50 QuestionsStartup general interestVenture Capital

The things to say when pitching a VC

By June 16, 2011 4 Comments

Yesterday I wrote about the best way to approach a VC as part of the 50 Questions Series I am co-authoring with Nicholas Lovell, so when this morning I saw a post on Business Insider titled Five VCs explain what they REALLY think about your pitches I tapped straight through to read it.

Once inside I found some refreshing honesty and some good content which I think makes for a good follow on from my post yesterday.  Some of the points re-affirm what I wrote yesterday, whilst others delve deeper into the things that should be said to maximise the chances of getting a meeting.

  • Introductions matter. Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital says that the person introducing the entrepreneur is a big deal — if he doesn’t trust the referral, he won’t even take the meeting.
  • Keep it short. Rothrock has seen more than 10,000 pitches, and the best ones are short and to the point. Kopelman also told about his successful pitch for Half.com, which gave users an online marketplace to sell used books — he simply asked how many people had read a book by a popular author. Nearly every hand went up. Then he asked how many wanted to read it again. Nobody raised their hand. Done. The rest was details.
  • Answer questions quickly without getting defensive. Both Rothrock and Bill Maris of Google Ventures said that entrepreneurs need to answer questions quickly and simply. VCs are trying to assess risk, and if you don’t help them, they can’t help you. Maris is particularly turned off by people who get defensive during Q&As — he ends up concentrating on their attitude instead of thecompany.
  • Be a good storyteller. Kopelman says that most successful entrepreneurs are great storytellers — they have to be able to get investors to believe in their crazy idea, then convince employees to sign on and press to write about it. Senkut agreed — it’s easy for entrepreneurs to inspire their first few employees with stock options or founding titles. But inspiring the 50th or 100th employee requires a great story.
  • Avoid buzzwords. Lots of buzzwords are immediate death, says Kopelman. As he put it, he didn’t pitch Half.com by saying it was an online peer-to-peer marketplace for monetization of underutilized printed matter assets (or words to that effect). If he had, it wouldn’t have worked.
  • Know the people you’re pitching. Rothrock said that entrepreneurs should know everything about the VCs they’re pitching to — where they live ("as long as you don’t drop by"), their dog’s name, their hot button issues. Senkut agreed — do your research and try to make personal connections.
  • Don’t forget the financial info. This may seem obvious, but Rothrock said that he sees a lot of pitches with no financial information about the company. Big mistake.
  • Think big or don’t bother. Howard Hartenbaum of August Capital points out that VCs need to be convinced that they’re investing in a company that has the potential to be huge. A business might be perfectly successful if it gets to $80 million in revenue in five years, but it won’t help the typical VC fund return its investors’ money. If you can’t convince yourself that your company has huge potential, seek money elsewhere.
  • "Stay in touch" means "no." So says Maris.
  • Forget saving the world. One audience member asked whether the VCs give a little slack to startups that are trying to do good. "I discount them," said Maris. It’s not that VCs are all individually callous — although some are — but their job is making good investments for their limited partners. For this goal, there’s only one fair way to measure the value of a company, and that’s the discounted value of expected future cash flow. There are other sources of funding, like the Gates Foundation or Google.org, for companies that are more socially oriented.

My favourite is ‘don’t forget the financial info’ – it is rare to take a meeting based on a plan without financial info, or to take a second meeting without having had the financial info presented in the first.  No-one is going to invest without seeing the financial info at some point and you can save time by sharing up front.  I reply to far too many pitch meeting requests with an email saying some variant of “I like your product/market/team, but pls share some financial info so we can make sure a meeting is worth both our time”.