Startup Pitching 101

As a mentor once told me…

It doesn’t matter if you have the best opportunity in the world, if you can’t communicate it you’re dead.

This is obvious. Yet… I’ve seen thousands of presentations and the vast majority of them were confusing as heck. Those presenters almost always failed to get whatever they wanted from the audience.

At the regional angel syndication meetings (think of it as the All-Stars of angel-backed companies), the #1 Mistake Entrepreneurs Make Is…

I walked in thinking that because I already had the backing of an angel group that my presentation was great. Then I saw the presentations of the other companies there and realized just how poorly I was communicating my opportunity and how many investors did not come to talk to me because of that.

Don’t be that person.

I’ve also seen dozens of truly amazing presentations; presentations so strong that people who would have never considered an investment in a company like that ended up writing checks. 20+ years ago my first company was a terrible business idea, yet the strength of our presentations constantly got us follow-up meetings with investors we had no right to be speaking to.

This post covers the Beginner (101) level best practices for crafting strong startup presentations. See the other posts in the series for intermediate and advanced techniques.

1. One rehearsed presenter

There is a strong temptation to have multiple people from your team deliver your rehearsed presentation. Multi-person pitches add complexity that almost always leads to people going over time, stepping on each other, or confusing the audience.

Some people want to do this so the audience hears from the other founders so they know they exist and get a taste for their competence. That is a worthy goal, but it is much better accomplished by having each team member speak up during Q&A. If each person focuses on their domain of expertise, they will show (not tell).

2. Know your audience

Like most common sense, this is easy to forget. When designing your presentation remind yourself… who the audience is. What do they expect? What are their cultural norms? If this is a jeans & hoodie crowd, don’t show up in a tux (unless you have a tux company, of course :)). If this is a 1-on-1 meeting then slides probably don’t make much sense.

3. Set your objective

Think of it like dating. You don’t walk up to someone at the bar and propose marriage! You try to get them interested enough to get a date. When you design your presentation remind yourself of your objective. Most of the time it is simply to get another, longer “date” with the people you are pitching to. I’ve never seen a pitch that leads right to getting $$ (unless it was the last step in a long process).

4. No jargon or acronyms 

Would you walk into a room of English speakers and do your pitch in Russian? Of course not! No one would understand. Jargon (AKA the technical language of your profession) and acronyms are worse than this because they sound like English but, for the uninitiated, it might as well be Russian. There are many funders you’d love to have back your company who do not know your jargon. Even to funders that do know your jargon, they have learned to interpret entrepreneurs speaking in jargon as a negative signal. So, speak in plain English without acronyms.

6. Split up your slides

Too much content on one slide just overburdens the audience. If you have a slide you are spending a minute on with 6 bullet points turn it into 6 slides where each: Focuses on one of those bullet points, features a large (at least 100 pixels wide) or full-screen image that emotionally connects to the bullet point, and takes 10 seconds (6 slides X 10 seconds = same amount of time you were spending on the 1 over-stuffed slide).

7. Make fonts readable

Make sure your font is at least 30 points to make text readable and to ensure you don’t put too much text on the slide :).

Caveat: For slide decks that are supposed to be sent by email without your speech accompanying them, then you’ll need to have more text on your slides. That said, you still want powerful images and to apply the other lessons listed here.

8. No Math

Every smart person likes the results of math. Very few people want to watch math. It puts them to sleep, it violated the One Number Rule, etc. Do not put math in your presentation. I don’t just mean avoid putting in complex formulas. I mean: don’t show them how you calculated your target market size! Just put the final number. Let them ask you for the derivation during Q&A.


Next post in the series: Intermediate (201)| View all posts in the “Startup Pitching” series

One thought on “Startup Pitching 101

  1. Pingback: Startup Pitching Checklist – Paul G. Silva

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