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5 Things VCs Want You to Know Before You Pitch

A panel of VCs critiques pitches so you can learn from others' mistakes before you meet with investors.
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A high-stakes pitch to a VC is generally a one-shot chance to sell your business, but wouldn’t it be great if you could have a couple of goes at it? Each time you could perfect your presentation, correct mistakes and learn a bit more about how to wow the folks across the table.

But with limited time and lots of startups to take a look at, this Groundhog Day-scenario is never going to happen. You need to have your pitch as polished as it can be the first time around or risk leaving a less than stellar impression on an important contact. The Kauffman Foundation wants to help you out.

Kauffman can’t turn back time, but they can survey investors for advice on their pitch preferences and examples of what entrepreneurs often do wrong. The organization recently assembled a panel including Karen Griffith Gryga of Mid-Atlantic Angel Investor Group Fund, Bob Thomson of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania and Ellen Weber of Robin Hood Ventures which heard and critiqued entrepreneur pitches. Then they rounded up the top ten takeaways into an article. The tips include:

Assume investors know nothing about your business or sector. One of the toughest parts of developing a pitch is getting the balance right between too much information and not enough. Use your limited time to give a complete but succinct overview so they understand what your product does, why it's relevant and what gap it fills in the market. At the same time, try to be as brief as possible.

Don't sound like an infomercial. Investors get that you are trying to sell them on your product. They also know you might be nervous. But you won't do yourself any favors by adopting an overconfident, smarmy persona who sounds more like someone selling ShamWow towels than an innovative medical device or digital health program.

Got props? If you have a prototype of your device or product, bring it along. It helps convey what your company is doing and helps investors improve their understanding of your business in a tangible way.

If your computer presentation fails, be prepared to wing it. Everyone likes a story of battling adversity and coming out ahead; it's no different with investors. If you can deliver your pitch seamlessly when the walls are crumbling around you, you do a great service to your business and are likely to impress your audience. If your computer crashes during your presentation, be prepared to pitch without it. Don't lose time trying to make the technology work.

Check out the complete article for another half dozen tips. Plus, as an added bonus bit of advice, Hunter Walk of Homebrew recently offered a pitching tip on his blog as well, laying out his advice on how to handle a common pitch stumbling block -- what to do when an investor asks for data you don’t have. Prepare yourself for this possibility in advance, he suggests, by familiarizing yourself with this four-part course of action:

  • Don’t BS: Good investors usually succeed because they’re able to read people well. Also, since they’ve seen so many pitches, they have lots of data to call you on your bluff.
  • "I’ll Get Back to You": If you haven’t run the test, don’t have the data handy or need to crunch the logs in order to tease out a piece of information, that’s totally cool… don’t waste 10 minutes looking through your inbox for the email with the stat.
  • Educate Me: If I’m asking for a piece of information which isn’t very central to the way you think about your company or I could be asking a better question, I’d love to learn why.
  • Lay Out The Framework: At a high level you can probably reduce your business to a formula. If I’m asking about X, just show me where X fits into your overall formula and we can go from there.

Check out his complete post for much more detail. And finally, If you still can’t get enough of VC pitching tips, Mark Suster’s advice on how to pitch as a team, may be of interest.

What hard-won pitching wisdom would you pass on to other entrepreneurs?

 

Last updated: Sep 6, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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