The Art of the Pitch
Vitaly M. Golombleads global investments at HP Tech Ventures, the corporate venture limb of Silicon Valleys original startup and is the author of Accelerated Startup, a book about ramping up your business. Below is a fascinating excerpt from the book about Golombs favorite thing: pitching .
If youve ever seen me speak at an event, you have probably “ve noticed that” I get very excited and passionate about pitching. Theres an excellent reason for that. I believe that a great pitching is useful in so many walks of business. As the CEO of a company, youll be pitching your startup morning , midday and night. Short, 90 -second elevator pitchings. Three- to six-minute pitchings as part of a demo day or a pitch competition. And ultimately, the Holy Grail: in a VCs office, for a 30 – to 60 -minute explanation of what the future looks like, if you have anything to do about it. Becoming a genuinely great pitching artist takes a lot of practice, which I promote you to invest time in. But that doesnt mean that theres any excuse for having a downright poor pitch.
First things first, what is a pitch? In my mind, its a narrative that ends in a specific call to action. Youre pitching because you want something from person. Perhaps you want their advice, their business or( in the context well be focusing on here) their investment. Whatever youll be pitching for in the future, know that youve done many pitchings for your business already. You probably pitched your friends, family and significant other to convince them that this crazy startup thing youre about to embark on was a good idea. Maybe you pitched your old boss to let you work component period, or when you told him or her you were considering quitting your job.
The call to action part of the pitch is extremely important. If youre including stuff in your pitching that doesnt help build the occurrence for your call to action, you should absolutely scrub it from the script. For instance, a 90 -second elevator pitching has the same purpose as the introductions we talked about in Chapter 28. The idea is to get a meeting. You dont get a meeting by speaking extra fast and loading tons and tons of information into your pitching. Youre not trying to explain everything; youre trying to share enough information to pique their curiosity and make them want to learn more.
Most pitches take place on a stage, of sorts. Not always a literal stage, but a stage nonetheless. Like everything to move away from a stage, your pitching is a performance. If your business is the most innovative thing on stage that day but youre staring at your shoes, mumbling and reading from the slides guess who wont be getting a phone call.
As your company grows and evolves, youll likely get at do a number of three-minute pitches, as part of accelerator demo days, pitch rivalries, and so on. The goal here is the same: get that meeting. But there are also a couple of other objectives. If you are part of a large, well-known accelerator, youre likely a great startup, but you have a problem: you will be pitching alongside dozens, if not a hundred, other startups. Theyve all been prepped well. They all need to raise money. That means your goal changes: out of the hundreds of pitchings your audience will sit through, you need to stand out enough that youre recollected. When the investors go home at the end of the day, their notepads will have a ton of notes scribbled down on them. Your goal is to ensure that theres a circle around your companys name, and a dollar sign in the margin.
Think of every pitch you do as a competition. Youre pitching to win the grand award in a competitive field. That means you need to be rehearsed, prepared, well rested and ready for combat. The award, by the way? Yeah, thats that satisfying we were talking about. It is a little bit like winning a hot-dog feeing competition, only to learn that the award is a jumbo-sized hot dog, but trust me: its worth it. The session will include another pitching, this time about 20 minutes in length. If they like what theyre hearing and if theres a good back-and-forth happening, the meeting will stretch to an hour.
So, what goes into the pitching, any pitching? First of all, you need to capture your audiences attention. They have their phones in their hand, and they are probably checking Twitter and reading emails as they watch your pitch. If they hear something interesting halfway through your pitching and decide to start paying attention, they wont have just heard anything up to that point. That sucks for you, but its current realities of things. So, you need to lead with the one thing that they are able to get their attention. The single most important part of your presentation: traction. How well is your company doing? How many users do you have? How fast are you growing? How much revenue are you generating? If your numbers are good, chances are that the investors will pay attention, even if theyre not immediately interested in your space. If someone is pitching something that is consistently growing at 50 percentage per week, Im reaching for my checkbook, and you can explain to me what it is later. Its that simple.
The next part of your pitching is what your company is about. Who is your customer, and what is the problem you are solving? This is important because if I dont know those two things, I dont have any context for evaluating the company. As I discussed in Chapter 20, its much easier to start with a very focused client. Attain them preoccupied about the product, and expand from there. In other terms: it is a far better narrative to say that a third of people in San Francisco use your product and that you have a plan for scaling it to the rest of the world, rather than went on to say that 200,000 people use your product worldwide. The absolute numbers might be the same, but the implication and the story are vastly different. There is no shame to limiting your user base geographically, or to a more narrowly focused marketplace, but make sure you explain that as part of your presentation.
