Someone once told me that a venture capital career is three “sevens:” seven years to learn, seven years to invest, and seven years to see your best investments through.
If true, I’m cresting to my second seven years. I think that’s long enough that I can safely share a few pointers from the many pitches I’ve heard.
Explain what you do, clearly
All too often, I leave a pitch meeting having no idea what the business just pitched to me does.
This can happen when an entrepreneur is so intimately familiar with their space and business that they use terminology and references to people, organizations and concepts that are wholly unfamiliar to me.
Remember that you know your business better than anyone, and always use the “explain to a child, and have them explain back to you” test to ensure that there is a digestible version of your story coming through in your pitch.
Even more frustrating is an over-reliance on buzzwords and marketing speak. Avoid these unless absolutely necessary to explain a concept.
It’s reasonable to explain that your software runs on the cloud while your competitors only offer on-prem solutions. It’s not reasonable to assert that your business strategy is “big data in the cloud.” Those are empty words, and empty words make for an empty pitch.
The story should be 15 minutes, max
Running through your main pitch should take less than 10 minutes and definitely under 15 to cover all of the main points.
There are plenty of pitch frameworks but it’s basically: problem, solution, market size, team, competitors, current state of business, future milestones and fundraising ask.
You should never be over-presenting and under-conversing. It’s much better to run through your main points quickly, sense a lack of interest, and cut a meeting early than to bore someone for 40 minutes. Even worse is when you talk so much that you prevent an investor who is interested and engaged from asking clarifying questions.
In an ideal meeting, you’ll spend about five minutes getting briefly acquainted with whomever you’re speaking to, then another 25-40 minutes pitching.
That pitching should be conversational, though every investor has a different style. Some will mostly listen, then ask questions at the end. Others will jump in frequently. Don’t take a lack of interruptions as a bad sign, but do make sure to occasionally pause for just long enough that someone can ask a question.
It’s also good practice to save questions for your investors until the end, and honestly only ask if you felt like the pitch went at least fairly well. Also, if you have 30 minutes or less, I would recommend not asking those questions at all. That time can be better spent creating excitement and answering questions. If that goes well, there will almost certainly be another, longer meeting when you can ask those questions.
And be tactful. Don’t take the common wisdom to vet investors as license to ask VCs tough questions out of the gate. Get them excited first, and once there’s some rapport and mutual interest, dig deeper.
Remember that investors want to invest in you
Assume that your meeting with an investor was borne out of genuine interest in your business. Investors don’t just meet companies because they’re bored.
It takes a lot of meetings to find a company you’re excited to back, but every meeting is an opportunity. It’s like dating. Both parties are optimistic about the meeting leading somewhere; otherwise, they won’t be wasting their time.
You can make an investor’s day, or week, or maybe even year with a great pitch that gets them excited. Never forget that.
Prashant Fonseka is a partner at Tuesday Capital, an early-stage, sector-agnostic venture capital firm that has made hundreds of investments over the last eight years, backing many startups that have gone on to be Silicon Valley standouts and household names, including Airtable, Airbnb, Uber, Cruise, and others.
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