By Ajay Yadav, CEO of Roomi.
When I walked into my first pitch meeting, I was convinced I'd leave with a check. I opened up my laptop, blew through my PowerPoint slides, and then popped the question: Want to invest? Though I didn't get the money (surprise), I did get one observation from a would-be investor: "You sounded really needy."
That's a mistake I'll never make again. Four years and $6 million in seed funding later, I've realized that what inspires an investor to action isn't the ask; it's the story you tell. Our brains, as it turns out, are built for stories -- but not the problem-solution-traction kind.
Stories -- real stories with conflict and a hero -- change us so profoundly that we become more empathetic, more willing to help, and more likely to mimic the behaviors of the main character. Put another way: For founders like you and me, stories are tools of persuasion. Imagine how powerful these three could be at your next pitch meeting.
Before going out to a party, Sara Blakely sliced off the ends of her pantyhose and started Spanx. Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia rented out inflatable mattresses on a site they called airbedandbreakfast.com. Backstories like these captivate us for the same reason superhero origin stories do: They build context. They give us a chance to make sense of who the founder is, and why they do what they do. So, how did your startup come to be? What, in particular, were the challenges you faced on the way there? This your opening.
For instance, I often lead with a story about an old roommate of mine: We got along just fine--until he locked me out of the apartment one day, stole my deposit, and threw away everything I owned. That was the moment I knew I had to build Roomi, a safer marketplace for shared housing. Your potential investors have seen more 10-slide pitches than you've ever given -- but your personal story is yours alone. No one else can tell it, and if you tell it well, they won't forget it.
Your Thicket-of-Thorns Story
If anyone could kick back and wait to be showered with capital, it would be Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. Instead, he did the exact opposite: While raising money for Square, Dorsey famously circulated a list titled "140 Reasons Why Square Will Fail," together with counter-arguments for each point.
Think of every fairytale you've read: You don't like the hero any less just because he has to hack his way through a thicket of thorns. The thorns are what make the fairytale interesting. In the same way, your potential investors know your startup may fail. Your job isn't to convince them that failure is impossible -- just that you're their best bet to beat the odds. Where could things go wrong? Is it the size of your market? Your technical ability?
Be honest about the challenges you face, and then tell your investors how you plan to tackle each one. This way, you'll answer objections before an investor can even raise them -- and you'll prove you can think through problems intelligently. You'll prove you have the mindset of a winner.
Your Vision of the Future
Ask Elon Musk what the future looks like, and he won't hesitate for a minute. He's going to save humanity by powering the world with solar energy, turning all cars electric, and putting humans on Mars. What's your vision for the future? This -- not your product -- is what you really sell an investor on.
Paint a picture so vivid, so real, they can't help but believe it like you do. When I pitch Roomi, for example, I use my own customer data to create personas -- like Salima, a 26-year-old who's nervous about moving to the United States for the first time. We're already helping Salima today, I tell investors, and in the future, we're going to help the Salimas of the world.
In the end, this is the most important story you can tell: The future is inevitable. You're going to get there, one way or the other, but the train is leaving the station now. Are your investors in or out?
Ajay Yadav, CEO and founder of Roomi, sees every day as a new opportunity to "crush it" and to make positive co-living experiences easier to find.