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9 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Level Up Their Initial Pitch to Investors

Now that I’ve heard hundreds of pitches, I can tell you there is a wide continuum of pitching / storytelling. Most entrepreneurs are well-prepared and pitch pretty well - they share their story with clarity, conviction, and confidence with a good mix of story and data. Here’s a few ideas to bring pitches to the next level.

  1. Seek first to understand. When you get on the phone, after the small talk subsides, ask the investor to give a brief intro. Don’t go right into your pitch! Almost everyone likes to talk about themselves, and what they say will allow you to tailor your pitch to them. Albert Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” I’m not saying the investor should do most of the talking. And of course, I’m assuming you will have already done your online research on the investor. However, your investor has a problem to solve, why not understand it enough to see if you can solve it with your pitch?

  2. Compelling, not comprehensive  — the other day, I got on a zoom call and the pitch was 40 minutes. Too long! Most pitch calls will be 30 minutes. So, I think the main pitch should take 10–15 minutes, and then that allows for some interaction / questions. Aim for compelling, not comprehensive. There will be plenty of time afterwards for comprehensive if you’ve caught the investor’s attention.

  3. Less words, more story. Most pitch decks I’ve seen are too verbose. The words on the page end up being more of a distraction while the entrepreneur is talking. I’ve seen some teams use 2 versions of their deck — one for presenting, and one (more detailed) for sending after the pitch. Or, the details are in the appendix. The pitch deck really should tell the story well with the goal of getting another conversation. And speaking of which…

  4. Start and finish the pitch with your one-liner. Imagine this - two investors are chatting at dinner, and one investor asks your investor about what you do and why she invested in you. What does she say in this context? It’s short — could be a one-liner. Investors definitely socialize pipeline, and having a compelling, memorable one-liner arms the interested investor to become one of your champions. “Did you hear about [xyz] company? They do/are [your-one-liner!].” Also related to the words you use…

  5. Benefit buddy > feature friend. I’ve seen a lot of decks get too product-heavy. It starts feeling more like product documentation, rather than a pitch deck. If you do talk through the product, I always like to “experience” the product via a customer journey. Almost always, explaining the customer benefits is better than explaining the product features. For example, for headphones, the feature might be “bluetooth radio technology,” but the benefit is “no more tangled cords!”

  6. Use DocSend or similar program to send the decks as links afterwards. You can see (real-time!) who’s looking at which page, and for how long. And you can update your deck without updating your links. Great tool to gauge interest and follow up intelligently.

  7. The team trumps all. In the end, we're investing in people. So, the most important part of the story is the team (and oddly, I still see a lot of decks without a team slide - automatic red flag). You've heard of product-market fit, but just as important is market-team fit - out of all the teams trying to tackle this problem, why is your team uniquely positioned to win? I also care a lot about your 'why.'

    1. Re: Bios: A lot of folks are using one-liners and logos for bios. Works well! However, don’t add the “Google” logo to your bio if Google was merely a summer internship (unless you are a fresh-out-of-school founder)

    2. Re: Advisors: Great to list informal advisors who are in your corner. However, any advisor you list in your deck should know you are listing them!

  8. Make the ask. What specifically are you engaging the investor to do? Include your ask. For fundraising, investors know the amount is subject to change. When talking about use of funds, I want to see what the funds will likely accomplish as well as how much time it buys. Don't include valuation as these decks do get around and it's too dynamic. Always include your contact info (these decks do get around).

  9. Avoid the “small” mistakes:

    1. Misspellings, typos, formatting inconsistencies, numbers that don't add up, and photos that have been sized disproportionally. Little things, yes, but these little things add up and unfairly or not, also tell a story.

    2. Outdated data. If you’re presenting the traction in June 2023, the data should go out to at least April 2023. I’ve been burned by this one before.

    3. Sending the deck as a powerpoint or keynote, rather than a PDF or link.

What patterns do you see in great pitches?

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