When you rent a marketing consultant, you don’t necessarily expect to wind up discussing your life purpose. Yet, that is what Spanish marketing expert and entrepreneur Alex Barrera often ends up doing with startup founders who rent him to help modernize their pitch. They think they are going to get help inveigling investors, and they do, but the byproduct of the process is that they reframe their startup’s vision.
In this context, upstanding and philosophical considerations aren’t that far away, considering increasingly often than not, this includes a deep squint at how their visitor impacts society. “The days where you could do whatever you wanted and swoop into grey legal or moral areas are dwindling,” Barrera says. “Growth companies need to be shielding well-nigh the potential fallouts of pursuing such strategies. While there are still plenty of investors that push for “growth at any cost”, the social pressure is waffly and it’s suddenly rhadamanthine costlier to take such stances.”
You may have spotted Barrera’s cowboy hat at one of the many startup conferences he is involved with as a mentor, judge, host and speaker – and he does wear many hats.
Having previously co-founded two startup accelerators and Europe-focused tech publication Tech.eu, he now authors The Aleph Report, a periodical publication on cutting-edge technology and its implications. But it is through his Press42 venture that he collaborates with startups and corporations on organizational storytelling and strategic communications, and it is moreover what we discussed in the interview unelevated (which has been edited for length and clarity.)
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What do people often misunderstand well-nigh pitch training?
Well, it depends on their wits level. When first-time entrepreneurs hear well-nigh pitching, they immediately think of the infamous “elevator pitch”, roll their vision and moan. For those with a bit increasingly experience, pitching is well-nigh a set of slides to unzip a unrepealable goal, mostly funding. However, seasoned managers end up discovering that telling the story of their product or service is not a one-way street. Having to sell a future vision of where the visitor is heading invariably affects your siring of the product in the now and what you need to build to unzip it. The vision impacts the product, considering you need consistency between the product and storytelling.
What type of companies do you help?
I have been helping startups with pitching for years. This used to be mostly early-stage startups, and in groups, with accelerators and startup competitions calling me to help their unshortened batch or portfolio. I still provide that sort of training, but these days I will increasingly often work one-on-one with a single vendee that is at a later stage. And I moreover sometimes work with tech companies getting ready for M&As, as well as large corporations.
And what is your sweet spot for startups you work with?
For one-on-one work, I have a preference for David versus Goliath, and less sexy spaces. I love these companies that were built without the noise: there’s a lack of hubris, they are really humble, but the numbers are there – the founders could be obnoxious, but it’s the opposite. I don’t work with companies that sell smoke and mirrors or hurt society considering they shamelessly condone any responsibility for their impact on others.
Luckily, that’s rarely the specimen of people who undeniability me. Usually, they are a bit out of the circuit, and they often have impostor syndrome. So my work is moreover well-nigh helping them understand what they can be proud of in what they do, and then how to show that in their pitch. They value talking to someone who understands them and their challenges. I spend a lot of time doing research on all verticals and thinking well-nigh the future, so the conversation will typically go like this: “Dude, you get it!”
What is one of your favorite things well-nigh one-on-one pitch-related consulting work?
I find it very fulfilling to see how much value it brings to those involved. I am moreover a developer, and I do project management, but most of the consulting I do is not the kind of growth marketing stuff that takes increasingly time to show results. When you do growth hacking at the product level, it takes time to see the impact, and plane then, it’s not unchangingly easy to connect the dots.
When we work together on their pitch, CEOs can instantly see if the new pitch resonates or not; and they moreover know if the exercise itself worked for them. Working on a pitch requires a lot of reflection and it entails a lot of tension between you and the CEO.
This is expressly true at the beginning, when you pension questioning why they did this or that, what the product provides and to whom, or why it grew here and not there. All these questions gravity many founders and managers to stop and think nonflexible well-nigh the product, the market, or the roadmap. Sometimes it pushes them to provide data to when up unrepealable claims. The process pushes them to revisit old biases, beliefs, or plane myths virtually their company. Many people are surprised by how much clarity they proceeds into their visitor when they work on a pitch.
Do you only work with founders and executives?
Sometimes, the clarity and the strategic insight that working on a pitch provides to founders or CXOs becomes a trigger for them wanting to provide that level of understanding to other areas of the company, like sales, consumer support or plane the product team. In my case, stuff a developer myself enables me to switch and transmute my process to any layer of the organization, including the minutiae team.
This is rare, but it sooner turns me into a kind of translator of the challenges of variegated parts of an organization, vicarial ultimately as the connector bridging variegated perceptions. In the end, that’s exactly what storytelling provides. It’s not just a tool for pitching, it’s a brutally constructive way to communicate between humans, expressly virtually challenging topics.
How would you describe the value that executives get from your collaboration?
One of the usual and plane surprising values for most executives is the insight the process provides. When someone is running either a big visitor or a scaleup, their day to day is all well-nigh growing. They rarely have time to sit lanugo and think well-nigh where they’re heading in terms of future product. They do have a roadmap, and their KPIs, but I rarely see a strong future vision wrenched lanugo into steps.
The pitching process provides them with two valuable things: time, and perception. Time considering as they’re paying me, they’re stuck with me and need to intrust time for our sessions. That bubble, and the need to build a coherent story that tells why the visitor is at that particular point, create tremendous insight for most. And then, there’s perception. It’s funny considering they’re the ones that provide all the pieces of the picture, I just help them put them together and then point at the obvious.
This process is very rewarding at a personal level for them. It helps them build a conviction that, while it was unchangingly there, it rarely shone through the pitch before. It moreover makes them reflect on where they want to go next, not just from a product perspective, but from a mission’s perspective. It reconnects them with that side that most of us superintendency about, and the personal questions we ask ourselves well-nigh life and meaning.
How do you underpass the gap between what your clients once know and what’s next?
My clients once know how to grow a company. I unchangingly pension this in mind, not just with startups, but moreover with big corporations – too often, I see consultants talking to them and starting by telling: “You are doing it wrong!” Well, they got to where they are, didn’t they? It doesn’t midpoint that they don’t need help, but you can make them see that, you don’t have to dismiss what they have achieved. I see myself as the person that helps them get to the next level and build on top of what they have once done. Sometimes it takes some bruising to get there, but there is unchangingly massive respect for their achievements.
These people are very good professionals. It’s not that they don’t see or can’t see the vision. It’s that the need to connect the dots in detail allows for the emergence of a strategic vision of the organization. Now, here is where the real “coaching” kicks in. When such a picture emerges, many founders or executives tend to shy yonder from it. They have a nonflexible time yoyo that they might be onto something groundbreaking or unquestionably winning in their respective markets.
This is expressly true for many scaleup companies. They’ve been fighting, first for market fit, and later on for market share, that they freeze at the possibility that they might be doing a fantastic job. Part of my role is precisely to unravel through their impostor syndrome and encourage them to be bolder, to believe in themselves, to trust the data.
How do you promote your services?
Well, it would be very nonflexible for me to do unprepossessed calling. I wouldn’t be worldly-wise to say: “It’s not just well-nigh pitching, you are going to see the future of your company!” – so I stopped plane trying to market that. My weightier marketing tool is word of mouth from my clients, or plane from people that see me perform on stage. But plane then, people undeniability for help with a specific milestone, like raising a round. It’s only through the process that they see that there’s way increasingly to it. They uncork to understand other parts well-nigh themselves that either enhance their topics to raise increasingly funds, or plane take them to the next level like an vanquishment or the minutiae of a major breakthrough.
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What do you end up unquestionably working on with founders?
Going higher up the chain, the pitch becomes a very powerful tool not just for fundraising, but moreover for thinking well-nigh your visitor strategically. It’s a place where founders can reach clarity well-nigh their strategy and what really matters – questions they don’t have time for on a day-to-day basis. They intrust time to it considering they think it will help with fundraising, and then they find out that it helps them understand their company.
