Why I Think #TIAJKT17's Pitch Battle Is a Sham

This isn't the Pitch Battle but same stage anyway.

This isn't the Pitch Battle but same stage anyway.

This is a story of the shocking results of the Startup Arena Pitch Battle competition that happened at Tech in Asia Jakarta 2017 and why I thought it was a sham.

So we made it to our first TIA event. On the day of the competition, I sat in the second row from the stage, at least 30 minutes before out all started. I've never witnessed the pitch battles before so I thought I'd definitely check it out, maybe take a few pointers while I'm at it.

There were some really great startups vying for the cash prize, so the competition was great. It all went pretty well until a Korean female speaker went on stage to pitch her startup.

This is kind of where the problem began.

Despite my best efforts to empathise and see the positive side of things, she possibly has the worst English pronunciation I've ever heard. Imagine listening to yourself mouthing the lyrics to a song you completely forgot. That was almost what it was like.

I have to give her an A+ for confidence though - it takes a lot of guts to stand on stage with a clear disadvantage. If her pitch deck didn't appear on the big screen behind her, I guarantee that no one would know what she was talking about. Even with a deck, it was really difficult to put on whatever non-existent lip reading talents you have to decode what she was saying.

Literally me listening to this lady's pitch.

Literally me listening to this lady's pitch.

I still tried hard to give her the best of my attention but it was pretty bad. I remember turning around to look at the crowd and there was so much confusion. Good, that means I'm not the only one. 

Come Q&A time, I had a feeling the judges were going to have some problems communicating with her and boy, were there some problems.

Imagine having to repeat yourself (three times!) because the other person couldn't understand your question, and when they do answer, you couldn't quite make out what they're saying. At one point, another judge had to repeat another judge's question because she (the speaker) just couldn't get what they were asking. I thought this was going downhill pretty fast.

Fast forward to 30 minutes later, it was results time.

I had some of my own favourites in the competition and even made some predictions. But imagine the shock, surprise and bewilderment in everyone when they announced that this Korean startup - which no one has any clear idea or information about - has won second place.

Yup, you heard me right.

Look, the lady who pitched on stage? She's probably a really nice person. She had a lot of confidence and perhaps her product was good too.

But in all honesty, there were other startups on stage that day that were even more confident, had a better pitch, and a more solid product. Easily. In my opinion, there were others that were more deserving. 

So having witnessed this, it made me vehemently question the judges' criteria, decision and integrity.  

Were there any clear criteria laid out for the competition? If yes, what were they? And what was the score for each criteria, given to each startup?

I think Tech in Asia should publish the scores when announcing the winners so there's some transparency to the judges' decision. Other small startups could be watching and taking notes for their own pitches one day, so imagine the confusion it caused when an unintelligible pitch has just won second place. It is, after all, called a "Pitch Battle" so you're judging the pitch, right?

Were the judges actually impressed by them? Or was it a pity vote?

In this particular case, I'm going to go out on a limb and say I'm leaning on the latter.

Southeast Asia is a great place for startups but sadly (and this is just my opinion), it can be one big pity party.

Put a smartly dressed guy with good English on stage and everyone assumes he can survive another day without the extra cash. But put a guy from the slums of Jakarta with broken English and some sob story on stage and everyone throws money at him like it's a disaster fund. 

That's Southeast Asia for you.

I'm not bitter. That's just how it is sometimes. People here will pay money into a "rags to riches" story, even if it's undeserving.

That's what I think happened here, and why I think it's a sham.

Were you there too? Let me know what you think.