Steve Jurvetson on How to Pitch a Venture Capitalist
BY Burt Helm
The managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson opens up about what impresses him during pitches--and what doesn't. One suggestion: Be more like Elon Musk.
Over the past 18 years, venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson has heard thousands of pitches. Jurvetson is managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, the Menlo Park, California, venture capital firm that has backed such successful companies as Skype, Hotmail, and Tesla Motors. We asked Jurvetson what impresses him during pitch meetings, what doesn’t, and why some entrepreneurs are, in his words, “just kind of magic” in a presentation.
Save the Speech
Treat pitch meetings like a conversation, not a speech, Jurvetson says. Of course, you should be prepared to outline your business idea and the massive opportunity it represents. (Brief PowerPoint presentations are OK.) But be prepared to go off script. During pitches, Jurvetson asks lots of questions, partly to see how well an entrepreneur adapts and responds to the unexpected. “The point is to show you’re good on your feet, that you can get an idea across, and demonstrate how you think in the context of the meeting,” he says.
Be honest and precise when you answer questions. “We have a disdain for the sales pitch,” Jurvetson says, recalling meetings with glib entrepreneurs who respond to straightforward questions by tossing off anecdotes instead of providing analytical responses. “Being slick is not the right answer,” he warns.
One huge red flag for Jurvetson during pitches? Co-founders who cut each other off and are clearly not getting along, which could indicate bigger troubles within the business. “That happens more often than you’d think,” he says.
Above all, your pitch should get investors excited. “It’s that infectious enthusiasm that gets us jumping out of our seats about whatever it is an entrepreneur is doing,” Jurvetson says.
The most impressive entrepreneurs are curious and deeply knowledgeable about a wide range of topics, Jurvetson says. “Elon Musk wins you over with his elegant mastery of engineering, be it for the rocket or the car,” Jurvetson says. “But what blew my socks off was when our conversation veered way off topic. We started musing about whether it was possible we all lived in the matrix, and Musk still had deep knowledge. It made me believe he could connect the dots in a way that lesser minds couldn’t.”
BURT HELM is a senior writer for Inc. magazine. In 2013, his Inc. feature “After the Squeeze” was awarded the Stephen Barr Award for Feature writing, and his stories “After the Squeeze,” and “Turntable.fm: Where Did the Love Go?” received awards from Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Prior to Inc. he worked as a reporter for Bloomberg News and a department editor for Businessweek. He is a graduate of Yale University with a double major in Physics and English. He lives in Brooklyn, NY. @burthelm