30. April 2012–
Last week we brought you the details of what leading investors and VCs look for in a startup pitch. This week we continue our series by picking the brains of the best startup accelerator bosses and mentors in Europe to discover what makes them take notice during pitching events...
An associate at Seedcamp, Philipp manages the application and selection process. His investment focus is on new web technologies, mobile apps and innovative application of technology to existing markets.
Who are you pitching to and what are they interested in - know your audience
Very often, startups under-prepare pitch sessions. You need to put enough thought and consideration into who you are going to talk to and what that audience wants to understand.
Investors want to know a lot about the market and business model, entrepreneurs want to hear about anecdotes and insights they can apply, engineers and designers want to hear about the product. Make sure you understand who you will be talking to to make your talk most interesting - and think about what you want people to remember.
Have your messaging and core communication set in stone – find your mantra
Knowing what the core of your offering is, and delivering that one-sentence pitch without flaw is the single most important thing to get right. It should be like a mantra that you repeat again and again – the rest of the pitch should support every part of that message. For example, you might be the premier international platform for entrepreneurs looking for capital, mentors, and network (this is our mantra) – use the presentation to show how you deliver on these points.
People want data, not superlatives, as proof – use numbers
When you want to impress your audience, you can best do that by supplying them with measurable outcomes that show your progress. Traction does not mean huge user numbers or massive revenue, it only means that the line is moving in the right direction. Do you have customers that use and love your application? Are they using it in critical situations? Are referrals through the roof? Were you able to prove a viral coefficient, a cheap way of sourcing traffic? All these may be different for your own startup, but from day one you should collect data points that show anyone outside that you are moving in the right direction.
Bonus point – Demos fail. Use screenshots
I have yet to see a pitch session where all technology works right. Don't use fancy fonts, avoid video and sound like the plague, and rely on screencasts or screenshots to present your product. Demos are good for longer sessions, but anything under five minutes should not have you clicking through a product. And when you do demo live – make sure you have a good demo account with interesting data and a well rehearsed click through story ready.
First of all there are all kinds of different pitches for different situations: One-on-one with a business angel at a cafe, pitching the entire partnership at a VC firm, standing on stage at a demo event, etc. You should adapt your pitch to the context.
This is obvious stuff but we've all seen pitches where the presenter couldn't get to the good stuff about team or market because they ran out of time and were cut off right there on stage; or someone rambles for ten minutes at the bar and the only thing the angel is thinking is "get me out of here!"
In my experience people put in 99% of effort on their product/company and 1% effort on the pitch. But very often the pitch is 99% of the impression you get to make to investors. At Startupbootcamp we start working on Investor Day pitches with one month to go. And it shows. Investors have heaped praise on our events and that keeps them coming back.
Here's my top tips for the pitch-on-stage type:
Be crystal clear what it is that you do
I've seen my share of pitches and by far the No 1 issue is that when the presenter is done the first question is "so... can you explain again what it is your product / service / idea is??"
Have a call to action
So many times a startup will get a slot at an event and will fail to conclude with a clear call to action. Or it's a simple demo event and because they assume there are no investors in the crowd they do a poor job. I say you never know who's in the audience and you should never waste an opportunity to impress. Your next VP of Engineering might be in the back listening with half an ear. So have a call to action even if you're not raising money. "We're looking for an introduction to a VP at YouTube", "We'd love to talk to an architecture guru", etc. You're a startup, you always need something.
Have some empathy. Investors are humans, they're seeing up to 15 pitches in one seating. Make it easy for them to remember you. You probably want to highlight one of three things: you have stunning team; you have an awesome product/tech; you're looking at massive market opportunity. Investors have to remember your presentation, so are you 100% clear what you want them to remember you for? And are you clearly highlighting that in the pitch?
The rule to rule them all (1) – A stunning demo beats everything
If you have a great demo, stop talking and get to it already! Many people are thinking "Yeah, I've heard this before, it's just like ABC from back in 2003". Then you dazzle them with a demo. Imagine pitching a flight search service. "What? Another flight search, are you kidding me?" Then you demo Hipmunk.com and blow people away.
The rule to rule them all (2) - traction is god
I once saw an engineer present his product and he was beyond bombing. Absolutely awful presentation skills, messy slides, unclear message. Then he rattled off his Fortune 50 customers and showed his balance sheet and Boom! VCs were sitting up. They're thinking "OK we'll lock him up in a cupboard so he can focus on the product – then we'll get him a CEO or VP of Sales and this thing will be huge!"
Know what you want
It’s by far easier to ask for €200,000 seed funding straight instead of saying something like: “Well, we need something in the vicinity of €200-300,000, depending on [whatever]”. This way, you’ll end up talking about the funding range, not the investment opportunity itself.
Don't have a Plan B
Make up your mind before approaching an investor. No one likes be considered as plan B – it’s somewhat like dating.
Practise your elevator pitch: the usual attention span of the investor is short, maybe 30-60 seconds. So: It’s not the elevator of the Empire State Building.
Remember to read our Pitching Tips from VCs and Investors