Help Me Heidi
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Help Me Heidi

What *not* to do in a venture pitch meeting

Dear Heidi,

Monday’s the day we present to our top choice venture firm. The deck is ready and we’ve honed our delivery to perfection. I think we’ve thought of everything, but, given you’ve probably seen it all over the last 20 years of hearing pitches, can you give us any advice about things we should be careful not to do?

— Almost Showtime, Mountain View, CA

Hello Almost Showtime!

Thank you so much for asking this, because I’ve been dying to write about this for quite some time. Here are a few of my choicest no-nos.

Don’t put things on slides that you can’t explain: You need to own every piece of data you present, where it came from, why it is valid, how you calculated something. I’ve been in many a meeting where we’ve asked a question about something (like customer acquisition cost or total market size) and the entrepreneur could not explain where the number came from. Trust me, it’s a very bad look.

Don’t make sh*t up: Hopefully you’ve not made things up in your presentation either, but if we ask a question, don’t just make stuff up on the fly. It is completely reasonable to say, “I am not sure, let me do some work on that and get back to you.” In fact it then turns into a plus when you in fact do get back to us with a thoughtful answer a few days later.

Don’t be rude, dismissive, or argumentative — especially to your own team: Most people who meet with us have been through enough entrepreneur finishing school to know that it is good to be respectful towards the VCs in the meeting. What amazes me though is when they take the gloves off with respect to each other. Part of what we are scanning for is your team dynamic. If you are openly rude to each other, disagreeing on what is presented, cutting each other off or talking over each other, that is not a positive signal to us that you have a good team dynamic. Oh, also, as they say, there is no “I” in team — if you are the CEO, please don’t bring three other people but then talk about every company accomplishment in the first person as if you personally did everything yourself.

Don’t leave messaging apps active in the background: I probably shouldn’t disclose this because it does give us a lot of interesting data that you probably don’t intend for us to have. Even as you are connecting your laptop, we might see your calendar, your desktop, or the fact that you have 5,034 unanswered emails in your inbox, any of which might tell us something about you. The biggest faux pas is to leave a messaging app open in background. One time, while someone was doing his product demo, his girlfriend sent him a very explicit message about what she was going to do to him that evening, and we all got to, umm, experience the moment. One time, a three-person team was in the room, and one of them sent a text to the other two disparaging the question just asked by one of the partners — said text popping up on the big screen as the CEO reached the pinnacle of the demo. Oops!

Of course, if you want to f*ck with us, you can also use this to your advantage. You could arrange the perfect timing for someone text you things like “just received the Sequoia term sheet!” or “Zuck needs to meet with you this afternoon to hammer out deal terms” and then act all embarrassed and apologetic as you quickly click it away.

Don’t come to a pitch meeting hung over and with a black eye: Yes, this really happened to me, someone came in obviously hung over and with a black eye. Worst is when I asked the person about the black eye, he said he got it by goading someone into a bar fight the night before. Uh, no…

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Servin’ up a slice of Silicon Valley advice

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Heidi Roizen

Heidi Roizen

Partner at Threshold Ventures, Stanford Educator, Board Member, Mom, dog lover.

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