Pitching takes practice, in the baseball leagues as well as the business leagues. I've been pitching and making speeches since I started working. At age 16, I stood behind a Godiva Chocolates counter pushing truffles and bon bons. I sold more Lion of Belgium goodies than the most seasoned salesperson. I still dream about cream filled hearts and chocolate covered caramel squares. Much of my early success was a result of my passion for the expensive treats.
Soon I upgraded retail categories and sold diamond engagements sets. Naturally, as my sales skills progressed, I moved into advertising and marketing post college. In the past 20 years, I've made so many presentations that I've simply lost count. I've pitched advertising services to cosmetic companies, public utilities, mattress makers, retailers, fast food restaurants, a casino, a bevy of liquor clients and more. However, even with extensive practice, I've had my on and my off days.
Overall, I've learned that to make a persuasive pitch, you need to be passionate about the topic, act as a storyteller, limit the PowerPoint slides and ingest no more than one cup of caffeine prior to any important meeting. These are some of my tips, but with the start-up market abuzz, I turned to several venture capitalists and asked them their "do's and don'ts" of pitching. Below are DO and DON'T tips from five leading VCs. Please take note.
Partner, True Ventures
DO get your entourage onboard from the beginning.
DON'T get caught up in the current funding environment and overly value your company.
General Partner, August Capital
DO get introduced to VCs by a trusted friend or advisor, if possible.
DON'T hide the ball. There is no point in hiding any portion of what you are doing when you are pitching. Full disclosure isn't just the best policy, it is the only policy.
DO focus on company culture
DON'T believe your sales guy's projections
Partner, Catamount Ventures
DO act small and think big. Make sure your pitch includes a lean, short-term plan to find product/market fit, and connect it to a long-term vision for creating a big, meaningful company.
DON'T build technology in search of a market. Avoid spending valuable engineering resources on expensive technology ahead of deploying, measuring and learning from real customers.
Managing Director, Hummer Winblad Ventures
DO think about the first pitch as not just a way to demonstrate your product and your plan, but a way to show us how you'd be to work with. I have turned down a company where I liked the details, but didn't think I could work with the entrepreneur.
DON'T tell me about the "exit" or the valuation you're expecting during your first presentation.
Boiling down these tips, the themes of relationship, realistic scaling, and passion infused with humility bubble to the top. And while practice always makes perfect, the insights contributed here will help you avoid pitching pitfalls.
If you have a pitch tip or story to share, feel free to tweet it to @portergale. This is the sixth post on a series on entrepreneurialism by Porter Gale, former Vice President of Marketing at Virgin America.