Back in elementary school, we all had to buy these school notebooks with the school insignia in the front. On the back of the book there was a quote in three languages. It was a famous quote from Pascal Blaise that went something like: “I made this letter longer than usual because I did not have the time to make it short.” (I think Mark Twain may have said something similar).
At the time, I was really perplexed by the quote. It seemed counterintuitive to a 9 year old that it would take time to make something shorter. And why was it so important that they would print this quote in the back? It was only a few years later that I realized that making something concise, descriptive and short takes time and effort.
I am reminded of this frequently when we get pitched a new business. And it amazes me that well-trained and educated executives miss this. Half an hour into the presentation they still have not explained what their business is about in a way that we can internalize and understand. How important is this? Critical to success!
As a startup entrepreneur, communicating the business opportunity in a way that others can understand is essential, not only for raising money, but also for recruiting employees, signing up partners, engaging customers, or exciting the press. Keeping it simple is a big part of effective communication. And like everything else it takes time and energy to get it right.
I understand that some businesses are more complicated than others, especially technology-driven businesses. But all the good ideas are about solving a unique problem for a set of customers. And that can be described in simple terms. Getting this right is even more important when it comes to investor presentations.
Investor pitches need to quickly get the attention of investors. If you have to spend half an hour to explain the outline of what you do, you have failed. Think about it; a complicated explanation usually signals to us one of the following: (a) you don’t have a strong grasp on your business, (b) you haven’t invested the time to simplify the story in a way that investors can understand, or (c) you are making it more complicated than is necessary in order to prove that you are experienced, usually a sign of insecurity. None of the above is a favorable statement.
So I can’t emphasize this hard enough. Organize, practice and simplify. Try it out with a friendly crowd. Try the pitch on your spouse or mother-in-law. In order to succeed, keep it simple!
Originally published March 12, 2010 at navfund.com.