Guest post: How to play it safe so that your startup gets invited to pitch and what next

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This is a guest post by Boris Borchert, an editor and the social media expert in the online marketing team of ImmobilenScout24. ImmobilienScout24 is the leading real estate platform in Germany with over 5 million unique users per month. He is also on the executive board of the DJV Berlin, a German journalist organisation.

We have built an incubator for startups at our company in Germany. People use all kind of communication to send us their startup ideas, but most of them land in my email in-box. I won’t go into further detail about their ideas because discreetness is our number one rule. But I am still astonished every day what people think might make me decide to choose their idea for further recognition. And I am used to getting strange mails (I once received a job application online with a blinking and smiling Christmas tree on the bottom of the page).

If I were a psychologist, I might find it interesting to study if people purposely kill their chances of getting invited to pitch because of some kind of natural fear of becoming successful. But I am not. So, instead, this is a somewhat selfish post to help save us all some time.

1. The first (very German) rule:

We are not long time buddies. We didn’t fall drunk together in high school or something like that so never ever greet me using my first name until we know each other better. I know it’s a social world but it’s not businesslike in Germany. By doing that, you act like a social media nerd, which might earn you some points of sympathy, but a really bad B grade for artistic value.


Although I am a cinéaste, I don’t want cliffhangers or trailers. I am sure you found the most amazing solution for the ultimate problem. But not naming the problem, the solution or both leaves me rather more sad than excited. You really want it to depend on my mood whether or not I ask politely for more information or send the “So sorry, we didn’t accept you” -message? In four words: Come to the point.


I know you imagine our CEO twirling his fingers all day just waiting for your call or acceptance of a lunch invitation to talk about your idea. So it might depress you to hear that he is rather busy. To quote Yoda: Patience! Asking every second day does not help. A gentle reminder after four weeks of silence might be a good idea instead.


A business plan doesn’t make an idea and an idea isn’t a business plan. The most splendid power point presentation and a business plan predicting a golden era of income can’t feign a good idea. The idea instead need not be brilliant. It needn’t even be new. But it must be monetizable in a (short term) way or give the company some other kind of advantage.


Don’t play hide and seek. A link to a website explaining the idea is good. A website only your geek friends understand, isn’t. I might be a geek, but the guy in charge who gives the money normally is not (Zuckerbergs excluded). If you are not sure, ask mom if she has a clue what you are talking about.

And when you’ve finally made it and get an invitation to pitch:


If you give a presentation and act as if your idea is an unpleasant skin disease that you should try not to come in contact with, I won’t be sure you are the right guy even if the idea is a good one. Live your idea. I don’t expect you to be Jerry Seinfeld, but if I get the impression you don’t believe in your idea, why should I?


Be prepared for the pitch. This might sound obvious but unfortunately it is not. Check how much time you need for your presentation and leave enough time for questions. You won’t get more time than agreed in advance. If you are clever you bring your presentation not only on your laptop (two are better, just in case), but on a stick as well in case the local hardware isn’t in love with your computer. Depending on the company, old school handouts (more than one) might be wise as well.


If you have a brilliant idea don’t discuss it with your friends endlessly until someone else comes up with the same idea. Give the idea in you a chance to come out and play. Good luck!

  • alex

    What do you want people to call you, Nancy?

    • Boris Borchert

      I said its a pretty german rule. If people from outside of germany contact me, i won´t have any trouble with getting called Boris. In fact in our company it is a common rule that everybody does so internally. btw. Nancy sounds fancy.

  • bcurdy

    To this, I would add:
    If you run an incubator for startups, don’t write a guest post that patronizes founders and/or make you look like somebody no one would possibly want to have a drink with.

    I’m sure the author didn’t want to come across as rude but I’m not convinced that the tone of this post helps conveying a positive impression of youisnow. Sure we don’t need to be bff to make business together but being friendly doesn’t hurt, right?

    Also unless your Y Combinator or Seedcamp, don’t believe that founders are spending days waiting for an answer either. There are tons of incubators those days and plenty of opportunities to get funding. You won’t attract the best teams unless you’re able to follow up in a reasonable timeframe when they contact you.

    Anyway, this is probably just an example of cross-cultural communication going awry… Best of luck to youisnow.

    • Boris Borchert

      Thank you for your comment. I am astonished so many people think it´s absolutly rude. And you can be sure people who contact me get a friendly answer. I just tried to point some things out that i used to see after a while doing this. Even the tone sounds rude i think you can take something with you for the next presentation you might do better. I think it helps more than a we where delighted but it´s not you answer. I tried not to blame someone in the post. In fact i am astonished and positivly impressed how many very good and professionally presented ideas reach us.

  • Moritz

    this is not about culture, this simply is a very negative and rather arrogant posting

    as stated above, there are tons of incubators these days (even in copycatland). some very few of those will stay – but many will disappear again..

    • Boris Borchert

      @Moritz: I tried to find a way to give people advice who have an idea iand want to present it for an incubator. I think if i had a written a nice how to do it posting nobody would have liked to read it really and discussed it.

  • kristina

    oy. what an unfortunate post by an author who sounds like he has a huge stick up his you-know-where.

    • Boris Borchert

      You made me smile. I know it sounds rude. But i have failed only if people see only in this post that i am arrogant. you know i didn´t write this for advertising on my person. I wrote this that people who think about a good idea and who want to present it to an incubator get a chance to see what is the best way to do so. I might have failed doing so but i hope not.

    • Boris Borchert

      All agreed the post sounds arrogant. I take the blame. I tried to figure out a way that the post is interesting to read and though t its´obvious that it is exaggerated. It seems to be not and that is my

      So what would interest me is what kind of advice from the background of your knowledge you would give to people who think of presenting their idea to any kind of incubator or investment team?

  • Fer

    Well, by the tone of the author one can hear that he is from Germany…and why its people are so popular! ;-)

    As an entrepreneur I can say: neeeeeext! (and please don´t wait for my call)

    • A. G.

      Since I’m from Germany as well, I’d like to add that there are also a couple of nice people around here :(

      • Boris Borchert

        I think it´is not depending on nationality if people are nice or not. But i think it´s best to visit a country to check that out. i met very nice people all over the world.

    • Boris Borchert

      This rather astonishes me. Sure my posting sounds arrogant. But i think it might give a hand to people who are not sure how to post an idea. On the other hand i don´t really see it as typical german.

  • Ali Ahmed

    I agree with the rest of the commenters here, this post is plain cocky, and terribly put together. First thing that came across is the arrogance of the author, no offense, but I’m guessing no one here knows you, so don’t act as if you have this magical knowledge to bestow upon all us idiot entrepreneurs. Secondly, youisnow has to be one of the worst names I’ve come across, ever. Doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that you know what you’re talking about. Third, your site is completely in German (with no English button), so why not write this post in German too and save us the trouble.

    • Boris Borchert

      Dear Ali Ahmed. I know the post sounds arrogant. In fact i wanted it to sound like that. Isn´t it obvious by the way? So why? Because nobody would have had something from a post where i describe that every idea that reaches us is brilliant and perfectly presentated (though really a lot are). So what might help someone who wants to give his brilliant idea a chance? Maybe to hear what others did wrong. I know that the site is not in english. It might come but it depends on some other things as well. I wasn´t sure the link would be included so this is not a post advertising the incubator. But i know there are many people outside who try to figure out how to present their ideas. Some spend a huge amount of money to learn it from professional people. That is okay with me. But not all have the time and money to d so. so i think with these simple rules you can figure out what might help and what not. If you think that is obvious and you know that already, all the way better.

      • Ali Ahmed

        Hi Boris,

        Apologies if my comment was offensive, after writing it, it did seem to come across as quite negative. I do want to say that I respect people who are able to get to post articles in Techcrunch, it means that you reached some level of success in your field. I also respect the fact that you would like to share your knowledge and expertise with people who may benefit from it. It’s just that I absolutely didn’t like the tone and cockiness of the whole thing, as everyone else who commented.

        Anyway, I can understand your intent with the article but hopefully you’ll take a more diplomatic approach next time. Best of luck with your incubator venture.

      • Boris Borchert

        Thank you for your comment. I will take your advise and be more diplomaic next time. Good luck for you as well.

  • #Sylvitan[EEWERWEJEJWE]

    Hello ! I’m new on this forum, hope to talk to you soon :)
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  • Robert

    Perhaps it’s just me, but it doesn’t come across that rude. Direct, sure. But I suppose being Dutch helps in that (aren’t we known for being one of the most direct people?).

    Nevertheless, good advice. It all adds up; spelling, grammar, belief in your own ideas, trust in your partner(s) and show some ambition. I’m by no means an expert, but these are – in my humble opinion – all common sense.
    Mark Zuckerberg might’ve been able to sit at a Sequoia pitch in PJ’s; most of us can’t afford this lapse in professionality.

  • Tom Holder

    I think this post highlights one of the challenges of being in the tech industry in Europe!

    It strikes me Boris has had a bit of a hard time for what are essentially language/cultural differences and the more we can understand each other and put this to one side, the more business we can do with each other.

    I can only speak for myself but the fact that he can communicate to a high level in my language, and I couldn’t offer to buy him a pint in his, is embarrassing. Understanding these cultural differences is good I think, point 1 for example seems mad in England but if that’s how it is, good information to have!

  • Richard

    ugh… this seems kinda depressing and a sign of what’s wrong with startup-Europe right now

  • Vadim Berman

    Why so many people consider it “rude”?

    Low on euphemisms and a bit of healthy sarcasm is not the same as rude. Boris made very good points, which I wish I learned years ago.

    Probably in the Anglophone world the language may have been different, but the same points would be made. In fact, this still does not guarantee one will get through, it’s just plain common sense.

  • Stefan Richter

    I think this post contains some great advice and being German myself I see how it may come across as a bit rude which clearly was not intentional. The title of ‘social media expert’ may not have helped :-)

    One thing strikes me though and I see this more and more, including when I read between the lines in this post: some incubators and potential investors appear to see themselves as the be all and end all to all startup activity. Reality check: you are not. You need us entrepreneurs as much as we need you, and every now and then there even seems to be a company that grows organically – imagine that!

  • Admin

    Great! thanks for your information and sharing

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