How to Pitch Your Startup
I see a lot of startup pitches and pitch decks. And most of them suck. So let me share some basic knowledge to help you avoid my rookie mistakes and to help you massively improve your pitch before you reach out to investors, before you start raising that funding round.
(If you like this post, you’ll probably love the much more in-depth Pitching Masterclass.)
There are actually three pitches you need to master.
1. THE HIGH-CONCEPT PITCH
This is the short-enough-to-fit-on-the-back-of-a-business-card summary that describes your business. It’s the “We’re the X for Y” pitch or the 140 characters (or less) @twitter pitch.
By using known and common concepts and ideas, you evoke people’s interest and capture their imagination in one single short sentence — and you enable people to understand and share with others what you are about, to talk about you. And as an early-stage startup, your most important resource is die-hard fans — so you want as many people to talk about you as possible.
Think of it as the ice-breaking introduction at parties and events. You say as you shake the investor’s hand:
“Hi, I’m Chad — I’m creating flickr for videos!”
(Yeah, you guessed it — that was YouTube’s high-concept pitch. Bonus points for you.)
Hopefully the investor you’ve just introduced yourself to will say “That sounds interesting. Tell me more!”.
What do we proceed to tell the investor next?
2. THE ELEVATOR PITCH
Now that the investor has invited us to continue the conversation, we continue with a 30 second executive summary that contains the following ingredients: Traction, Product, Team and Social Proof. Although you want to make it sound less like an executive summary and more like an entertaining story you’d tell a friend or family member. And use the ingredients like you’d cook a meal; Use what you have at hand and emphasize what you think will impress the most, what you have the most of.
Whatever you do, don’t go much over 30 seconds. Consider that the elevator pitch concept originally came from Wall Street where the only way to present your new ideas to the management used to be stepping inside the elevator of the office skyscraper with your boss and pitch them the 30 seconds it took to arrive at their floor. Much like the boss was captured in the elevator and couldn’t run away, most people won’t turn you down or run away for the 30 or so first seconds of a conversation even if you are a bore.
Let’s say your name is Marc Andreessen and you’re a bit younger than today. Your elevator pitch would perhaps sound something like:
“Ning lets you create your own social network for anything. For free. In 2 minutes. It’s as easy as starting a blog. Try it at: http://ning.com We built Ning to unlock the great ideas from people all over the world who want to use this amazing medium in their lives. We have over 115,000 user created networks, and our page views are growing 10% per week. We previously raised $44M from Legg Mason and others, including myself. Before Ning, I started Netscape (acquired by AOL for $4.2B) and Opsware (acquired by HP for $1.6B)”.
The investor would hopefully then answer something like “That sounds fantastic. Please send me your deck!”.
So what do we send the investor next?
3. THE PITCH DECK
It’s the 13 magic slides that will hopefully lead to an investment decision. It should contain the following:
You do NOT need more than 13 slides, (of course you’ll have any number of extra details in the backup slides).
Prepare the presentation in Keynote or PowerPoint using 30pt or larger fonts. Export it as a PDF file and send it to investors. Do not send the KeyNote or PowerPoint file to the investor. Do not use exotic file formats. Use PDF and only PDF.
Practice pitching and presenting the contents of the deck in anything from 2.5 to 7 minutes until you could do it in your sleep. Literally. You cannot over-prepare. Practice is what separates an average (forgettable) pitch from an awesome (memorable, convincing) performance.
Now we hope to be invited to pitch the investor you sent the deck to. Because you did remember to send it on the same day or the day after, didn’t you? Failure to follow up is the silent killer of your startup — don’t be that kind of person.
If you get invited, you’ll usually have somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes to pitch them. Bring tons of backup slides for discussions. Make sure the meetings have partners and not only associates present if you want a funding decision and beware that any answer they give you other than a yes is a no.
- The high-concept pitch gets people’s attention and acts as an incentive to let you keep talking to them
- The elevator pitch convinces investors to ask for your pitch deck. The deck convinces investors to take a meeting with you
- That meeting should lead to a funding decision — if the decision makers are participating in that meeting
For more information about what the investors are really looking for, a much more detailed description of what your pitch deck slides should contain and why — in short, learn how to pitch your startup to investors like a pro, I recommend taking the Pitching Masterclass online course.