I've given many hundreds of pitches as an entrepreneur but it was only when I became an investor that I actually felt what it's like to receive a pitch. It's actually pretty tough to evaluate a business in a little under an hour.
Often, the hardest part isn't the complexity of the business -- it's getting the information you need out of the founder's heads. Looking back, I must have often been a challenge to deal with. So here's the advice I wish an investor had given me when I started.
1) Make the deck beautiful
It pays to get your pitch deck professionally designed. Use images to 'show' rather than 'tell' and look after the styling, fonts and alignment. Recently, I received a pitch deck so beautiful that I met with the founders even though I didn't understand what they were trying to do. The design just signalled 'high-potential.'
2) Drop-in your research
Failing to research your target is a rookie mistake. I have a LinkedIn, a Twitter, a Medium account and a company website with all our investments. If you congratulate me on a recent deal, I'm going to be impressed. One founder quoted one of my articles in the conversation and, as shallow as this sounds, I can't help but like this guy. Flattery will get you everywhere.
3) Own the agenda
All good investors allow the entrepreneurs to lead the pitch. Sadly, this gives you enough rope to hang yourself. Starting the meeting by outlining a clear agenda and managing the schedule comes across as extremely professional. Diving in and running over the scheduled time adds extra stress that neither side needs.
4) Get me to relate
Before even mentioning your solution, lead with a relatable story about how people struggle without your product. In a recent pitch, the founders led with a description of their product and launched straight into the details about features and distribution. Without a story to visualize their customers, the information had nothing to stick on to and I couldn't help zoning out.
5) Check-in with me
The word pitch implies 'one-direction' but the truth is that no-one likes to be talked at. Don't forget that you can only communicate as fast as your audience can take in the information. You'd be surprised how many times I signal that I'm confused but the founder doesn't even notice. Remember to check-in regularly and address any questions.
6) Embrace silence
Once the business summary is over, I'll have some quick questions to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. Don't be afraid to answer a question like 'how many people are on the team?' with 'four'. Silence gives me time to process. Filling up silence up with stories and unnecessary makes it hard for me to process, get through other questions and move on to the 'good stuff'.
7) Ask for my advice (but never my contacts)
"Ask for investment and get advice. Ask for advice and get investment." You have everything to gain from asking me for advice in an area you know you need it. As well as coming off as smart and mature, it puts me on the spot and makes me want to show you that I can add value. However, be careful about asking for introductions if we've just met.
8) Humor me
When receiving advice, curiosity wins and defensiveness loses. Whether you agree with the advice or not, the smart move is to ask questions like "have you seen something like this before? I'd love to hear about a specific case." To end, you could say "that's a great idea -- we've thought about this but not enough" and jot it down in your notebook.
9) Say when you don't know
Let's say, for example, that you haven't figured out a business model. Don't do what I did when I was a founder and present three possibilities, hoping that one is right. Instead, present it as something you are actively testing. "We're still working through three potential business models. This is an area where we could use your input." Showing you know the value of focus and good advice speaks volumes.
10) Follow-up immediately
Follow up immediately after the meeting with a short email. Include your 1 or 2 key takeaways and some bullets on next steps. Keep it very short: 35 words max. If you help me stay organized even before I do, I'm going to love you for it. That's why you need to be quick -- or I'm going to do that to you and gain the upper hand!
It's easy to think that investors are actually cyborgs and under the skin is just circuits and spreadsheets. But we're humans too. Maya Angelou said it best when she said this:
"At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel."