What Investors Want to Hear
Over the years I have evaluated many pitches by startups who have applied to join the Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator. There are many ingredients to a great pitch, but at their core they combine crisp messaging with great passion.
A Clear, Concise Message
A strong start is essential. Begin by clearly outlining the problem you will solve. Then, explain your solution and what truly differentiates it from what competitors are offering. If it will effectively support your explanation, it’s okay to use PowerPoint, but keep it succinct.
As you explain your solution, be pragmatic and think about it from a customer perspective. Keep the sales pitch speak to a minimum, and avoid absolutes. It’s tough to sell an audience on an idea that you value at $1BN. Instead, focus on relatable, achievable goals by talking about customer benefits and any successes to-date using anecdotes, case studies, and data. And make sure you tailor your presentation and the most relevant examples to your audience—investors and their teams aren’t one-size-fits-all.
If at all possible, demonstrate your product or service. Investors sit through countless presentations, so to be memorable in a sea of PowerPoints, show them your game changer. The best way to reassure investors that your product or service is worth spending money on is to let them experience it firsthand. This experience will also enable them to ask more informed questions, and questions are important.
Make sure you allow time for Q&A. Even if your pitch was strong, potential investors can perceive you or your product negatively if you spend all your time doing the talking and leave with unanswered questions. Some presentations may turn more conversational from the start; read the room and allow flexibility in your presentation. If the flow is conversation driven, adapt to that and don’t stick to a rigid script. Know your key points and work them in.
Remember to talk about your team. By its very nature, investing is a risk.
There are many ingredients to a great pitch, but at their core they combine crisp messaging with great passion
You can help allay concerns about those risks by showing the depth of the talent that supports you. Name key members of your team, and briefly describe their role in solving the problem you outlined. Speaking of your team, is there someone on it who might be more comfortable and better suited to presenting than you? At one startup event in Singapore at which I was a judge, I saw a team practicing. The CEO of the company was leading the presentation, and while I picked up on his passion, he wasn’t a strong speaker. I suggested that he consider letting his COO present instead of him. She was an eloquent speaker and went on to deliver their messaging perfectly to the judges. Investors would prefer to see a strong presentation than hear from someone just because they are the CEO. It might be a bit of a blow to the ego, but keep your eye on the prize.
Passion, Passion, Passion
When you (or whoever your spokesperson is) get up on stage or into the boardroom, you need more than just good messaging. You need to show passion. After all, you are not just pitching your product, you are also pitching yourself and your team. That doesn’t, however, mean you go overboard. While you are there to obtain a financial injection into your company, you are also seeking counsel and support to develop your idea. It is crucial to show humility and humbleness. Also, it’s okay to be a little vulnerable. There is a lot on the line, so don’t be afraid to show that you are a real person. Investors don’t just invest their money, but also their time. You want to be seen as someone with whom they want to do business.
The Four Ps
As with most things in life, Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. The best presentations I’ve seen come from startup executives who have clearly practiced and prepared their presentations. They outline their product or service clearly, they demonstrate their passion for the idea, and they connect with their audience.
There are several ways to hone your messaging. By attending startup events and conferences, you can see how others perform. While live events really give you the insight you need, you can watch other presentations online, such as these pitches from Innotribe, a fintech startup challenge. Online, you can also learn by watching presentations from recognized masters, such as Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. Finally, don’t forget low tech ways to prepare. Present to your family, record yourself on your phone, speak in front of the mirror. Do whatever it takes to be the best you can be for your pitch.
Any entrepreneur who has succeeded in securing a presentation with an investor has already done so much hard work. While the pitch can seem like a daunting prospect, in reality it is like needing a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of a baseball game. You know what needs to be done, you have done it before, but the stakes are high and all eyes are on you. Practice, hold your nerve and you will do fine.
It’s important to remember that not every pitch will result in funding or interest, but that doesn’t make it a failure. Build connections, consider feedback you receive, and keep building or refining your product and presentation. A pass now doesn’t necessarily mean a “no” forever.