It all started with a post on LinkedIn. A simple question from Dave Foreman at Praetura Ventures: would Northern founders at the early stage who would want some feedback, from peers and VCs on their fundraising pitch? The response was an emphatic yes. Queue up four events, spread across some of the big hubs in the north, Manchester, Leeds, Lancaster and Liverpool.
After every event the rooms were filled with conversation, discussing the honest, no-nonsense feedback founders had received from around their tables not with chastened or dejected, but energised and positive as to how the feedback will help them on the next stage of their funding journey. The fact the feedback wasn’t aimed at the business, but actually at the pitch and presentation was a stroke of genius.
I was lucky enough to attend all of the events and give my feedback and experience where I could. Across all the events there were some key themes that I think all founders can learn from and I’d like to cover five of them here:
When you’re in the weeds and working on and in your startup, you know exactly why you’re doing it, how you’re going to do it and all the details around it. It can be challenging to condense all of that work, effort and knowledge into a five-minute presentation when you’re pitching. So how do you do that?
When I review pitches for the first time, whether that’s getting a deck sent to me or meeting someone in person, there are a few key things I want to walk away understanding:
- What’s the problem you’re solving?Can you easily explain what the problem you’re solving is and get me to buy into that problem?
- How are you solving it?Make it easy for the person you’re pitching to understand the solution, not necessarily at a technical or feature level as you don’t have time, but in a way that you’re going to leave them wanting to find out those details.
- Who’s paying for it?Let’s face it there is always a money angle to this and unless you’re planning on running a charity, someone has to be paying for this.
- How big is the market and who’s in it already?What’s the opportunity here for the investor and who is competing for those users?
- Why you?Pretty much what it says on the tin, why are you the person to take this forward?
- The journey so far?Have you managed to generate traction or revenue? do you have a product?
- Why are you here?What do you want from the person in front of you?
Now the order can sometimes be different based on your style (more on that later), but if you can easily explain the above, you’re well on your way to having an effective pitch.
You do the talking, not the slides
Pitching is tough. Public speaking is not everyone’s forte. Especially with your first couple of pitches, you might be nervous about missing something so put more and more detail into more and more slides to make sure all the bases are covered.
When it comes to a pitch, especially at an early stage, the investment and belief are as much in you as the business, as the business is still in its infancy. With that being the case you want to put yourself across in the best way and have the attention on you as you tell your story. The last thing you want is to be talking while everyone in the room is trying to read your slides. Make sure you’re the lead singer while the slides are just giving backup vocals!
Talk as if no one understands
You know your business and your market inside out, or at least you should, you know the other players in the space, you know the news, and you are the expert. But the person in front of you might not be, in fact probably won’t be. But on the off chance they are, you don’t want to come across as patronizing right? Wrong! A little of this you can offset with some research on who you are meeting to know how deep to go.
But generally treat the pitch like the person knows nothing and if they know more, they’ll ask you for more details in the questions, but if they aren’t an expert they’ll still understand the issue as you’ve taken a bottom-up approach to taking someone on the journey, rather than having to go back and re-explain.
Death by numbers
A bit like the point ‘you doing the talking’, it’s very easy to rely on big flashy numbers and cashflows to show just how successful your business is going to be in five years. Now some numbers are great… X thousand users, X million A.R.R… but this is as far as I’d go. Just use a couple of big headline figures to show the size of the problem or potential for growth. Using too many it becomes harder for the listener to keep track of which figure was used for what and it can become almost numbing.
Now comes the idea of having two decks, which I’m not a fan of, one for sending out to apply and be read, and another to pitch. I’d advise sticking to one deck and knowing it inside and out. You can always share additional docs and cashflows after or have them as appendices to your deck, but don’t let them get in the way of the story.
Just be you
The last and probably the most important point leans again into the ‘you do the talking point’. Early-stage investment is as much in you as the business and the idea, I really can’t say that enough. It’s why so much is discussed about the why you aspect of early-stage start-ups. Some of the most effective pitches I saw had a very genuine element to them which came across in the pitch, and it helped those around the table to buy into the problem, even if it was just the first time they’d heard it.
Despite all this advice on what to cover or not cover, the pitch is yours and should tell your story and journey and why that journey has brought you to this pitch. It should flow in a way that works for you to talk through. As long as you cover the main points and you can do it in a way that works and flows, make it work and flow for you!
To finish, Praetura deserve a huge amount of credit for putting these events on and it was an absolute pleasure seeing and hearing the pitches from such a wide range of startups. It’s amazing to see the breadth of startups in the North and how passionate their founders are to make a difference, and I’ve no doubt some of the startups in those rooms will go on to do some great things.
I’d encourage any startups to go to any future events like this as the format gave people the ability to practice their pitches to just a small group in the room rather than presenting to the whole room, while also getting feedback which was aimed at the pitch rather than the business.