There’s nothing more intimidating than giving a pitch to a panel of VCs. Why? No matter how awesome you and your company might be, there are too many unknown variables: competitive companies in a portfolio, lack of interest, mismatched market opportunity, run rate numbers that are too low — the list goes on. According to one stat, VCs reject 99 percent of the pitches that they hear. Ouch.
What’s even tougher is that founders have a very limited window to get their pitches right: you have to be able to articulate your value in only a few minutes. Everything from your talk to your deck and visuals need to be spot on. How do you strike this balance? Here are five tips to help you put your best message forward:
1 – Stalk your target audience. For real.
As basic as this tip sounds, it’s worth revisiting. A VC audience is very different from your prospective customers and you’ll want to keep the subtleties in mind. VC audiences care about optimizing their portfolios, investing in high-potential teams and entering new market opportunities. Not to mention, VCs will have different sub-goals within these general categories.
“An IoT-focused audience will judge your startup much differently than a real estate tech or academic-focused audience,” explains Ryan Croft, founder at Transit Screen.
The best way to win your next pitch? Know the specific VC that you’re trying to reach. Read their blog posts, analyze their funding track record and learn what their personal goals might be. You might even consider talking to other founders and interviewing people on their team.
2 – Shed as much wasted time as possible.
When you only have 10 minutes to wow a potential investor, you don’t want to spend the entire time clarifying confusing issues in your deck layout. You want to use subtle cues to guide your audience and you should think through these elements before you create your deck.
“We make our decks visual, almost like infographics,” says Orun Bhuiyan, co-founder at SEOcial. “Icons and arrows can illustrate analogies or abstract concepts and the relationships between them. Something that would take 60 seconds to explain verbally can be absorbed within a few seconds using the right imagery.”
At the beginning stages of your planning, figure out where you can shed time. This mindset will help you optimize the subtleties of your pitch so you can focus on the information that matters.
3 – Start with one strong sentence.
No matter how complicated or important your product might be, you need to simplify your message. Your end goal? Develop one sentence that you can use to lead your pitch.
“Answer the questions: who are you, what is your product and give a concise reason how it’s useful to them,” says Jenna Sullivan, knowledge coordinator at ProviderTrust.
On any given day, VCs encounter numerous companies, value propositions, products and founding teams. It’s tough for any human being to remember all of this information; no matter how smart someone is, brains have a finite capacity for retaining information. Be memorable by simplifying your messaging.
4 – Be laser focused on your product/market fit.
VCs want to feel confident that your company will continue to take off. What’s the best way to guarantee this outcome when you’re still early stage? You need to demonstrate a strong product market fit by communicating a few key pieces of information: (1) the problem you’re solving and (2) why your company is in the best position to do it. Everything else is just fluff.
“Have razor sharp focus on product and ignore all the fancy market research, industry blogging, etc.,” says Shiv Chawla, founder at Rhymeo. “Get people to believe in your product and vision over anything else.”
The market matters, but what’s more important is your unique position within it. At the end of the day, forecasts are just forecasts. The most powerful growth numbers and anecdotes will be ones that are unique to your own company.
5 – Don’t forget the people.
VCs care about your company but they also want to invest in human beings. Your story is just as important as your product and customers – don’t forget to mention the personal details of what led you to where you are.
“We won multiple pitch competitions and raised our first round of funding by telling the team’s story first and foremost,” says Michael Ivey, co-founder at Modern Message. “In other words, we focused on why we were uniquely qualified to solve this problem and how the market was already responding to it.”
Your company exists because of you, so make sure you’re part of your own story.
It’s your turn to join the discussion. What are your best tips for creating an awesome pitch? Share your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below.
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