Okay, weve now checked off your traction and the market, and explained why the problem is important to the users. Next, consider exploring how the problem is currently being solved. It is unlikely that you came along and saw a completely new market. Uber didnt invent transportation; they just looked at the taxi the enterprises and supposed, You know what? Thats terrible, we can do better. In explaining how customers are currently solving these problem, you are helping illustrate that it is worth solving. If nobody is experiencing the problem you have a answer for, I have some bad news for you: you dont have a business. The same runs for challengers, by the way. If you dont have any, it entails there is no problem, theres no marketplace and you dont have a business.
If your presentation has run well up to this phase, the audience is at the edge of their seats. They know the market, they feel the problem and now they are eager to hear how youre going to solve this problem. Explain how your answer is perfect for the task at hand. I like to compare painkillers to vitamins: if your answer is something thats nice to have that people cant be bothered restocking when they run out, you are facing a challenge. Conversely, when my Advil bottle is half empty, youd better believe Ill be stopping at a pharmacy on my style home. Be Advil , not vitamins, and make sure that your audience knows it.
Trust me, everything Ive explained above can be done in 90 seconds. For presentations where you have more than merely a quick elevator ride worth of day, made the audience with the how. If you have 20 minutes, its day for a live demo. If the clock is running out, a few screen shootings do the trick. Either style, the investors want to know exactly how youre going to deliver on your promises.
For something to be a VC-investable proposition, the next part of your pitch is going to be all about the market. It had better be huge. It needs to be, because otherwise the VCs arent interested in placing a bet on you. Explain how big the market is, and how quickly it is growing. In fact, the speed of growth of a market is even more important than its current sizing. If you are coming into a big market thats stagnant, youll have to take each client from a challenger with a bigger name, more money and more trust. On the other hand, if you become a leading player in a market growing 100% per year, you will grow that fast by merely playing the game.
Next, its time to explain what your business model is. How are you going to go about attract new both consumers and how is your company going to make money? How will you find new clients, how much does it cost and how long does it take? How soon will you break even on them? How much revenue will they bring your company over their lifetime? And now that we understand the total market sizing and your business model, provide some summary fiscals. How much money will you be inducing in three years? How big will your squad required to then?
Something your investors will definitely want to learn more about is your management team. As investors, they are about to place a sizable bet on your company. They need to be convinced that the people in the company know what they are doing and have the capacity to deliver. If you and your squad have built companies and exited them before, brag about it. If you used to work at Budweiser, and youre about to launch a product that attains selling more brew easier, stimulate that clear. If you are the foremost expert in the world on something and you have a doctorate to prove it, holler it from the rooftops. I wouldnt expend too much period on this in short pitchings, but if you have a little bit more period, do so. Remember, your companys opportunity of success is likely to be guesstimated based on your traction and your team. Ideas are cheap, execution is everything. This part of your pitching is where you explain to your audience that you have the right team to execute your idea. If theres even the slightest doubt in your mind that you have the right team, then stop pitching and start hiring.
Right. Thats it for your pitching, except the most important part: closing the bargain. A great route to objective your pitch is to restate why youre there. We have some really smart tech that will change the route you order groceries, and the best, most experienced team in the business. We are raising$ 2 million. My details are on the screen, please email me to find out more. Perfect, clean and to-the-point.
For the pitching itself, I want to briefly talk about body language. I strongly recommend getting some one-to-one develop with a pitch coach. This is part of the package in an accelerator, but even if you havent gone through an accelerator program( yet ), try to find someone who can see you in action and give you some pointers. Exuding confidence, planting your feet solidly on the ground, projecting your voice well and working on having eye contact with your audience is crucial and not that difficult to master. All it takes is some practice.
A few investors will ask you to send them your slides before you pitch to them, which is a little bit awkward. If youve ever seen a very good presentation, you realize that the slides are there to help define the pace and to exemplify what the presenter is telling. It doesnt tell the full story. If you send the slide deck to your investors, they probably wont understand what the bargain is, so I typically recommending saving it for the meeting. One way around this issue( worth considering especially if you are based geographically far away from potential investors) is to prepare two slide decks. One is your normal deck for presenting, the other is an executive summing-up designed for reading and get a feel for what youre about to present.
Albert Einstein once said, If you cant explain it simply, you dont understand it well enough. Bear that in intellect; if you cant explain your company to a room full of investors who may not be experts on your market segment, go back to the drawing board.