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The First Commandment of Pitching: Thou Shalt Not B.S.

You think your company is great, and that's terrific. But don't whitewash the flaws.
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When pitching your company to investors or would-be mentors, be your hungry, inexperienced, passionate, obsessed and truthful self. Do not, however, sling bullshit.

At The Startup Factory we just completed the selection process for our spring cohort, which entails conducting serious evaluations of more than 100 teams/ideas. We then carried out roughly 25, 30-minute phone screens and sat through 11, one-hour face-to-face presentations. From start-to-finish, the process took about three weeks.

And yet, despite all of the video, audio, and written pitching guidelines, collegiate programs, mentor groups, meet-ups and beer socials, I am still floored by the naiveté of some presenting founders.

I am not talking about the design of your slides (using clip-art or 100 words on a slide). I am not referring to the style of dress (jeans vs. a tie). I am not even bringing up the choice to read every word/phrase/bullet in your presentation deck.

I am referring to some founders’ insistence on pitching me bullshit. As professional investors, we see everything. And no amount of hyperbole can mask an underperforming company or an insincere founder.

A famous investor once said, “you start with my YES until you show me I should say NO.” Yet, some founders continue to provide me all the reasons in the world why I should say “no” at our first meeting, sometimes in the first few minutes.

Doesn't Pass the Smell Test

Here are a few signs for when I know you’re trying to BS me:

• Faking or exaggerating deeper personal experience than you actually have.
• Bombarding me with a wave of useless numbers that are there to divert my attention.
• Referencing or highlighting sales with clients that are not truly obligated.
• Positioning the strength/depth of your team when some are just advisors or contractors.

Our first meeting or two is a mating dance. I am trying to decide whether I like you, believe in you and want to spend a lot of my time working with you. If you pass through my three to five gates, we are going to work together for a long time. Things will get rough. We will see the real you (and you of me) in these times.

So, sit with me. Share your thoughts in an honest and sincere delivery. Don’t hide the flaws in the idea--bring them out and let’s talk directly about them. Start our potential partnership off right, with no BS.

IMAGE: Everett Collection
Last updated: Mar 27, 2014

CHRIS HEIVLY | Columnist | Managing Director

Chris Heivly was a co-founder of MapQuest (which sold to AOL for $1.2 billion), sole managing director of 77 Capital (a $25 million venture fund), and an executive at five software companies. Currently, he is one of two managing directors of The Startup Factory, a seed investment fund making 10 to 14 new investments per year. A national writer and speaker about startups and startup communities, Heivly is also the founder of the Big Top Job Fair.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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