With the thousands of pitches I hear for startups, I see best practices and not-so-good ones. The latter have created a few pet peeves that make me want to pull my hair out – repeatedly. So forgive me for venting, and if you haven’t pitched me yet, please bear these in mind.
Don’t use crappy free conference call lines. If I could bank the number of minutes I have lost trying and failing to dial into those 712 area code Utah lines, I could retire a decade early. More to the point, if I can’t hear a word you’re saying, or it sounds like you are talking in the bottom of a pool, guess what – I am not getting the gist of your pitch. Even if it’s a good idea, you’ve lost me. Why take that risk?
Don’t use WebEx or other screen sharing services if you’re just walking through slides. Similar to the above point, don’t force investors through a longer workflow than necessary. If you’re just going through your slide deck, email it ahead of time. Firstly, I’ll be better informed and can ask better questions, and secondly we won’t have to wait for everyone to log in (which always seems to take an extra five to ten minutes). I won’t share it outside of my partnership, and in fact need it to share inside the partnership, assuming I want to get them interested in investing. If you have a software demo that can’t be seen within a browser, by all means let’s screen-share. But otherwise you’re creating friction in the process.
Respect my time, and I promise to respect yours. We’re all busy folks, and don’t have time to wait around for stragglers. VCs are often notorious for showing up late and leaving early, whether in person or remote, or worse, they’re not engaged when they are there (“blackberryitis”). You don’t hear about entrepreneurs being guilty of the same things, but it happens. I try really hard to be punctual and attentive, so I get annoyed when someone isn’t.
Get to the point. You may have a fascinating life story, or great anecdotes about how much your customers love what you’ve done, but there’s plenty of time to chat about that after we do a deal together. Your job in the first 30 minutes is to get me hooked, and the best way to do that is to succinctly explain what you do, what problem you solve, how big the opportunity is, and what customers if any are already on board. The next 30 minutes is about how you will grow, how much capital it will take, and how you can defend yourself against capable competitors.
Do a little homework ahead of time if you can. Can’t always happen, but in a perfect world, try to carve out a little time to figure out what our firm does, and whether we might be a good match – I will certainly do the same. I am always blown away by entrepreneurs who can note the similarities in their business with elements of our own strategy or portfolio. It shows you’re making an effort, and that you are trying to find the right partner to maximize your growth, not just a pile of cash.
If you can stick to the above, I promise to do my utmost to give you timely feedback, and not leave you hanging in the wind waiting for a decision. And if it’s taking too long in your view, there’s absolutely no harm in hounding me for an answer. I promise not to get offended –