With only two percent of all US venture capital going to female founders in 2017, saying women have it tough when pitching to investors is a huge understatement. Whether that’s because of unconscious bias, social conditioning, or simply due to the fact we’re outnumbered, it’s fair to say something has to change, and fast.
To help female founders beat these stats, we asked five successful female entrepreneurs from TQ — TNW’s tech hub in Amsterdam — for their best advice when it comes to pitching. Here are six things they wish they knew when starting out:
1. Don’t let feedback drag you in different directions
Eveline Klumpers, the founder of Katalysis, is a big believer in ignoring feedback not relevant to her goals. “Get feedback, keep learning, but don’t let this drag you in all kinds of directions. That’s something I wish I knew from the start. It can get very confusing when one person tells you your pitch is horrible, and the next tells you it’s the best they’ve ever heard.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but be specific in what you ask for. There’s no right or wrong in pitching, there’s only the goals you set for yourself. So, ask specific questions but only listen to the feedback that enables you to achieve your goal, ignore the rest.”
2. Target investors that fit your business values
Christina Calje, founder of Autheos, thinks choosing investors carefully is especially important. As she explained: “The researching phase for the investor pipeline is a critical first step in the fundraising process that many first-time entrepreneurs underestimate.
To maximize your chances of success during your pitch and post-investment phase, you need to target investors who ‘fit’ your business values and stage of maturity. The research phase deserves full-time focus for four to six weeks, with the goal of creating a curated list of 100+ investors to approach, ranked in order of preference.”
3. Schedule your pitch meetings in reverse ranked order
Christina also had a handy tip to get the most out of your investor pitch meetings: “When it comes time to scheduling pitch meetings, do so in reverse ranked order. Why? Because, no matter how much you’ve practiced, you’ll inevitably stumble during those first meetings.
By starting with the lower priority investors, you can use those meetings as low-risk practice runs. By the time you get to your top tier pitch meetings, you’ll be confident, practiced, and owning the room!”
4. Take the time you were granted and own it
Sophie Op den Kamp, Managing Director at TQ believes a great pitch starts with the right attitude. “I think, in general, women are more inclined to worry about people liking them or not. But confidence is not ‘I’m sure they’ll like me,’ it’s ‘I’ll be fine if they don’t.’ That’s the attitude you’re looking for when pitching. Not in an arrogant way but in a humble, peaceful way.
Use the power of adrenaline to stand up straight, talk loud enough, and deliver a powerful message. But don’t forget to take pauses in between your lines and keep yourself calm. I always do a short breathing exercise before going on stage (nobody even notices you doing it). Breath in for three seconds and out for six. Repeat 10 times, and shift back to normal breathing. This will help you be mindful and not race through the pitch.”
5. Use your pitch to tell a great story and show empathy
Deepti Sahi, CEO at Deskbookers thinks empathy plays a big part when it comes to winning over investors. “Two critical elements of a successful pitch are strong storytelling and building a rapport with the audience. We, as women, can use the fact that we’re naturally empathetic to our advantage.
I do this by showcasing that I’ve really thought about what my customers desire while telling my overall story. I also actively listen to potential investors to identify any common ground. The best investors look for the human connection, in both the business opportunity and the team they’re backing. Empathy goes a long way to bring those to life.”
6. Have an elevator pitch ready for unexpected situations
Ev Liu, founder of Straw by Straw urges entrepreneurs to get their elevator pitch down pat. “Have a 15 to 30-second pitch ready for unexpected situations. Even if you haven’t got a pitch event coming up, practice something because you never know who you’re going to meet! Once you have your ‘elevator pitch’ ready, you’ll also find you’re much more confident approaching people because you know exactly what to say.
In unexpected situations like running into someone on the street you have five seconds to grab that person’s attention. You don’t want to spend those five seconds thinking: ‘Okay… How am I going to approach this?’”
Since 92 percent of partners at the biggest VC firms in America are men, it’s not surprising women only received two percent of overall funding last year. But a recent study found that women double the revenue compared to men — so perhaps backing a women-owned startup is a better bet.