The following post was written by Promo.com VP Communications Hila Shitrit Nissim, during her tenure as VP Marketing at Viola (2005-2017)
It goes without saying that when you get the opportunity to come and pitch your startup to a room full of VC Partners, you need to come prepared with a great presentation, bring along the right team members and to put on an impressive show. But in my opinion, as someone who has attended countless pitches over 10 years as a member of the investment team at Viola, one of the most important things that VCs are interested in when you present is the way you tell your story.
Whether you’re a seasoned entrepreneur or a first time CEO, pitching your startup and telling your story to people is not an easy task.
Storytelling is something that comes more naturally to some people than it does to others. Some even call it “a gift”, so if you weren’t born with it, you need to work at it with gusto, dedication and perseverance because you only get one chance to make a first impression and obviously the idea is to make it a great one.
Most of the founders who come and pitch to us here at Viola share a few things in common: They’re all starting a company of their own and following a dream or a passion, some with the goal of changing the world and others who at the very least hope to transform a certain industry. They understand their vision is for their companies better than anyone else, what problems they are trying to solve and how they’re planning to do it. So why is it – despite all of this apparent drive and ambition – that so many founders struggle to articulate their vision to other people?
Of the hundreds of startups that approach us here at Viola 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. That’s why it’s so important to be able to deliver your pitch with passion, confidence and above all – clarity.
As a rule of thumb, if we haven’t clearly understood the gist of your idea and what you’re trying to do within the first 3 minutes of your presentation – you have a problem.
Here are my 5 tips for increasing your chances of a successful boardroom meeting with VCs:
1. Always start with a high-level overview of what your company does. Articulating your message clearly at the beginning is a key factor to the success of your pitch, or at the very least it helps your chances of navigating through the meeting more easily. The overview should be clear both in writing (in your opening slides) and also in the way you deliver it verbally.
2. “The 3-minute Opening” – Keep it simple: A 3-minute elevator pitch may be fine for elevator encounters (although seriously, how many times have you ever met a potential investor in an elevator?) but it’s also great for opening a presentation in a boardroom setting.
The main thing is to keep it simple, using short sentences and simple words and terms. Although many VCs may be “techies”, don’t assume that they are always familiar with your particular industry’s jargon and acronyms. Use an analogy, metaphor, or a personal note to make it memorable and emotional if possible. I love this quote by Albert Einstein: “If you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.”
3. Bring along your team and involve them in the presentation: Many CEOs are great team players so they bring along a distinguished team of founders to the presentation and we like the idea of seeing a unified and balanced team. Ideally we like to see all the co-founders but if you bring executives that are not co-founders, try to limit the number to 3 or a maximum of 4 members.
But don’t just bring your team along as props, let them talk! At the very least you should allow them the opportunity to introduce themselves. Surprisingly, we often see CEOs who introduce each team member – including presenting their biography – rather than letting them do it when they’re sitting right there. It doesn’t look good and you miss a great opportunity to let them impress the VCs with their own personalities and personas.
I really recommend letting them present a few slides that are relevant to their expertise not only to demonstrate their knowledge, but also to allow the investors catch a glimpse of their characters and attitudes. The CFO can present the P&L and revenue projection, the CTO can drill down to the product, the CMO can present the go-to-market strategy, and so on.
4. Be prepared to answer questions. Listen to questions and try to answer them when they are asked. It’s OK to say that you have a great slide that specifically addresses that question later on, but ideally you should also provide at least a brief answer on the spot.
It’s also OK to not have the answer, or “the right” answer that investors wants to hear. The way you react or respond to questions is sometimes more important than the answer itself because 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 (some useful resources here, here and here), make sure that you end with a strong summary of your key messages and reinforce the reason that we should invest in your company.
Once you’ve finished your presentation and 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 the feedback is negative, please remember that:
Every VC team has different tastes, interests and objectives. Stay optimistic and don’t give up.
Sometimes a “No” can be temporary and it could 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.
If you don’t understand the feedback, ask for clarification. You can learn a lot from listening to feedback from VCs. After all, they meet with countless entrepreneurs and hear countless pitches all the time so they generally have a better than average knack for assessing startup potential. Plus it can improve your chances of success at future meetings with investors.