10 Startup Pitch Tips
By Kevin Vela
In my role as a venture attorney, I receive a handful of pitch decks each week and see hundreds of pitches each year. I see these pitches in my office, at pitch days, at startup events, at workshops, etc. As a co-founder of the Dallas Angel Network and Blossom Street Ventures, I help put pitches in front of our investors and am regularly asked to judge and provide feedback on pitch sessions.
Based on my experience, I’ve come up with a list of 10 points to follow for your pitch. Hopefully these will resonate and help you for your next pitch.
1) If you have a product, especially a cool one, show it off.
I once saw a pitch by an entrepreneur who had created a beautiful wireless device. He didn’t bring it. He could not for the life of him explain how it worked during his pitch; though he could have demonstrated it in 30 seconds. I don’t think he received a single follow-up call from an otherwise pretty active angel group. Investors love things that they can understand. Explain things in a way that makes sense to your investors, not to you.
2) If you’re not good at pitching, get good, or find someone who is.
This can be your co-founder, your advisor, your friend, your mom, etc. There is no rule which says the main founder must pitch. You need to be there to answer questions, but nothing derails a pitch more quickly than poor presence or shoddy speaking skills. You have to convince people to invest in you. If you can’t communicate clearly, investors won’t want to put their money behind you.
3) Dress appropriately.
Suits are nice and all, but if your only suit is the one from senior prom, and your only tie has Snoopy on it, don’t wear them (to a pitch, I’m all for the Snoopy tie otherwise). You won’t be comfortable up there, and it will show. There is nothing wrong with slacks and a button-up, and I know a lot of groups who are just fine with jeans and a dress shirt. You can look sharp outside of a suit. It’s imperative that you are comfortable when you’re up there pitching.
4) Know the format.
Ask the moderators how much time you get, if there will be a projector or TV with hookups, and if there will be a Q&A. If there is a Q&A, it’s usually much better to just do a high-level overview and then let the investors drill in during the extra Q&A time. DON’T GO OVER ON TIME. It reeks of unpreparedness.
5) Bring handouts of your slides.
Pass them out to everyone. This is very easy. Staple your handouts or bind them. Don’t make your investors do any unnecessary work or get distracted by loose pages. Make things easy for your investors – from your pitch to the materials you leave behind.
6) Don’t read your slides.
In fact, your slides shouldn’t be readable. They should have bullet points, or product pictures, or charts & graphs. If you read your slides, you’ll come off as unprepared. Moreover, slides with lots of text on them result in investors reading their own handouts, and not paying attention to you. You’re the show, not your slides.
7) Don’t have boring slides.
One of the best pitches I’ve seen was from a seasoned entrepreneur with a successful exit on his resume already. He brought only 4 slides for a 10-minute pitch and just talked. The slides were a combination of timelines and graphs that perfectly complimented his story. But the story came from him. He covered everything he needed to (including his team) and generated a lot of interest.
8) Be mindful of over-stating your team.
If your team built Paypal, or Twitter, then let’s see them upfront. Otherwise, hook investors on your idea, and then show them your team to reassure them at the end. In the end, you’re still only selling yourself.
9) Be mindful of over-stating your board/advisors.
If your board/advisors run big VCs or are well known entrepreneurs, let’s hear about them. Otherwise, a brief bio slide at the end will suffice. We all know successful people, and it really doesn’t take much to get them to agree to a paragraph on a slide. But having a VP of XYZ Fortune 500 company as your advisor doesn’t really do much to push your idea. There should be a logical connection between your advisors and what they can do to help your company.
If your mirror/dog hasn’t heard your pitch 5 times, then you’re not ready. This is an easy one. Practice really does make close to perfect.