As part of the investment team at Squadra Ventures, I review hundreds of deals and get the opportunity to hear pitches from over 20 startups each week. Some hone in on the problem-solution first, or follow a rigid 10 slide format, others take a deep dive on the product road-map or the founding team. There’s a pattern to them, and that’s a good thing.
ReVased pitches as part of Accelerate Baltimore’s 2018 cohort.
But occasionally something an entrepreneur says during a pitch grabs my attention and immediately makes me excited about their company — and not because they’ve figured out some secret formula, but because they’ve revealed to me major insight into how they run their business.
Let’s take a look. Here’s 6 things I’ve heard during pitches in the past few months that have flipped that switch.
- “In a recent survey of our customers, we learned…”
When explaining why the product road-map was prioritized the founder said “In a recent survey with our customers…” and then went straight into data-backed decision logic for how each feature set was tied to direct feedback from across a relatively large customer segment. That really impressed me. That one phrase demonstrated that the company is completely customer-focused. They’re listening to their customers, they’re incorporating the feedback, and it is driving how they build their product. I knew that this wasn’t a science project — it’s a professional, data-driven operation.
2. “We have recent recordings of sales and customer on-boarding calls that we’re happy to share.”
A couple of weeks ago, during a pitch, a member of our team asked about the on-boarding process for a new customer. The founder responded that he would be happy to send us recent recordings of initial sales, as well as customer on-boarding calls. It was a great offer for two reasons; first, the fact that the company is recording calls means they’re already working on training programs to improve and scale their sales process. Even more importantly, they demonstrated how much they value transparency. It’s something we value and require with our portfolio companies, and the fact that they took the lead on that was a great sign.
3. “We save customers X dollars and Y hours per year. Here’s how.”
I love when companies clearly present, quantify, and justify their value proposition. I recently met with a company who quickly explained what they offer and how it saves their customers time and money, then demonstrated a case study that clearly proved that proposition. It was so obvious that it was a good service. And when the value is that apparent to me, I know it will be apparent to potential customers. Startups love to talk about driving efficiencies, this team showed it.
4. “We’re on a similar path as X successful startup. Here’s all the ways we’re like them.”
In the spirit of transparency, when companies compare themselves to other startups that are successful using the stereotypical Silicon Valley “We’re the Uber of Segways” trope, I have to hold back a sigh. But this company proved you can always be surprised. I recently saw a cybersecurity company that compared itself to another successful cyber startup with a very unique Go-To-Market strategy. It was an appropriate and mature comparison. They laid out the playbook the successful company had used and walked us through where they themselves were on that trajectory and how they were going to get to the same place that other company is today. It wasn’t just a flippant way to hook us in, even though that’s just what they did. Combining that comparison with detailed evidence backed up their vision and plan.
5. “Here’s what we do, who we are, and why we’re a great investment” (on slide 2!)
This last month, I saw the best deck I’ve ever seen. What set it apart was that all the information we needed to know about the deal was in the second slide. It listed out momentum, market opportunity, management team. Just a minute or two in and I already knew everything I needed to know about what the company did and what they needed. The rest of the deck was there to tell us the story. There’s a lot of decks where I don’t know what it is the company does until the 8th or 9th slide. And I really should have a clear understanding of what the company does right off the bat. A lot of founders want to start by diving into the specifics of the technology, but the technology is important in that it supports the business proposition. It’s not useful to have a lot of background before I understand what the company is doing and whether there’s any chance it’s a good fit. This deck completely changed my expectations for how a great deck works.
6. “Great question, we actually think about that a lot”
Investors love to ask tough questions — to understand the company, to check assumptions, and to see how founders respond. I’m always excited when founders have a thoughtful answer to one of those tough questions. It shows me that they’ve anticipated the question and practiced how they would answer. No matter how good your slides are, great pitches aren’t great on the first try. Do a lot of dry runs. It’s evident when you have — or haven’t — practiced. Find someone you trust a friend or an advisor to provide feedback on your pitch. With practice and honesty, it’s always a more convincing pitch, a more interesting conversation, and buys a lot of credit for the founders.