Pitching the Right Stuff
If you're looking for venture capital these days, keep two things in mind: (1) Professional fund managers continue to be short on money to invest (despite a recent wave of initial public offerings); and (2) venture capitalists have notoriously short attention spans. If you're lucky enough to arrange an introductory meeting with venture investors, don't waste your breath developing too many aspects of your "story." Better to keep your presentation focused -- and short.
Here are some pointers gleaned from venture capitalists who recently attended a conference in Columbus, Ohio, where more than 30 entrepreneurs were allotted 15 minutes each:
* Use pictures. Face it: without props, a lot of business ideas, particularly technical ones, are tricky to explain to lay people. That's why Gary Golding, a general partner with CEO Venture Fund, in Pittsburgh, recommends using photos and diagrams to help orient listeners to the product and the marketplace. But beware of providing too much product detail in your first meeting, Golding advises. "You'll spend too much of your time." And you may lose your audience.
* Tell them how you'll make them money. Venture capitalists are big-league skeptics. So potential company owners looking for money need to convince would-be investors not only that they have an interesting concept but that they know how they'll make money with it. "Some businesses, like computer retailing, are just plain tough," says Philip Fiske, a vice-president with 3i Capital, in Boston. "You have to demonstrate you know the capital requirements and show why you'll be more profitable than everyone else. You do need to anticipate investor concerns about costs and margins and address them early."
* Explain how you've gotten this far, and why you need more capital. Nobody wants to throw money down a bottomless pit. A good way to assure investors that their capital will be put to good use, explains Golding, is to outline what you've accomplished to date. Assuming your company isn't a start-up, at what point did you raise the initial funds? How far did they take you, and what stage are you at now? "You want to put things in terms investors can understand," Golding says. "You want to show that you can stretch funds a long way."
* Showcase management's prior accomplishments. A lot of entrepreneurs oversell their ideas and undersell themselves as managers. Or they think that by mentioning their 16 years of experience in the industry, they've said enough. The truth is, many venture capitalists see themselves investing, above all else, in management. So you need to show them why you and your managers have a great shot at achieving what you say you will. Rather than focus on your length of service, Fiske says, tell venture capitalists what you did -- how you built a product, or ideally, how much money you made for your investors. "I don't mean to knock experience," he explains, "but the important thing isn't years, it's results."
-- Bruce G. Posner