Last week I agreed to hear a founder’s pitch and give feedback. I knew ahead of time that the company was not a good fit for my portfolio, but I wanted to help my friend who was helping the founder (and I was further inclined to take the meeting because the company has a woman founder). We scheduled 30 minutes. At the start of the meeting, she went directly into the pitch. Seven to 10 minutes later, I was fatigued by all the talking yet, I still did not know what exactly she was building and why the world needs it. I cannot tell you how often this happens. It does not have to be this way.
Founders, your sole goal of meeting no. 1 is to get the VC to want meeting no. 2. Meeting number one is not the time to share every last detail about the business and market just to prove that you know your stuff. When you do this, rather than feel inspired and excited, we feel inundated with information and after, we don’t want meeting number two, we want an Advil.
The first meeting is your time to tell a story about your company and make the potential investor love it so much that she thinks about it on her drive home and still can’t get you and your company out of her head the next day. You need to get the hook in VCs mouths by giving us enough to believe two things: one, that there is something very interesting and big there, and two, that you have an impressive team. It also helps if you have delivered your pitch so well that we can easily, and with conviction, describe your business to our partners. You achieve that, and you will likely be asked by VCs to spend more time going deeper on details, meeting partners, sharing models and more.
Timing of information is key. Stay 30,000 feet high (big picture) when you first deliver your story and be ready to change altitude as a VC asks questions. You can prepare as much information ahead of time as you desire as nothing impresses VCs more than asking a question and having a founder pull up a slide from her appendix that answers that question perfectly. “Man, she has thought of everything.” However, it is important that you bounce back up to a high altitude and continue with your story, versus staying in the weeds, after you answer the specific question. You have a certain amount of time to get your key points across and spending that time on details instead of the big vision won’t usually win you a second meeting.
So, what gets covered at 30,000 feet?
- Market — size and problem/opportunity
- Solution — why your solution is 10 times better
- Traction and metrics — if you have
- Competitive landscape — This one is tricky. VCs want to understand the position you can hold in the market rather than a feature by feature comparison to other products and services (that chart can come later). Doing this well is an art in my opinion.
- How much you are raising and what milestones will be reached — Different people have different points of view on this one. Personally, I prefer to hear what you will achieve with the amount you are raising and how long this raise will last you rather than how you will spend it. If I need more detail as to how you can reach the milestones on the amount raised, I will ask.
The Mark Twain quote “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter” applies perfectly to pitches. Spend the time to distill the story to the soul of what you are creating, and don’t get lost in a lot of talk, data and unnecessary information. Be prepared with all your facts and models to support you as questions are asked. Your goal is not to tell the investors everything you know, but to paint the picture that excites them and gets them asking the right questions. It does take time and discipline to get to the short, tight pitch but the investment pays off in spades, not with only VCs but with building your business.
As for the founder I mentioned above, I did end up stopping her mid-way through her pitch to share some feedback and I began peppering her with questions — Why did you decide to create this? Is there really nothing else like this out there? Why are you uniquely qualified to build it? Etc. Her answers were thoughtful and strong. My advice to her…pitch that.