As our team here at SoGal Foundation prepares to host the largest global pitch competition for women and diverse founders, we’ve gotten tons of questions from entrepreneurs about best practices when it comes to perfecting the art of the pitch.
We went directly to the source and asked top investors who will be judging our SoGal regional pitch competitions in Chicago, DC, Austin, Los Angeles, Boston, Singapore, New York, and more for their insight. From building a deck, to reaching out to investors, to pitching onstage, top investors share their thoughts on these three questions when it comes to early-stage fundraising pitches.
Without further ado…
SoGal Judge in Boston: Jennifer Neundorfer, Co-Founder & Managing Partner at Jane VC
Top Advice for Early Startups: A good pitch is authentic and filled with conviction. Know your story — who you are, what makes you unique, why you will win — and stick to it. If it doesn’t resonate with an investor — that’s ok. It is much better to get to a quick no than waste time on investors who may be stringing you along.
Feedback You Give Most Often: Make sure you’re pitching investors who share your vision for the company and your personal goals as the founder. There is nothing worse than misalignment between investors and the founder(s) — it never ends well. In addition, don’t give up too much of your company too early — it can be a negative signal for follow on investors if the founding team isn’t properly incentivized.
Best Resources: Two things — the name of a great deck designer, and redacted versions of emails I’ve received from companies that have immediately piqued my interest.
Join us and catch Jennifer in Boston!
SoGal Judge in Chicago: Tamim Abdul Majid, General Partner at OCA Ventures
Top Advice for Early Startups: Understand your customers’/users’ needs, the value your product/service can provide to them, and make sure you do not have to go through a difficult education/awareness process to get them to appreciate the value. Sell them an aspirin, not a multi-vitamin.
Feedback You Give Most Often: Don’t fundraise because you think you should, or because you have seen others do it. Only raise money when you need to — ideally when you have a truly repeatable, scalable business. Be as lean as you can be and bootstrap for as long as you can before fundraising.
Best Resources: In the early days of fundraising, ask for advice, not money. An investor pitch is like any other presentation catered towards a particular audience. Get feedback on your deck from investors, understand what they are looking for, and ask them for referrals. The willingness to listen, learn, and be coachable will go a long way in finding the right investors to back your venture. Keep in mind that depending on the kind of company you are building, raising venture capital may not be the optimal route. That does not mean you cannot build a tremendously successful business that was bootstrapped or raised capital only from friends/family.
Join us and catch Tamim in Chicago!
SoGal Judge in Singapore, New York, and Florida: Elizabeth Galbut, Co-Founder & Managing Partner at SoGal Ventures
Top Advice for Early Startups: Start with the WOW factor. Within the first 10 seconds of your pitch, you should start with the one big data point that is most compelling to your audience — whether that is your traction, the problem, market opportunity, or whatever is the biggest selling point might be. You want to capture the investors attention first and foremost, then tell your story & solution.
Feedback You Give Most Often: The biggest trap I see early founders fall into is pitching what their business is today, not the vision of what it will be in the future. Of course, it’s necessary to understand your traction and accomplishments to date, but as an investor, I’m thinking about the potential of the business and team to not only solve the problem, but scale the solution they’ve created within the next 5–10 years. Sell the investor on the strategy, mindset, and approach you’ll use to tackle the problem you’re solving and attain these big goals.
Best Resources: It’s crucial to really understand the investment terms that are being proposed to you. I recommend Elizabeth Yin’s blog and Brad Feld’s Venture Deals. Of course, please come to our SoGal Foundation global events! Your best resource is always your network, so sign up to stay in the loop and get involved in your local community.
SoGal Judge in Dallas: Laura Baldwin, Managing Director at Golden Seeds
Top Advice for Early Startups: Practice, Practice, Practice! When giving your pitch, it always seems like you have more time than you really do. You need to be clear and concise. The more times you practice, you won’t be as nervous (or at least it will seem that way!). Practice helps ensure you’ll be able to deliver your message in a clear way that shows exactly what your company is and what you are asking for.
Feedback You Give Most Often: I have seen quite a few companies that are not clear about what their company is/does. At the end of the presentation, I have to ask, “But what do you actually do?” They also end their presentation without telling the investors what exactly they are asking for. If you are raising money, make sure to include details around that it in your pitch.
