Tim Westergren knows what a successful pitch sounds like, and it's not the type of speech that gets finalized on the way to the meeting.

"It's like a band not investing in a good speaker system," said Westergren, the co-founder of the internet radio company Pandora and a trained jazz pianist. "They could be playing great music, but if it sounds like crap coming out of the speakers, no one is going to know they are good."

Westergren launched Pandora in 2000, and after a tumultuous but highly successful run, the company sold to SiriusXM earlier this year for $3.5 billion. Last year he joined Khosla Ventures. At the Fast Growth Tour in San Francisco on June 6, Westergren told Inc. editor in chief James Ledbetter how his experiences as a founder shape his decisions as a venture capitalist. He also spoke with Inc. ahead of the conference to share his advice on improving a business pitch. Here are three of his biggest tips.

1. Show that you're ready for the responsibility.

Westergren doesn't have a preset list of questions he likes to ask founders, but he tries to understand what motivates them, how they think, and their capacity to learn. "I'm really trying to take a measure of how that person is going to do along what is going to be a winding road," Westergren told the audience. "One of the greatest challenges of being an entrepreneur is you start to feel like you're crazy."

2. Practice before you pitch.

Become comfortable with public speaking before you meet with investors, Westergren advised. Start by practicing your pitch to anyone who will listen, and have that person ask tough questions. The goal is to find the holes and rehearse so many times that it becomes like a campaign stump speech. "Founders have to be good storytellers because they're going to have to convince a lot of people to do a lot of things for them," Westergren told the audience. He admitted he wasn't the best when he started out: While at Pandora, he had to pitch more than 300 VC firms to get the company's Series A funding. 

3. Perfect your visual presentation.

Most visual presentations are way too busy, Westergren told the audience. He recommends that founders keep their slides clean and avoid adding too many words or ideas. While these visual aids are necessary for the pitch, he suggested structuring slides to repeat what you're saying. "Busy PowerPoints are a consequence of people not being confident public speakers, so they put everything on the page," he said. "You want someone looking at you, not at the PowerPoint."

Published on: Jun 10, 2019