Kashew is back! As promised, here is part two of our three-part blog series. In this week’s post, we’ll shine light on our Hult Prize Journey, our highs and lows, the moments that troubled us, and our takeaways on how to overcome these hurdles.
Maybe you’re thinking of competing this year, maybe you think that your idea or team isn’t good enough, maybe you’re worried about presenting an idea that isn’t bulletproof and end up embarrassing yourself. We had all of these worries and more, and in this post we want to address all of these worries and share our tips on how we managed to become one of the winning teams of the 2020 Hult Prize Competition.
Be resilient—you have nothing to lose
Are you thinking of competing in the next Hult Prize competition, but you’re afraid that you might not have the time, the team, or the right idea to do so?
That’s what we thought too! In fact, three days before the on-campus competition, we had nothing—no slides, no presentation, not even a proper idea. At the same time, our team was faltering; we felt punished by our lack of creativity and saddened by the prospect of not competing again—especially since it was our last chance to participate in the Hult Prize before all of us graduated.
It even went so far that we decided to meet with the Hult Prize school advisors, ready to tell them the disappointing news that we would drop out of the competition. But then five words were said that we will never forget: “You have nothing to lose,” said Larry Louie, our Hult Prize mentor and with those five simple words, he changed the way we thought about our decision. Was there something to lose? Maybe we thought so.
But Larry was right, what was the worst thing that could have happened? We could have lost, but at the same time, we would have had an amazing experience and opportunity to use what we had learned in class and apply it to a real-world scenario. This change in mindset made us come to a realization about what we were doing and why. It wasn’t about winning, but it was to learn, to have a great experience, and most importantly to have fun. And with that we decided to compete.
So if you’re still thinking about competing, don’t think of it in binary terms like: good idea/bad idea, good presentation/bad presentation, or winning/losing. It’s about the journey and the learnings you can take away from the experience.
Don’t think about the Hult prize in binary terms like: good idea/bad idea, good presentation/bad presentation, or winning/losing. It’s about the journey and the learnings you can take away from the experience.
Find your uniqueness and engrain it in your team
Once you have an idea, don’t stress yourself out on making it bulletproof, instead work on finding that USP that symbolizes your idea and engrain it in your team. Because in the end (as Bruno said in our first blog post): “It’s all about the team!”
What does that mean? For us, on the day of the competition, instead of wearing the classic business attire with button-up shirts, sleek suits, and dress shoes, we decided to go second-hand (like our idea) and suited ourselves with thrifted and colorful Hawaiian shirts. So while we felt nervous about the judges poking holes into our business concept, we felt empowered by our non-classical attire as it demonstrated our passion as a team.
We did this because we understood that investors invest into teams and not ideas. The Hult Prize is not a class where you can get by just regurgitating the words of a well-rehearsed presentation to get your grade and then forget about it all the next day. Here you have to demonstrate why YOUR team will solve THIS problem not just on pitch day, but far beyond. So, find your unique aspect that demonstrates your passion, and then show it!
In fact, from that day on, we wore our Hawaii shirts on all our pitch days (and there were many over the course of the Hult Prize), because it showed our unique passion, and maybe more importantly, that our team is cohesive which introduces the next point: team cohesion!
You have to demonstrate why YOUR team will solve THIS problem not just on pitch day, but far beyond
A great team with a mediocre idea
So you’ve got an idea, but you’re thinking about how to write and structure your pitch, and what to highlight and to emphasize. Is there a winning cocktail?
At the on-campus Hult Prize competition, we competed against a team with a fantastic idea. They demonstrated a patented water filtration system that was cheaper to build and more effective at filtering polluted water than any previously available systems. Pretty cool no? While this was clearly a fantastic idea, the team unfortunately lacked two integral parts to win in their pitch: the passion and cohesiveness of the team.
What catapulted us forward was the story and the team. Team cohesiveness is and will always be essential, for any team specifically in the Hult Prize competition. There’s a reason for “team cohesiveness” to be the very first item on the Hult Prize scorecards.
So when we ended up winning, we learned that a great team with a mediocre idea captures interest over a mediocre team with a great idea. That is because if you have a team with a shared entrepreneurial vision, the passion to solve a problem, you can all work under pressure, take and use feedback and prove to be resilient in even the most difficult situations, then you’re already more than halfway there.
We learned that a great team with a mediocre idea captures interest over a mediocre team with a great idea.
So in your pitch, ALWAYS focus on your story as a team. That story shouldn’t just pass through your pitch as a thin thread, but as a thick rope that holds and binds everything together.
Why should the audience care that you have this idea which can solve that one customer problem? The audience will care if you paint that problem as something that you have experienced with your team, and demonstrate how that problem may also affect them, their friends, and family. So why are you solving that problem? Not just to solve customer X’s problem and make customer Y’s life easier, but because you discovered these frictions as a team and you’re certain everyone in the audience does that too.
Making better choices easier
What do we do now? At Kashew our aim is to make better choices easier. We all know how hard it is to buy furniture, let alone to get rid of it when moving out again. We’ve been through that process multiple times ourselves (and probably so have you), though we are still astonished by the amount of furniture that ends up on the curb, and then eventually in the landfills.
We know that the furniture industry has to be reimagined as our lives get faster as over 9.8 tons of it end up in the landfill every year in North America alone (that is about 4 couches every single second). So the answer isn’t simply reduction, but the reusing of furniture. All those thrown-away pieces have a unique story to tell and today, we’re working hard so that the story doesn’t end at the landfill, but that it is told and rewrote again over generations to come.
Live sustainably, buy second hand 🙂