Thirty-seven, thirty minute phone calls in less than 3 days. That is an average of 6 hours each day on the phone getting pitched. It is the first phase of The Startup Factory selection process for eventually making six $50k seed investment offers. During these days I get to hear every kind of pitch you can imagine. Sometimes I get a little peeved. Sometimes I get really frustrated.

At the earliest stage of a startup there are typically many more questions than you have good answers for. In my mind there are two different camps your idea can fall into: (1) You have a vision but little to no data to support your thesis, and (2) You have some to much data that signals to you (and now me) that you are on to something.

Two camps. Which one are you in? Knowing this answer sets the tone of how you should pitch me. My favorite mentor once told me that in every business meeting there are only two roles: seller & buyer. Understanding which role enables you to play that role well.

Two camps. Do you have data and a vision or do you just have a vision? Trying to play a little of both is very frustrating for the investor.

If you are in the vision-only camp, then you must understand that the only way I am going to invest is due to your off-the-charts previous domain knowledge, or your highly-relevant and specific skills and experiences that positions you to be uniquely qualified to execute on this vision.

For example, if you have worked for 5 years managing restaurants and your idea is related to managing the schedules of part-time restaurant employees--I will listen intently. If you operated as Director of Marketing for 3 years at Google on one of their business properties and your vision is related to better marketing tools for small businesses--I will listen.

It is a real reach for someone with no previous startup track record, or domain expertise or data to support their vision to get investor interest today. There are just too many of you. You need to create a situation where you separate yourself from the pack. Your vision is just not enough.

On the other hand, if you are a first-time founder with a vision and you have spent the last 2-6 months gathering customer feedback data like # of visitors to your website, how many of those visitors engage on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, how many share content with their friends, how many downloaded your app--then I will listen. When you bring validation from actual customers/users, you begin to separate yourself from the vision-only founders.

Too many founder pitches are simply words crafted together that do not address these basic concerns. If you have no data, then tell me why you and your team are uniquely qualified to execute this vision. You better have something than just the vision. To hope that your charm or sheer force of personality be will enough is nave.

If you have developed initial outsider feedback using today's customer development methodology and can share with me data on what your idea's impact is--then please lead with that in your pitch. But it must be an appropriate amount of feedback. One example is not data.

Not sure which camp you fall into or how to position what you have? Listen to the questions you get while pitching. I promise you the answers and direction is right there. As long as you stop pitching me and concentrate on following what I need, you will set yourself up for pitch success.

Published on: Jan 29, 2015
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