Recently I attended an event where several startups pitched to a major Silicon Valley VC firm. The presenter introduced the company as being funded by a “serial” entrepreneur. The VC head immediately criticized that term – “serial” – why? On account that if the company faces difficulties or has enough success, that entrepreneur will bolt as soon as possible. Even if successful, it does not help to describe the entrepreneur as having continuing success. He might have the misfortune in founding a new company that might fail. The presentation for the new company must stand on its four legs, not on the past successful companies. Further, during the due diligence, the potential investors will discover the past track record and weigh the relative merits of the new venture.
What many new entrepreneurs don’t realize is that during the short period of time during a presentation, every word is key. The audience will pay close attention to what is being said. They are sensitive to clichés. How often have I heard the words, “disruptive technology”? Again, any wrong remark can be fatal. I always recommend that presenters practice their pitch alone and in front of others. They should focus on the best, salient features of their company. I always suggest to be straight-forward. Get to the facts. Be enthusiastic of the market opportunity.
At another pitch session, I heard one from one of the VC guys say that the presenter was too slick and extremely confident and cocky. And it is not the first time I have heard this. I once brought in a Yale doctor with a medical app for clinical management. Having been a surgeon, he had direct experience in the field. But I could tell from the tenor from his pitch, he was too cocky. I guess that if you are asking money from a third party, one should behave humbly. So from that experience, I have noted that even attitude has an impact on the audience.
I personally believe that theatrical actors are extremely qualified to pitch to investors. Indeed, I participated in a startup training program managed by formally trained actors. Every cadence and attitude count in the presentation, as if one stood in front of a stage. The quality makes a lot of difference. I recall a former colleague commenting that as a CFO of a publicly traded company, he participated in these pitches in the East Coast. He observed that there many company with great pitches but mediocre products attract capital, while those with weak pitches with great products failed to do the same.
My recommendation is to avoid clichés or controversial descriptions. Pitch with confidence without arrogance. Practice that pitch over and over again while avoiding those pitfalls.