Join us and catch Laura in Dallas!
SoGal Judge in Indiana: Ting Gootee, Chief Investment Officer at Elevate Ventures
Top Advice for Early Startups: Really drive home your competitive differentiation and why your customers would be willing to buy your solution.
Feedback You Give Most Often: Know what you are selling at a particular stage — for pre-revenue stage companies, it’s about the team, the market opportunity, go-to-market strategies, and results of any customer discovery work; for post-revenue companies, it’s the KPIs such as ARR, growth rate, churns, and cost of customer acquisitions. The biggest red flag is the team have not taken the time do their home work. We are not expecting right answers but well thought-through and well-supported answers. For instance, a pre-revenue company has not talked to potential customers is a sign of lack of sufficient homework.
Best Resources: My favorite venture-related contents are published by First Round Capital. It has comprehensive and in-depth articles full of practical action items for entrepreneurs starting and scaling companies.
Join us and catch Ting in Indiana!
SoGal Judge in DC: Aia Sarycheva, Investor at Rise of the Rest Seed Fund
Top Advice for Early Startups: Clearly outline the problem and solution your company is solving for. Make sure to highlight the demand drivers for your customers and show why existing solutions are insufficient — this will create urgency for your company’s solutions.
Feedback You Give Most Often: Understand what kind of capital you need and why. Venture capital is a particular kind of asset class that is best suited for high-growth startups — not all companies are suited for or benefit from venture capital investment. Relatedly, identify investors that best align with your company’s mission. Investors will ultimately be long-term partners of founders — to that end, think carefully about what you are looking for beyond capital (network, advice, etc.) and identify investors that can best provide those resources and will help you grow the company in the way that you envision.
Best Resources: I usually chat with founders one-on-one to better understand what their goals are and what they need help with. I find that understanding the goals of founders — and the specific challenges they may face — allows me to better point them in the right direction.
Join us and catch Aia in Washington DC!
SoGal Judge in Austin: Kelsi Kamin, Investor at Silverton Partners
Top Advice for Early Startups: If a VC passes on investing in your current round but indicates interest in keeping in touch for a future round, you should absolutely keep the line open. If you’re already sending quarterly or monthly stakeholder updates, adding select investor leads to those updates can be a great way to maintain those relationships. For the founder, it can serve as a low-touch method for consistent investor interaction, and it provides an investor with a sense of awareness and familiarity with the business as it progresses over time.
Feedback You Give Most Often: Tie the amount you are raising to specific milestones (and be able to explain your reasoning). i.e) We’re raising $__ to expand to 3 new markets and acquire 15 enterprise customers / reach $___ in revenue EOY 2020. Context matters, but the idea is to delineate the use of funds in a way that makes sense.
The biggest mistake I often see is speaking in industry-specific jargon or overusing buzzwords, or not describing your product or service in a way that people outside of your company/industry will easily understand/be able to visualize on their own.
Best Resources: There are many useful resources that I regularly share with founders, depending on their stage and the type of business. One resource that’s helpful in general is YC’s guide to seed stage fundraising.
Join us and catch Kelsi in Austin!
SoGal Judge in Austin and San Francisco: Katie Russel, Investor at Draper U Ventures
Top Advice for Early Startups:
Know what investors you are pitching to and cater your pitch towards them. It will help them connect to you and your vision as a founder on a more personal level.
Feedback You Give Most Often:
Slow down!! Find investors to pitch to who invest in the type of technology or industry you are innovating in. If the VC thesis doesn’t align with what you’re building, it’s better to spend time researching investors who do.
Special thank you to Elizabeth Galbut, Kelsi Kamin, Tamim Abdul Majid, Aia Sarycheva, Ting Gootee, Jennifer Neundorfer, Katie Russel, Laura Baldwin, and the countless other investors, partners, startups, and incredible SoGal Chapter Leads for spearheading this movement toward equality in entrepreneurship. If you’re an investor or potential partner interested in getting involved the worldwide competition, please reach out.
SoGal Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and the largest global platform for diverse founders and funders in 40+ chapters across 5 continents; our mission is to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship. SoGal Foundation’s global startup competition represents the first and largest opportunity for women and diverse entrepreneurs and investors to connect worldwide.