Pitches are difficult to get right. Despite all the blogs and material about how to perfect startup pitches, presenting to investors is still a challenging task.
Founders often obsess over their pitch: from fine-tuning the value proposition to religiously following Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 model, cramming as much as possible in their 20-minute pitch to investors.
With so much riding on a pitch, leaving anything out can seem to be a missed opportunity – but from the perspective of the investor, ‘more’ is often too much.
A successful pitch has purpose and clarity; knowing what the founder wants to achieve and clearly presenting the proposition.
There are five elements that are important for founders to consider:
1. Keep it clear and simple
A simple tip is to ask “How would I present my business in a way that even my mother/father would understand?”
By explaining the purpose of the business in very simplistic terms, founders will be able to communicate the problem and solution in a message that is clear and engaging for listeners and, more importantly, for potential consumers and investors. Test this out on your own parents!
Parents also probably won’t appreciate or understand the technical jargon which can become second nature for founders living and breathing their business. Start-ups should be wary of technical jargon not just for investors but also consumers, as company websites loaded with jargon typically have high bounce rates.
I have seen jargon-overload in deal review meetings. In one such meeting, after receiving an interesting pitch deck on a “big data” and “artificial intelligence” idea, I was not able to understand the value proposition of the business due to technical jargon. I visited the company’s website to glean a better understanding, but was met with the same problem and still unable to understand exactly what this business had to offer.
In the end, I politely declined their invitation to discuss a future investment.
2. Embrace the art of story-telling
The best pitches begin with the founder telling a story. Although this technique is quite obvious, it is surprising how many start-ups don’t capitalise on the power of the story. A story allows founders to bring the problem to life and connect emotionally with the listener.
This story doesn’t necessarily need to tug at the heartstrings of listeners, but it needs to have an organic and natural structure: a beginning, middle, and end.
By presenting the pitch in this way, the problem and solution of the business is not only framed in an engaging way, but also appears more logical and memorable.
3. Asking is as important as giving
Start-up pitches often focus on the “give” founders can provide to investors. In reality the “give” is not nearly as important as the “ask”.
When it comes to pitching, the whole purpose of the pitch is really to “ask” investors for assistance and funding. The “ask” should come first in a pitch, followed by a more substantive description of the “give” as the remuneration for the investor’s efforts.
Founders can usually articulate where the business is at now, and where they want their business to be in the future, in very clear terms. But where they often struggle is “asking” and making a direct link to how investors can help them realise their plans for the business.
A bad “ask” will be one in which the founder has asked for an unrealistic amount of money in their pitch; either too much or too little. Their pitch will also have no detailed or predictable process for how the company intends to utilise the investor’s money in scaling the business.
For example, “Our business needs $15m in order to break into the Singaporean market”. This “ask” statement is far too generalised and offers no logistical detail, nor an objective outcome.
4. Demonstrate a plan
Founders need to provide an actionable and specific plan that shows the difference the money is going to make to the future of the start-up.
Start-ups should outline the quantum of funding they need in their “ask” and then demonstrate the specific areas of the business that the money will go towards and how this will propel them to the future.
For example, “we are going to spend a nominated amount of funding on marketing, scaling, and increasing our developer team to get to this outcome”.
In addition, the value of funding requested needs to be realistic, and the expected outcome needs to have some level of objective justification through healthy metrics.
5. Be specific about the help needed
For founders not looking for funding but more focused on seeking leads, possible advisors, and introductions, their pitches still need to define their “ask” in strict and specific terms.
For example, if a founder operates as a B2B fresh produce delivery business, their “ask” should be for an advisor who understands supermarket or fresh food delivery logistics, while also describing how this assistance relates to the business’s future plans.
Although it’s important to have an unshakable understanding of the technical capabilities of your product, the messaging a start-up uses to present and sell its business to investors is critical.
Start-ups should aim for clarity at all levels of their pitch, their messaging and their “ask”.
After all, if the investor can’t completely understand the messaging of the start-up and the “ask” isn’t clear, it becomes difficult for them to even consider an investment.
* Benjamin Chong is a partner at venture capital firm Right Click Capital.