If you are an ambitious entrepreneur with growth plans, at some point you will most likely have to go looking for investment to grow and expand. When you do, you will have to produce an investment deck and a pitch presentation. In a few short hours I’m off to London to help train another group of great start-ups in the art of pitching for investment. It’s something I do regularly and thoroughly enjoy, not only because I love hearing new business concepts, but I know I can help each entrepreneur refine and hone a successful pitch. How do you create a successful pitch for investment?
Many incubators ask their entrepreneurs to produce a 1 minute pitch presentation a few weeks before the ‘big presentation’ to assembled investors which is more likely to be a 15-20 minute pitch. Why 1 minute? Because the first minute of your big presentation is often the most crucial. It’s where you capture the attention of prospective investors and it’s where they get to see exactly who you are for the first time (unless you’ve been very good at media relations prior to pitch).
I’ve watched thousands of 1 minute pitch presentations and trained as many people how to do it. There’s a golden rule. In 1 minute you cannot get across all the market drivers, financial statistics and strategies you’ve developed. They come later. Your only goal is to capture the imagination and emotions of the listeners. That means telling a story. It means sharing the personal passion that’s behind your business idea. Your why.
When I was mentoring at Mass Challenge last year, they held a 1 minute pitch competition. One of my mentees, Clover Lewis of Clover Lewis Swimwear won that competition by a country mile. She didn’t try to share financial projections, she didn’t talk about market data. She just told a simple story about how she, after surgery for breast cancer wanted to fulfil a dream of scuba diving, and couldn’t find any swimwear that would be suitable or that she could feel comfortable in. So she designed her own and started a business. Now I haven’t put in the emotion into that story, but on the night it resonated deeply with everyone in the room. In that story there is plenty of information to show there’s a market. Clover was the customer. There was no product. There was no solution. Most people have some idea of how prevalent breast cancer is in the world, so they can add 2+2 and make 4. Sometimes you don’t need to spell things out for people.
When it comes to 1 minute pitches, have a think about the story you could tell. Of course you need to be smart and your story should showcase the reason you’ll have a market. But next time, give it a go.
Here are some more tips once you’ve got past 1 minute pitches for making that all important ‘big one’:-
Don’t confuse people with technical terms. Don’t assume they will either understand or be impressed by technical knowledge. Winning over investors means demonstrating a thorough understanding of your market and showing you have a step by step plan to ensure they will recoup their investment and profit in a way they can understand. Of course investors have their ‘pet’ markets and interests into which they will invest. But a savvy professional investor will look at all opportunities, so make it easy for them to say yes by being clear.
- Tell your Story
Repeat again. Tell a story, all the way throughout your presentation. Be excellent on figures, the market, the customer, the opportunity, but don’t forget to tell a story. The story of why you are doing this. The story of why you’ll succeed. The story of why the world needs your business. Our brains are hard-wired to understand the world through stories. Allow your personality to show through. Investors want to work with someone they can trust with their money, but also someone they like, warm to and can believe in.Investors are risk-takers – they wouldn’t be investing if they weren’t. What they want to feel is that you are the most interesting and trustworthy risk on offer. You can be a quiet introverted engineer and investor and yet still find ways to shine. One of the best pitches at Mass Challenge that I saw last year was from a scientist who had invented a product to take vaccines the last mile in developing countries. She was quiet but charming. She nailed everyone’s interest when she just dropped into the conversation that her day job was as a leading scientist at CERN.
Telling your story authentically helps build trust. Investors don’t expect you to be perfect. They don’t expect you will never make a mistake. What they want to see is that you have the integrity and grit to dig in when the going gets tough and do everything you can to keep the show on the road. Your story – I emphasis if authentic – helps build that trust.
- What’s in it for them?
Don’t get so over excited by your business plan, your amazing service or product and forget to show investors what’s in it for them. That’s one of the best pieces of advice from Richard Branson. Show your financials clearly, be expert on the detail around the numbers you are presenting, and be clear about when and what sort of return they can expect. Don’t forget to also share that you’d like their personal involvement, that you would value their input and support. Remember many high net worth individuals and angel investors actually want to participate, support, get involved – and also have fun.
- Demonstrate your difference
Put deep emphasis on why your idea is different, how it will create disruption in the marketplace, and why it will give your customers a better experience than any competitors. If you haven’t worked out what is uniquely different about your business, don’t go pitching for investment. You need to know why you will succeed.
- Show a Sustainable Strategy
We live and work in volatile times. Change is constant. Demonstrate how you are prepared for sudden changes in the market, showcase your long term vision, share that you understand the big picture and what might disrupt you in the future and how you intend to prepare for that.
- Know your Audience
Show that you know exactly who you are going to be selling to. Demonstrate customer knowledge, either by profiling avatars or by data – and ideally both.
- Clear Marketing Strategy
Have a clear strategy about how you are going to acquire your customers and grow your market. The world is full of great ideas and smart people who never get off the ground because they don’t know how to sell or market.
- The importance of your team
Showcase your strengths, one of which should be that you know how to build an influential team around you. Very few pitches where the entrepreneur is a lone wolf gain serious investment. Success is about building relationships with people, knowing how to collaborate, and demonstrating that you can attract valuable and influential people to your board or supporters list. I don’t mean Beyonce (unless you’re in the entertainment business and then it’s a bonus!). I mean leading thinkers, influencers and other business minds that are valued in your field and known to be successful.
- Do Pictures speak louder than Words?
We are all becoming more used to video communication. Anyone under 35 uses video all the time. YouTube for research. FaceTime to chat. Facebook Live to share news and information. So do you include video in your pitch? Remember investors are there to connect with you personally. So if you do use video in your pitch, keep it short and punchy. Make sure it showcases something special about you, your product, your opportunity and your business. Make sure it’s moving emotionally as well as data rich. If you are a more introverted entrepreneur, video can be a great way of lifting the emotional content of a presentation but be careful that it doesn’t outshine you. You’ll leave behind a pitch document. Investors will have more detail to look at. So you can often afford to keep data on your slides to a minimum, and tell your story with images instead. See point 2!!
- Power of PR
Not essentially part of your pitch content. But visibility for you and your brand (if your strategy allows) is a great confidence boost. It’s not what wins pitches, but it helps if investors can see you know how to manage public relations. A great proponent of PR in the UK tech startup scene is Lawrence Kimball-Cook of Pavegen Systems. Lawrence spent a lot of time in the early years of Pavegen partnering with Ibizan club scene, favelas in Rio di Janeiro, at big sporting events to showcase his product. He generated wide interest in what Pavegen could do, and had some fantastic footage and stories to use each time he went for a new round of funding. He made sure he created a talk good enough for TED.
That will do it for today as I need to get a wiggle on and get on a train. Good luck in your pitch presentations, and if ever you need some short burst, high-energy help, book a Creative Thinking Burst and let’s get your story nailed and integrated into your pitch presentation and document. Or if you feel you have a transformation talk in you that might get on the TED stage, have a look at our Transformation Talk course.