ANGEL INVESTORS

How to Pitch to Angel Investors

You may have sheer minutes to impress private investors, with success or failure hinging on how clearly and confidently you can deliver your presentation.

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Mission accomplished. You have found what seems like an ideal match. You are ready for that first meeting with an angel investor where you get to present your business concept. How do you ensure your pitch is a turn on and not a turn off so that you get a second date or opportunity to close the deal with a written check in hand?

"You won't get past first base if you can't address four areas," says Mike Levinson, managing partner and co-founder of DreamIt Ventures, a Philadelphia-based accelerator program for start-ups. An angel investor or early stage venture capitalist will look at 1) is the business idea simple enough for me to understand and buy into, 2) does it solve a problem or meet a need, 3) is it a big enough market and customer base for the idea, and 4) does the entrepreneur have the right people on the team to pull it off, Levinson explains.

In essence you're selling your vision and your team. Angles tend to listen more to an exciting story about the business, while venture capitalists may pay attention mostly to the numbers, performance and traction. But given business owners generally have a window of about 15 minutes to make that initial pitch, every minute counts—and may cost money especially if you've paid to play.

"A lot of entrepreneurs object to paying fees to present to private investors. If you make a bad presentation and walk away without any deal, the cost seems high," says Mike Williams, CEO of Seattle-based Reality Gap, an online game developer. "Truth be told, if I had worked with an investment bank and paid the normal 10 percent finders fee, it would have cost $450,000 to raise $4.5 million. I paid in total $45,000 in presentation fees in the first 17 months of business, which is more like 1 percent. So, if you know what you are doing, you can raise the money you need, and it turns out to be cheaper," he explains.  

Which pitching tools do you need? You should be armed with a business plan that includes a well defined marketing strategy and solid financial statements. That's a given. But what do most investors hone in on when trying to decide if your business is worth them parting with their cash, anywhere from $25,000 up to $2.5 million. How you look, the way you speak, and what information you leave out during a pitch can sink the deal.

"My whole focus is on trying to size up the entrepreneur," says private investor and real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran. "I am looking at how much wild enthusiasm do they genuinely have for their product. You can't fake passion," adds Corcoran, who is part of a panel of experts assessing potential business investments on ABC's reality program Shark Tank. Often on the TV show it is research and marketing facts and figures that attract the sharks and determine whether they bite. Here are some presentation pointers:

How to Pitch to Angel Investors: Focus on the Money

What's the No. 1 mistake entrepreneurs make during the pitch? "Rambling on about their technology or business rather than the financial opportunity—how you and the investor will make money together," says Tarby Bryant, founder of Gathering of Angels, a group of private investors and venture capitalists. For the first meeting, investors assume that the technology works. You should spend a few minutes talking about the business mechanics; an interested investor will ask for more details, says Bryant. Spell out the amounts and number of investors you are willing to sell equity.

Dig Deeper: How to Evaluate Your Company's Financial Position


How to Pitch to Angel Investors: Gauge Your Body Language


People physically judge your acumen based on how you look. "The reality is that people do judge a book by its cover," says Corcoran. Don't get written off by an investor before you even open your mouth. Beyond the obvious, which is you should be well groomed, professionally dressed, and make direct eye contact. Be careful not to wring your hands or place them in your pockets. "A certain level of nervousness is expected but if you constantly shift on your feet this sends a signal that you aren't trustworthy, maybe you are hiding something," Corcoran adds.

Dig Deeper: What Is YOUR Personal Brand?


How to Pitch to Angel Investors: Watch Your Tongue


Fancy talk doesn't work; it could backfire and create distrust. Clarity is the name of the game. The language you use to convey your concept ought to be concise. You don't want to come across as a slick talking salesman. Instead you want to display passion and enthusiasm. "I hear that a lot from investors, no passion from the entrepreneur," says Bryant. If you are just standing there and reading your presentation with no juice, no mojo, nobody gets excited and nobody writes a check." Communicate clearly here's my idea, this is my market, here's what distinguishes me from my competition, this is why it will be a financial success, and here's why you should invest in it, adds Levinson.

Dig Deeper: Close the Deal with a Flexible Communication Style



How to Pitch to Angel Investors: Show and Tell

A PowerPoint presentation using about 12 slides is standard, particularly with a tech product. If you have a working prototype, show it to investors so they can see how it could actually work. If you can demonstrate your product or hand out product samples that's a plus. Discuss actual sales or anticipated orders. Also, this is where your research on testing or proving your business concept comes into play, says Levinson. Include results from surveys, focus groups, and product tests to show any customer insight you have gained.

Dig Deeper: Business PowerPoint Presentation Template


How to Pitch to Angel Investors: Be Prepared

Anticipate questions inventors might ask. How large is your market? Who are your competitors? Why is your product better than what is already in the market? What is your customer acquisition strategy? How much money have you made? Also be prepared to provide alternate strategies, such as if advertising doesn't generate these results, we will do this. Stay cool, calm and collected. Levinson cautions don't get thrown off by a tough question. "It's better to say let me get back to you on that then to fumble for an answer." On Shark Tank investors and entrepreneurs are instructed by the producers not to speak for the first five minutes of the presentation. That moment of silence shakes some people up as they have five sets of glaring shark eyes. "This gives us a very quick snapshot of how the entrepreneur functions under pressure," says Corcoran.

Dig Deeper: Start-Ups 2010: How to Launch Your Dream Company


How to Pitch to Angel Investors: Provide A Way Out

You need an exit strategy; how the investor will make his or her money back. "Two thirds of all the people that have ever pitched to me don't show me how I am going to make money," says Corcoran. Provide one to three year projections. If you say sales revenues, you have put yourself out of the game. "What do you think we do with the profits; we put them back into the business to meet greater demand," says Corcoran. "Investors don't want to jump in bed with you and be your partner for life." Most angel investments take seven to eight years to reach an exit where they are sold to another company or go public.

Dig Deeper: Exit Strategies: What's Yours?



How to Pitch to Angel Investors: Steer Clear of Common Errors

Common reasons for rejecting a deal are that the valuation is too high, the management team is too thin or inexperienced, and there is no unfair competitive advantage, says Bryant. Other common reasons for rejecting a deal are insufficient growth potential and indebtedness—the entrepreneur owes a lot of money.

Dig Deeper: Top 10 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make When Writing a Business Plan



How to Pitch to Angel Investors: Sign, Seal, Deliver the Deal

Just because your pitch went well and an investor is willing to buy into your business, doesn't mean the deal is done. "The really hard part is closing the deal," says Williams, "tenacious follow up is critical. Return phone calls right away."  

Having that second date is important to getting that check written. "Satisfy all questions and concerns. Ask for the order—the money," says Bryant. Be mindful there are obstacles that can get in the way such as a poorly written business plan or lack of the proper securities documents. Negotiating the terms of a deal will always be tricky, and disagreements about operations can be difficult to hammer out.  

The longer the days are spent in closing the deal the less likely it will get done. About 66 percent of angel investments fail to return any money at all. Investors constantly have potential deals on their plate, says Corcoran, so, for every day that goes by other entrepreneurs are moving in on the investor to replace your offer with their juicier deals.

Dig Deeper: What is the professional thing to do if you do not hear back from a company after several follow-up attempts?

Last updated: Oct 4, 2010




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