An entrepreneur has to wear many hats at once--sales, accounting, human resources, operations. Time is at a premium. But your key responsibility is to make time to pitch your business to anyone who can help. And in the early days of your startup, I mean anyone.
I have battled my way through a terrible Boston blizzard to pitch a potential adviser. I have traversed traffic, heat, and crowds to speak at the New York Maker Faire where I was situated next to a fire-breathing mechanical dragon and no one heard a word I said. I even left my son recuperating from surgery to fly on a scary prop plane (in another snowstorm) and pitch a small angel group in Wisconsin.
Why do it? You need the experience. You need the practice. And it will pay off. After I weathered the storm in Boston, the potential adviser--also an entrepreneur--was shocked I actually arrived. He smiled and said, "I remember those days so well. When nothing gets in your way of an opportunity." We bonded, and he connected me to a terrific adviser.
As you expand your business, the pitch decisions get tougher. Your business is more operationally demanding. You can’t afford to show up and speak to three people at an event.
Here are 5 tips that can help guide when and to whom you should pitch:
1. Event size does matter.
Consider only opportunities in which you are (realistically) able to build your network. When you see a big name on a brochure, it’s tempting to jump through hoops and sign up for a large-scale event, because you hope to get noticed. The reality is that it’s easy to get lost at some of these bigger pitch events. Always ask about the expected attendance at your session, not the overall attendance. Events with multiple simultaneous breakout topics can very quickly yield small audiences for each session. Look for smaller, targeted, more intimate opportunities. You will be heard better.
2. Look at the public relations payoff.
Pay close attention to the public relations plan for an event. Ask about the budget and media sponsors. Some opportunities for speaking cost time and travel dollars but pay back well in terms of building awareness. The Product Pitch event we conceptualized at The Grommet falls in this bucket, and we deliberately designed it to have a repeatable PR and awareness benefit for the product inventors who participate.
3. Never pay to speak.
I once paid to be on stage and speak at a Bay Area marketing event, next to a big guru. It was a waste of money. I have learned that if my business expertise is not interesting enough to get me an invitation, then the audience is not going to be interested enough to justify paying for the opportunity.
4. Avoid paid venture forums.
Do you really want to take on investment from a VC who needs to pay $250 to evaluate companies that paid $1,500 to get in front of them? With some gumption, you can get accepted to pitch at a free-to-apply event.
5. Use technology.
Gaining access to investors 10 years ago felt like a secret mission. New technology has democratized access to capital. Today, for some businesses, crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo can even replace your need for an initial seed round. Angel List opens up doors for entrepreneurs in previously remote markets. Maybe you won't need to hit pavement, at least at first.
Your time is by far your most precious commodity. How you use it has a direct effect on your overall energy, morale, and clarity of thought. Never forget that you owe your A game to your own team.