Pitch Me:"The Worst and Best Pitch I've Seen"

Jacob Tompkins connects watertech with investors – in this episode, he shares how to craft a winning pitch.


It moves, it flows, it evaporates, it shape shifts and it changes form. It underpins everything. Since he was a child, Jacob Tompkins, Co-Founder & CTO at the Water Retail Company has been fascinated with water and hydrology: “I like new ideas and I find water magical.

“It's the fact that nature can irrigate the inner parts of vast arid continents through clouds – if you think about what a cloud is – the concept of evaporation, the huge movement of water. The water cycle and water itself as a chemical is very, very unusual. 

“If you think about all human existence. Most towns and human civilisation have been built in relation to water for food and transport. People have a primal connection with water – humans' relationship with water has been forever.” 

In the face of a looming water crisis, Jacob says there are two things that give him hope: a huge amount of tech coupled with a vast entrepreneurial spirit to solve wicked water problems, and grassroots activism for the quality and preservation of water. 

“We all have a fixed pot of water that we're all reusing and you have to look after it. We think the oceans or water are places we can just dump stuff, and that we can use as much water as we'd like. Maybe if we considered that the planet has a finite supply of water, we would look after it properly and be good stewards of that water.”

As the Founder of an accelerator hub that matches watertech innovation with investment and market demand, Jacob’s on a mission to transform the way water is used and managed, and he knows how to craft a pitch that ensures both climatetech companies and investors are talking the same language.

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How are you hoping to solve issues of watertech innovation in your accelerator?

We set up the accelerator to see whether we can ensure that the tech is right for the market, and the market is shaped so it can accept the tech. A lot of tech companies devise something they think is amazing. And quite often it is, and it'll solve these world water problems. ‘Okay, that's lovely, but where's the money coming from?’ You need to think about the market and how that's going to be implemented. Who's going to buy this technology? That's the really difficult part, quite often tech entrepreneurs don't think about that. 

In your experience, what are investors looking for?

What investors are looking for is 50% team, 25% tech and 25% marketing and business plan and yet most tech companies think it's all about the tech. That's great, but you need the right team and to have thought about your pipeline and who's going to buy this. 

We see people who spend ages and ages making the tech better. But what they should do is spend ages and ages making it cheaper. 

Often, 90% of what they've done is good enough for the water company and what they should do is make it either cheaper or more robust, or easier to fit. And instead they work on the tech side. I spent a lot of time as an academic and that's what you do, but it doesn't work in the market, you need to turn your tech into a product. Just because people have a great idea and really good tech – it doesn't mean it's going to sell.

What’s the number one reason a pitch fails?

We tend to work with European companies and I hate to say this, but quite often, it's almost lack of ambition. This is very generalistic but if you talk to American tech companies, and say ‘what's your market?’ It's,‘well, it’s a global market and we're going to do this and we're going to do that.’ Whereas if you talk to a European one it’s ‘well we've sold two of these to the local water company and maybe, if it's good enough, we might be able to sell another one.’

What’s a pitch that ticks all the boxes?

Be ambitious. Ensure that you talk about the business plan, the team, as well as the tech. The number of times you see investors’ eyes glaze over when people talk about the tech too much... 

Most important is the team and their background and showing that they've had success in this area before. The technology has to work. You have to show progress, you have to show a pipeline, you have to show traction, and you have to show vision, and ultimately, how is the investor going to get their money back?

Could you describe the best pitch you’ve seen?

Enthusiasm and self-belief

My colleague and I were talking to a tech company where we were both amazed at the end and we loved it. But then when we sat down and thought about it afterwards, they didn't actually have anything. Physically, or in terms of IP, there wasn't anything there yet. It was the enthusiasm, it was the team they had put together, and it was the vision they had. And we have investors who are interested in this. 

Sell the vision

You have to be able to sell the story and sell the vision. It was almost as if these guys are so passionate about this, they've got the right team, they'll be able to do this. And you know, the tech is just filling in the blanks – you will get from here to there.

It's the opposite of a company with really good tech that they've spent ages working on, but they're almost apologetic about. 

Don’t bore your audience

Define the problem you're going to solve. Frankly, if you're a tech company with really good tech, then the story bit isn't that difficult. That's the point people always miss.

I've seen so many presentations where it's just unbelievably boring. Once you get onto the 14th slide of how the tech works, I don't care, just tell me why and what it's going to do. I don't need to know how, I will afterwards, everyone does their due diligence. But tell me a compelling story first.

Who would you like to hear from?

I’m on the lookout for European watertech that's looking to grow. We're in that space between tech entrepreneurs, investors and customers and we may be able to help you.

Do you have a favourite quote?

‘That'll Do, Pig.’ Which is what the farmer says to Pig when he's rounded up the sheep and done a decent job. To me, it sums up contentment and playing your part.

……………..If Jacob could teleport himself into his future he’d still be busy connecting the watertech market: “Take off the limits, I’d be in a castle by the seaside somewhere warm, doing the same thing I’m doing now.”

For now, as lockdown lifts, he’s looking forward to going to the pub for a quiet pint...

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