with only the first 5 startups securing the advertised funding. I think what was most frustrating about the experience was that we lost to quite a number of people with ideas and no MVP yet we have been making content that’s publicly available for half a year. Anyway, that’s a story for another day…
Why I have mixed feelings about pitching
So my background in media has always made me skeptical about pitching competitions. I am well-versed with pitch-preneurs — people who pitch without actually doing work on the ground. My background translated to me asking myself if those competitions actually make sense and if there isn’t a risk of becoming one of those people. So I went into the pitching process with a negative bias — which probably didn’t help in terms of execution.
There’s nothing wrong with pitching but I strongly believe founders are better off finding customers. Yes, finding customers is easier said than done. Especially in media where huge companies like The Athletic have 1.2 MILLION SUBSCRIBERS but are still posting losses. Media companies have a hard time sustainably monetizing the output — which is what makes pitching attractive I guess…
So I’m already skeptical of the entire process but what sealed my negativity in this instance was the aftermath of the pitching competition. We won a “small” amount of funding for coming 6th but the way it was dispersed was shocking. For context, it was only a 3-figure amount but it took 6 months to get transferred.
6-months of back and forth, with the granting organisation seemingly not bothered by the fact that they had initially promised that these funds would be transferred to everyone within a fortnight of the competition ending. What followed was a display of what can only be described as an African disregard for keeping ones word.
The individual we were liaising with on behalf of the host organisation would get angry if participants asked for updates regarding the grant along with making unnecessary demands to contestants that were highlighted only after the end of the competition.
All of this was pretty frustrating because entering this competition was a thing I did with no thought. Other creators who won also complained of ordering equipment they were expected to pay for once delivered only to find themselves with empty pockets when the time to deliver came. I didn’t imagine that it would culminate in a 6-month back and forth chasing money instead of creating content.
But to be fair, I was naive to expect a smoother process because this, ladies and gentlemen is exactly how Africa functions. Instead of focusing on your core focus as a startup/business you’re forced to contend with things that shouldn’t be issues to begin with.
A life changing opportunity?
So whilst, I’m still open to the idea of pitching it will only be if I think there’s a life-changing outcome on the other side of that competition. Whilst this could mean a lot of money it is not only limited to that. I also mean — if I can get a chance to meet some people with great minds who can help us actually build a sustainable media business in the less than flattering country that is Zimbabwe, then yes we will gladly enter more of these competitions. In the meantime, my main goal is to make great content and come up with a recurring revenue model for the business to become self-sustaining.
Farai Mudzingwa is a 24-year-old Zimbabwean entrepreneur directing video content for The Story Untold ZW — a Zimbabwean media startup exploring the journey of local entrepreneurs/creatives. Please subscribe to the channel The Story Untold ZW to help the channel reach 1000 subscribers. Thanks!