There’s always a lot of talk about how startups can improve their pitches to VC’s, yet there is noticeably little chatter about how VC’s can improve the pitch process with entrepreneurs.
From an entrepreneur’s standpoint, I’d say most VC’s are awful at managing pitches.
After starting nine companies and sitting through countless pitches to VC’s, I can tell you the approach to pitch meetings by VC’s vary greatly. There’s a reason companies like Sequoia and Benchmark get so many great deals, and it’s not just because of whom they’ve backed • it’s also because of how they approach the pitch process.
Fortunately it doesn’t take much to improve your pitch process. It’s really just a simple reminder of a few basic principles of managing entrepreneurs and the process at large.
Assume I Haven’t Done this Before
As a VC, you sit in a conference room all day listening to startup pitches. You know how the process works and you know what you should be doing. The entrepreneur, on the other hand, probably has as much experience pitching VC’s as you have experience pitching fast balls for the Yankees.
For this reason, the VC’s get frustrated when entrepreneurs don’t get to the point, can’t deliver their value proposition, and generally deliver a bad pitch. They assume the company isn’t well put-together or the Founder doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
As the entrepreneur, I need you to assume I haven’t done this before, because I probably haven’t. Assume that you’re going to have to spend some time setting your expectations for both the presentation and the flow of the meeting itself in specific detail.
I distinctly remember getting emails and calls from Bob Kagle at Benchmark prior to our Swapalease pitch. He wanted to make sure we knew exactly how to prepare ourselves and what his fellow partners would want to know. Although I had pitched investors before, Bob made it a point to be sure we were in sync well before the meeting.
Just Tell Me What you Want
No entrepreneur should have to guess the agenda of a pitch meeting. The format and topic points should be spelled out clearly by the VC in exactly the manner they want to be pitched in. Leaving an entrepreneur to his own devices in creating his pitch deck is a recipe for disaster.
Of all of the VC’s I pitched, Sequoia was one of the few companies that sent me an actual overview of exactly what they wanted to see. When the partner’s meeting started, our agenda ran like clockwork since everyone in the room knew exactly what needed to be covered in a format that everyone could easily digest.
Entrepreneurs are more than willing to craft their pitch around the needs of a VC. If you tell me you need the pitch painted in water colors, written as a haiku, or chiseled into a marble slab, that’s exactly what you’ll get. My interest as the entrepreneur is to make good use of your time, not wander aimlessly hoping to find your interests.
Just Say “No”
VC’s have an endless vocabulary of lame euphemisms for saying “no.” They use tired phrases like “this sound interesting” and “this is something we’re considering.”
What they can’t seem to use is one simple word • “no.”
I’m well aware of the need to maintain a relationship with an entrepreneur even when you aren’t ready to make an investment. Heaven forbid you say “no” and six months later the company takes off without you.
Yet you don’t need to avoid the word “no” in order to build a relationship. When Sequoia and Benchmark needed to say “no” they were able to tell me in a matter of days, with very specific reasons why we didn’t fit their investing criteria.
Entrepreneurs can deal with being told “no.” It’s a part of our DNA. What we can’t deal with is being told “maybe” while wasting time and resources hoping that the answer might be “yes.” When it came time to start talking about my next project, the VC’s who could no use the word “no” came right off my pitch list.
Stay in Touch
What I would consider the single greatest testament to how great VC’s operate is their ability to treat entrepreneurs well even when the deal doesn’t happen. For every deal that doesn’t make sense today, there’s an entrepreneur that will be back with another one a few years later.
Surprisingly, of all of the VC’s that I’ve pitched, the ones that would presumably need me the least • the top tier players • seem to spend the most amount of time dropping follow-up calls and emails to see what I’m working on.
If you want to sit in more valuable pitches, it’s time to start taking more responsibility for the pitch process. As entrepreneurs, we’re smart people that want to make the best use of your time. But we can’t get every pitch right without a little help from the VC’s we’re pitching.
Wil Schroter writes a blog at Go BIG Nework.
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