The average length of a funding pitch to angel investors is 10 minutes. Even if you have booked an hour with a VC, you should plan to talk only for the first 15 minutes. The biggest complaint I hear from investors is that startup founders often talk way too long, and neglect to cover the most relevant points. Or they get sidetracked by a technical glitch due to poor preparation.
If you start by pitching your extended life story, that's the wrong point. Equally bad is an extended pitch on your new disruptive technology. Investors are more interested in your solution and your business, rather than your technology. Here are some tips on the right approach and the right points to hit:
- Match your material to the time allotted. If you have 10 minutes, that means no more than 10 slides. Then match your pace to cover all the material. I've seen several presentations that never moved past the first slide before running out of time. An obvious effort to keep talking after the time limit won't save your day with investors.
- Remember you are pitching to investors, not customers. Some entrepreneurs seem to think that their product pitch is also their investor pitch. I outlined what investors expect to see in an earlier article ("Ten Slides Make a Killer Investor Presentation"). These are tuned to the 10-minute limit, but are just as adequate if the investor gives you an hour.
- Check the setup and set the stage. If the projector doesn't work, or won't connect to your laptop, you are the one that loses. Have at least one backup plan, such as copies of your slides to hand out and discuss, in case all else fails. The first words out of your mouth should be "Can everyone hear me and read the screen?"
- Research your audience before presenting. The most respected presenters are the ones who have done the research before hand to know who is in the audience, and have tailored their message to these interests. If you know only a few people in the audience, acknowledge them, and convince the others that this is not a random cold call for you.
- Dress appropriately and professionally. It's always better to be over-dressed than under-dressed. Business casual is the standard. Remember that most investors are from a generation where faded and torn jeans were on the wrong side of success in business.
- Let the top person do all the talking. Tag team shows don't work in short venues. More importantly, investors want to see and hear the top guy -- typically the founder or CEO. They will be judging his aptitude, his character and his passion. Others can be present for effect, but deferrals to team members for answers are a sign of weakness.
- First, get their attention with your elevator pitch. Start with the problem and your solution. These are your hooks, and they better be covered in the first 30 seconds. State your value proposition, and what specifically you are offering to whom. Skip the acronyms, history of the company and the colorful autobiography.
- Lead with facts, but skip the details. Skip the generic marketing phrases like more user friendly, massive opportunity, and paradigm shifting. "According to Gartner, the opportunity is 100 million by 2015, with 12% compounded growth." Investors don't need to know the implementation details of your patent or customer support plan.
- Don't forget to ask for the order. How much money do you need, and what percent of your company are you willing give up for that amount? If you want investor interest, the business parameters of a deal should be presented as clearly as the product parameters.
- Close by asking for questions and promising follow-up. Acknowledging feedback and actually listening for ways to improve will always lead to a positive impression. You should answer questions with data if you have it, but avoid defensive responses in favor of a promise to follow-up after the meeting.
Most importantly, don't forget to practice, practice, practice. Just because you have given a thousand pitches in your life, don't assume you can finesse this one by reading the bullet points in real time from the slides that your team put together for you. You need to be totally familiar and comfortable with your pitch to give it effectively.
Forget the theory that you can "rise to the occasion" and impress everyone with your dynamic speaking ability. If you are pitching the wrong point in the wrong way, the occasion will be more the demise than the rise of your dream.