This summer, Kyiv welcomed ‘Hey, Pitches!’, an unusual project for young startups. The project founders used the idea of “anti-pitching” as a basis to give start-up founders an opportunity to meet investors, talk to them on an equal footing, and let them get some advice on developing their own projects.
During the meetings, the investors and experts of Hey, Pitches! carry out crash tests of the startups, give feedback and, together with the startup founders, help them find weaknesses and growth points of the startups.
The project was initiated by venture funds Adventures Lab and Flyer One Ventures. Ruslan Timofeev, the founder of Adventures Lab, and Andrew Kryvorchuk, the Managing Partner of the fund, share details on the working process of the project and people interested to come to Hey, Pitches!
Idea of Anti-pitching
Looking at the name of the project, one might think it focuses on pitching. Andrew Kryvorchuk claims that the project is something absolutely different. One can understand the essence of Hey, Pitches! through the project’s background.
The heads of Adventures Lab devote at least half of their working time to working with portfolio companies: they hold regular meetings with startup founders, give them feedback, discuss problems, and crash-test hypotheses. As the founders themselves have repeatedly stated, often during such communication, great ideas pop up and non-trivial problem solutions come to mind, so the business gets a push and accelerates its growth.
“At a certain point, we realized that we want to be useful not only to our portfolio companies we invest in but to the entire ecosystem. This is how we got an idea to help other founders. We decided to select a limited number of projects on a monthly basis and discuss their problems, challenges, and business ideas during face-to-face communication,” Kryvorchuk explains.
Thus, the social project Hey, Pitches! became the opposite of pitching – an “anti-pitching.” During the month, the Adventures Lab team gathers participation applications from startups, selects up to ten of the most interesting ones and invites them to a meeting. As part of Hey, Pitches!, the founders can ask investors and leading entrepreneurs any questions.
“We are the first on the market to declare: “We don’t need to get pitched!” Come to us to talk about your startup as partners and ask for advice,” Kryvorchuk says.
The first session of Hey, Pitches! was held in August 2021. Within one week since the event announcement, the organizers received more than 60 applications. They selected five of them and spent one hour to communicate with each team.
Expanding the Horizon
Ruslan Tymofieiev, the founder of the venture capital fund Adventures Lab, says that the project gives the founders an opportunity to see their project through someone else’s eyes – to identify the main mistakes, shortcomings, and options for addressing all the possible problems.
“The founders are often so in love with their startup, so immersed in it that they are making significant forward strides according to their own vision and ignoring other development options, cases, mistakes, competitors, and vulnerabilities. Our task is to expand this horizon, to help them look at their project from a different angle. At the same time, we do not provide ready-made solutions to a problem. We talk, ask questions, and the answers to them lead the founder to the necessary conclusions,” Ruslan Timofeev says.
Hey, Pitches! sessions are held in Kyiv once a month. Investors and experts devote a whole day to communicating with the project teams that have submitted an application. According to the founder of Adventures Lab, founders from all over Ukraine become participants.
“We get a variety of projects coming to us. Most often, these are startups that develop some kind of software or applications, less often – hardware equipment,” Timofeev explains. According to him, about 70% of Hey, Pitches! participants are teams at the MVP stage. The rest of the participants are already launched and are income-generating businesses. Such teams are most interested in finding a way on how to properly test the product, the audience, how to bring the product to the market, obtain funding, configure monetization, and scale up their project.
Crash Test in an Informal Setting
Pavooq CEO Yevhen Bereza, one of the project participants, says that the crash test carried out by Hey, Pitches! allowed to identify the critical shortcomings of the startup:
“Hey, Pitches! was essentially the first offline Pavooq presentation for us. Our startup didn’t meet all the criteria. But thanks to the experts who crash-tested the project, we were able to look at it from a different angle. Hey, Pitches! pointed to our weaknesses and critical gaps that we are currently working on. We also got answers to our questions regarding the practical aspects of the startup development in the future.”
Pavooq is an online platform for researching and analyzing human interactions in work messengers, emails, and other means of communication.
The founders of the startup Zeely also took part in one of the first sessions of Hey, Pitches! Zeely is a mobile app for constructing commercial websites and increasing online sales. The project team solves the problem of entrepreneurs from developing countries where a smartphone is the only Internet access option for the local people, while computers are critically lacking. Project CEO Yaroslav Samoiliuk shares the details of the meeting:
“Our team attended a meeting with the Hey, Pitches! experts. We liked the format, level and quality of expertise, analysis, questions asked, and recommendations. But the main thing is the informal setting. This is not mentoring in the classical sense, but an “anti-mentoring”: the experts lead you up to the necessary answers in the process of the conversation. To my mind, no one else in Ukraine has done anything like this. Perhaps, it is worth adding compiling a decomposition for specific KPIs for a startup to the project Hey, Pitches! in the future, but this, of course, will take more time. I would like to sincerely thank the experts for their time and attention.”
Vitalii Sydorenko, CEO at Jiffsy, shares similar impressions. The team develops TikTok-like mobile storefronts for fashion e-commerce projects on Shopify to boost mobile device sales.
“We got everything we had been promised, and even more. It turned out to be a good, honest conversation with detailed feedback on the product and our plans. At the table, there were representatives of foundations, business angels, and a representative of the accelerator. It was interesting to hear an opinion of each of these groups,” a founder of Jiffs shares his impressions. “Before the meeting, we filled out a form, answered questions about our company and made our own list of questions. It was also great because we did not waste time at the meeting itself and immediately got down to business.”
According to Sydorenko, the meeting exceeded the project’s expectations – thanks to Hey, Pitches!, Jiffsy started negotiating with business angels and was selected for Startup Wise Guys, whose Chief Investment Officer Alexandra Balkova is one of the Hey, Pitches! experts.
When founders are at square one, and their product has not yet gained a multimillion audience, they desperately need support, honest feedback, understanding and knowing how to eliminate vulnerabilities, as well as options for developing their business model. Hey, Pitches! is the platform where startup founders will get these components of future success and motivation to develop their business.
Jean is an editor, and works in marketing and magazine industries. Jean is also an IT professional and tech enthusiast.