So typically, they will undeniability me considering they are raising a Series B round, or a very large A round. They realize that to unlock the next milestone, they need to fine-tune what they say. The game is different; it’s not well-nigh market fit anymore, or just well-nigh gaining market share, and what worked for them just no longer works – expressly if they were semi-bootstrapped up to that point. They need to talk to someone who understands them and can help them prepare for the future, for instance by researching unrepealable pitfalls or trends. I’m not just the guy that “pitches” but the guy that’s going to provide you with trajectile to help you build a compelling specimen for your audience, whatever it is. The pitch is just an excuse!
What’s your take on comparing your startup to flipside one when pitching; for instance, calling yourself the “Uber for X”?
Analogies are very powerful. The major rencontre when you are pitching any company, plane a late-stage one, is that people have a tendency to put you in a box. So you have two options: either you let them do it, or you provide the tools to put you in a box. That’s where analogies work really well.
But then, who do you compare yourself to? It’s a challenge, considering two elements are rhadamanthine increasingly important: capturing the right trends of the moment, and the values of how you do what you do. You want to tenancy which box they place you, ideally one that’s trendy but at the same time one that doesn’t position you in theoretically uncontrived competition with someone you don’t want to be associated with.
Why do startups need to be shielding when communicating?
Over the last few years, we have seen how startups are no longer seen as innocent by society; they no longer have ‘carte blanche’, and society is rhadamanthine a lot increasingly sensitive. There’s a polarization issue virtually many topics, and we are increasingly going to see a unpeace between society and startups. It is plane going to increase post-COVID, with tensions virtually automation versus jobs. And the thing is, scale-ups and growth-stage startups have a nomination in how they market themselves; so they need to be enlightened of upstanding concerns that may upspring sooner than later.
Society is going to ask you for responsibility. What’s happening with big brands is trickling down, and scale-ups are hitting that threshold sooner. Typically, it catches them unprepared, considering they reach that stage only knowing local feelings well-nigh what they do, and suddenly getting national or regional blowback. Or they expand internationally with local operations led by really young people with no wits in dealing with politics, who suddenly squatter strong local blowback.
All of this has a lot to do with pitching, considering it’s not well-nigh product anymore. So for instance, it’s well-nigh inveigling public authorities at variegated levels to let you operate, when their incentives are very variegated from investors’. It’s B2G2C – merchantry to government to consumer. And we are seeing increasingly and increasingly startups, with regulation as a factor in their operations.
And how can you talk to public authorities, customers and investors in a unified pitch?
The major pitch needs to bring all elements together. It needs to be well-spoken on what you do, and hit the right notes on upstanding concerns. It’s important both for regulators and for fundraising; considering from the investors’ perspective, it moreover reduces uncertainty virtually your business. As a scale-up, your worthiness to scale is a concern, so it helps to show that you are thinking and planning virtually societal impact.
I have to say that an increasing value of investors do genuinely superintendency well-nigh this. It may be considering they have been burned, for instance from seeing regulatory blowback first-hand, or just considering they are growing conscious. There are still some investors that have the ‘Uber mindset’ and only superintendency muscle – grow first, and only then, deal with regulators – but increasingly and more, VCs are enlightened that this might not fly, considering society is changing. The pandemic is just highlighting this plane more.
What well-nigh startups? Do they moreover superintendency increasingly well-nigh their societal impact?
I think it’s a pendulum, and the current generation is a child of the previous regulatory blowback. Crypto might still be on the other side, but increasingly, startups are enlightened that there are societal implications they will have to deal with. I moreover try to bring that message wideness when I prepare my clients to pitch – and warn that it sometimes happens very quickly: we’ve seen how one prohibition in one place can spread like wildfire. So you need to regulate your initial message, and moreover be prepared to transmute quickly.