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How to win a £100,000 pitch from 15,000 kilometres away


Melbourne start-up Localz recently won entry into JLAB – the first ever incubator by Europe’s leading omni-channel retailer John Lewis.

You’re probably thinking, “So what? Start-ups enter incubators all the time.”

Well, you see, they got in via a five minute pitch over Skype and then went on to take out the top prize – £100,000 and a contract with John Lewis.

Below is what co-founder Tim Andrew had to share with Anthill about how they pulled it off as well as the business at large.

What exactly does Localz do?

Localz provides micro-location tools and experiences for enterprise customers.

What does that mean?

We provide a software platform that helps big companies easily connect their legacy tech systems to the new breed of mobile location tech such as the much hyped iBeacon.

Our customers can then enrich and simplify experiences by delivering online content based on a persons (or devices) proximity to something or someone in the real world.

For example, it could automatically offer to trigger a customer’s Click & Collect order to be picked as they enter the shop to speed up the collection or help customers to navigate their way around one of our shops based on their online wish list.

Why should enterprise customers care?

Sales data from John Lewis shows that customers who shop across both online and offline channels bring in an average of three times more revenue than single channel shoppers.

Therefore, encouraging people to shop across both and making the experience seamless will reap big rewards.

Furthermore, ABI Research has predicted that the number of smartphones regularly using micro-location services in 2018 will top 800 million devices globally.

We have been going for just under a year now, although collectively our team has many years of enterprise and mobile technology experience (read scars!). Many of us have financial services and payments expertise. 

We kicked off the business as we know first-hand the major problem big companies have in moving fast enough to make use of new technology and believe that micro-location will be ubiquitous in our lives in the next couple of years.

The fact that both Apple and Google share that view about micro-location gives us some confidence too!

So, how did Localz win the JLAB pitch?

My dad worked as a Partner at the well known UK retailer John Lewis for over 30 years and I have been following the company’s progress as it has transformed from one of the most traditional to Europe’s leading omni-channel retailer.

My brother actually works with their IT department and he sent me a link to JLAB (their first incubator program) at the start of the year.

We have had ambitions for our platform to be global form the start, so Pete, Melvin (fellow co-founders) and I thought it could be a good way for us to get into the European market with a marquee brand.

The JLAB online application process was well structured and it also forced us to think about how to adapt our message specifically for the retail industry.

We spent about a week in elapsed time crafting the responses as each field had a text limitation so each word had to count.

We quickly pulled together a video (which we’d love to have spent a bit more time on, but it worked!) as our product can take a bit of explanation, particularly to a non-tech audience.

We also wove in a bit of my family connection to demonstrate that we understood the unique culture of John Lewis – something that they differentiate themselves on. 

A few hundred companies from around the world applied and from that, the panel selected 30 to deliver a five minute pitch at the JLAB space at Canary Wharf in London.

We got a call saying we had been short-listed and had about two weeks to refine our pitch.

We debated about whether one of us should jump on a plane to be there in person, but had too much other work on in Australia at the same time to commit for a five minute pitch.

We knew we would have to really nail the delivery to stand a chance at all, and be exceptional to get it via Skype. We spent eight days pulling together and refining the six or so slides and with 24 hours to go, decided to junk the lot and change direction.

The catalyst for this was doing some research on our competition and realising that a lot of them were going to be pitching exactly the same consumer message as us.

We changed tack to highlight the real problem we solve, rather than all the cool things you can do with the tech.

While our slides and script weren’t as polished as we would have liked, the refined focus on solving a real and immediate problem for John Lewis is one of the key factors that got us through. We got called back for a 20 minute Q&A session which Pete (Product Director) led.

At this stage, it was about getting across our product credentials and technical know-how. We had talked through likely questions and had some key messages that we wanted to get across. It’s harder to rehearse this stuff, but having spent a few minutes thinking about it was a big help.

This is a summary of the tips we have about pitching:

  • Create a connection to demonstrate you understand the company wherever you can. This might be personal or business related.
  • Dig into your competition, what angle are they likely to pitch on, how are you different?
  • If they ask for images or video, provide the best you can in the timeframe.
  • If you are pitching via Skype/remotely, make sure you know your script really well so you can just look down the camera.
  • Boring, but standard tip: rehearse it a few times – make sure it fits in your allocated time and have contingencies to move on if slides don’t work etc.
  • Embrace the fact you’re not in the room – it’s a point of difference!

After the pitch, we went on to be one of the five finalists that participated in the 15 week JLAB program and had access to awesome mentors and relevant events throughout to help shape our product for the market.

This culminated in a final pitch session where we had 20 minutes to present and Q&A.

We chose a pretty unique presentation format that demonstrated our technology by giving the audience an iPod Touch each and driving the presentation using beacons to trigger the screen changes. Live demos are nerve wracking, but it worked and we emerged from the judging as the ultimate winners.

Our prize was a £100,000 investment and a contract to work with John Lewis.

What next now for Localz?

Right now we are faced with the interesting problem of hundreds of approaches from interested potential customers, suppliers and team members from all over the world.

It’s been an amazing response and we are truly delighted.

It’s also demanding that we stick with our product strategy and not be distracted by other exciting, but non-core opportunities to earn great short-term revenue.

The win, and the business development we did while being part of JLAB, has also led to us establishing a full-time presence in the UK. We have a team of two there right now and expect this to grow rapidly over the coming months.

We were also lucky enough to be selected to join PayPal at their UK Start Tank initiative in London, which provides us with a great base and access to mentors who will help us scale.

We are also being encouraged to re-domicile our business to the UK. There are some really impressive grants and incentive schemes that make it a genuinely attractive proposition.

The work that the UKTI put in to attracting and supporting early stage businesses such as Localz makes you realise that the government there has worked out what it needs to do to secure its future economy.

I think there are some lessons that could readily be applied here in Australia.

We are not planning on leaving in the immediate future though and are looking forward to announcing some significant programs of work with well known brands here at home in the next few weeks and will be looking to also establish a presence into SE Asia early in 2015.

Pictured above is the pitch team (L-R: Melvin Artemas, Tim Andrew, Martijn Verbree, Pete Williams)