Paul Singh of Results Junkies on How to Pitch your Startup

Jeffrey Henebury
Published in
4 min readAug 23, 2017

by Jeff Henebury

Paul Singh and Dana Duncan. (Photo courtesy of Results Junkies)

Husband and wife venture capitalists Paul Singh and Dana Duncan approach investing a bit differently. Rather than set up shop in Silicon Valley and see what ventures find them, they’ve decided to find the ventures — by organizing the North American Tech Tour and “visit[ing] the places that startups actually start (and grow) their businesses.” In 2016 alone, they drove over 25,000 miles and visited 40 cities across North America.

When the Tour came to Ann Arbor this August, TechArb and Menlo Innovations were lucky enough to play host. The standing-room-only crowd was treated to a special behind-the-scenes look at how investment decisions are really made, as Paul chatted with Christina York, founder and CEO of local startup Spellbound. Christina presented her pitch to Paul, who in turn asked probing questions peppered with color commentary on his decision-making process. Some highlights of their discussion:

If your venture already has sales, tell that story as soon as possible in the pitch.

So many founders want to highlight their company’s “big idea” that they forget to focus on what Paul views as the critical issue: their ability to turn a profit. Spellbound, which uses augmented reality technology to help children cope and engage with medical treatment, is fortunate enough to have a solid sales base and numerous leads working through their sales pipeline. Rather than start by explaining their technology to the potential investor, Paul suggested opening with those sale successes: all their customers on the first slide, and all their in-progress leads on slide two.

Paul Singh with Christina York of Spellbound

There’s a reason why most investors are only looking for companies with monumental growth potential.

Paul shared some sobering statistics: to justify their higher risk over safer but lower-yield investments in say, mutual funds or bonds, a venture capital firm must seek to provide at least 20% returns for investors. But about 80% of the companies that receive venture capital funding never reach profitability, providing no return on investment. So only 20% are providing any returns at all — and the venture capital firm needs those few profitable companies to make an average 30x return on investment to keep participating investors happy. With that kind of math, a venture capital fund isn’t looking for modest growth potential — they’re searching for opportunities for exponential growth, big winners that can cover for all the startups that don’t make it.

“None of you should be an app company!”

In their travels with the Tech Tour, Paul and Dana get pitched a ton of ideas for “the killer new app.” But they’re aware just how few apps actually get downloaded onto devices: the average person’s rate of apps downloaded per year hovers around zero. (In other words, so few people download apps that those who download many apps can’t push up the average.)

Launching a website is a far nimbler process. Apps take longer to test and deploy and cost at least twice as much to build as a website. An app startup also has to contend with reviews and the ability to update only periodically, whereas websites can be updated on the fly. So before your venture puts down money on app development, consider — does it have to be app-based, or can a website be adapted to do the job just as well?

Paul Singh with TechArb Director Ryan Gourley

“Success to our parents was working hard at one thing. Success for our generation is a function of how many things you tried.”

Paul finished the event by telling a story from his very earliest days in tech. After graduating college, he was making ends meet as a used car dealer in small-town Virginia when he started noticing a different kind of customer coming in: young people buying sport cars in a pickup town and paying up front in cash. He asked one of these customers how they made their living; they turned out to be employees at the nearby headquarters of AOL.

After “begging” an internship and spending some time in the trenches, he gathered up the courage to approach then-CEO Steve Case at lunch, pitching an idea aimed at making operations more efficient. Paul was very nervous — here was an intern making suggestions to the CEO of what was already a company employing thousands — but Mr. Case heard him out. After sitting through the flustered pitch, his reply was short and sweet: “Kid, I don’t know. Just try it and don’t kill the company.”

This has became one of Paul’s core tenets and among his most commonly shared advice to entrepreneurs: just try it. So many successful startups begin with exceptionally different visions of where they end up; what ultimately makes them successful is that, when faced with early failure, these companies look for ways to pivot into new opportunity.

If your startup is hitting seemingly impassable roadblocks, it’s not necessarily smart to keep pushing hard at your original goal. Especially early on, Paul advised, be open to experimenting with what your company does, who it sells to, and the service you provide. If real-world experience is showing that customers want something different, it’s time to look into providing that instead!

Visit Paul Singh on Twitter at @PaulSingh and follow the North American Tech Tour here!