As a member of the investment team at Carmel Ventures who has attended countless pitches for over a decade, I have observed that the way you tell your story can be just as important as the story itself.
Whether you’re a seasoned entrepreneur or a first time CEO, pitching a startup isn’t easy, and if you’re not blessed with a natural flair for storytelling, then you need to work even harder because you only get one chance to make a first impression.
Most of the founders pitch us their dream of changing the world (or at the very least of disrupting a certain industry), and they understand their vision more intimately than anyone else. So why is it — despite their drive and ambition — that so many struggle to articulate that vision?
Of the hundreds of startups that approach us every year, only a couple of dozen are offered the opportunity to present to our entire forum of partners and principals. When they do, it’s their chance to “sell” themselves and their startup as convincingly as possible — with passion, confidence, and above all clarity.
As a rule of thumb, if we haven’t clearly understood the gist of your idea within the first three minutes, you have a problem.
Here are seven tips for increasing your chances for a successful boardroom pitch with VCs:
1. Always start with a high-level overview of what your company does. Articulating your message clearly at the beginning (both in your slides and in your delivery) is key to a successful pitch because it will help you navigate the rest of the presentation smoothly.
2. Keep it simple. A succinct elevator pitch is not only handy for the unlikely event that you’ll actually meet a potential investor in an elevator; it’s also great as an opener in a boardroom. Use short sentences and straightforward vocabulary (don’t assume that all VCs are familiar with your particular industry’s terminology). As Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.” Also, using an analogy, metaphor, or a personal story can be very effective.
3. Bring along your team and involve them in the presentation. We like seeing a unified and balanced team as part of your pitch. Bring all your cofounders, but if you can’t, limit the non-founding executives to a maximum of three or four. Don’t just use your team members as props, let them speak! Introducing your team rather than letting them do it themselves when they’re sitting right next to you is not only awkward but also a wasted opportunity. Allowing each of them to present a few relevant slides is a great way for them to demonstrate their expertise, and it allows the investors to observe their personalities and become acquainted with your talent.
4. Be prepared to answer questions. If you’re asked a question, try to provide at least a brief answer on the spot even if you have a slide that specifically addresses the issue later on. It’s also OK to not have an answer or “the right” answer, because the way you respond to questions is sometimes more important than the answer itself (it demonstrates how you deal with situations that may involve uncertainty or pressure).
5. End with a powerful and effective summary. After you’ve covered the standard key elements of an investor presentation, make sure you end with a strong summary of your key messages and reinforce the reason we should invest in your company.
6. Don’t be discouraged if the feedback is negative. Once the meeting is over, it’s time for us to discuss the opportunity and get back to you with honest feedback on how to proceed. If some of the feedback is negative, remember that every VC has different tastes, interests, and objectives, so stay optimistic and don’t give up. Sometimes a “no” can change into a “yes” in the next round or even before, so keep in touch with your potential investors in order to understand what you might be able to do to improve your odds.
7. If you don’t understand the feedback, ask for clarification. You can learn a lot from listening to feedback from VCs. After all, they hear countless pitches from entrepreneurs, so they generally have a good knack for assessing startup potential. Plus, it can improve your chances of success at future meetings with other investors.
Hila Shitrit Nissim is VP of marketing for Israel-based Carmel Ventures, a part of private equity investment firm Viola Group.