I had a meeting last week where an entrepreneur insisted on showing me a demo first. He was scrambling around asking for wireless keys and looking for ethernet jacks, while I sat there and tried to engage him in conversation. He lost my interest right then and there. As I started to think more about it, I thought it would be helpful to share some of my thoughts on how to make the first VC pitch a better experience for all participants.
1. Be flexible: Have an agenda but listen to and know your audience. If the VC wants to run a meeting a certain way, be flexible, and go with the flow. I have seen many a pitch where an entrepreneur comes in with an agenda and wants to go through each powerpoint slide in excruciating detail. These meetings typically do not last very long as I wonder what it would be like working with that person or for that person. Deal with questions as they come up, not later. VCs can be impatient at times, and it really bothers me when an entrepreneur says, "Let’s wait until slide 15" especially when you are just on slide 3. Meetings have a rhythm so be in sych with your audience. Startups require entrepreneurs to be agile and adept to respond to quickly changing market needs. If you are too engrossed with following every powerpoint slide, it makes me wonder how flexible you will be in responding to market conditions.
2. Have a well-honed elevator pitch: If you can’t explain to me succinctly what your product does, what problem it solves, and how you will make money then I wonder how you will explain it to your customers. Don’t worry, I want to see your baby in action, but save the demo for later as I want to hear you articulate these points first.
3. The Slide Deck: make it short and sweet, 15-20 slides will do. However, the best meetings happen when we never even touch the slide deck and end up in a free form conversation about the team, product, business, and market. Many times, I have even found myself brainstorming with the entrepreneur about other revenue opportunities and go-to-market strategies – I just love those types of meetings.
4. Listen and ask questions: try to get feedback about your business and the opportunity. The meeting is not a one-way street. Make sure you figure out if you like me, my firm, and my style as much as I am looking for a similar fit. Remember, it is a competitive market out there, and I need to sell my value add to you as well. Asks lots of questions – be open to feedback but do not be afraid to respectfully disagree. Not all of the feedback you receive will be right and many times it will be wrong, but take all the data you can so you can be better prepared for the next VC pitch.
4. The Demo: First, if you have any web-based business, I would hope that you have the wherewithal to have an alpha version running. As we all know it is cheap to start a company, and if you have not taken the first steps to get a product/service up and running, I am going to wonder whether you have the technical know-how to make it happen or the passion and risk-seeking behavior to be an entrepreneur. I love it when entrepreneurs have sunk some of their own money into their business or substantial amounts of time to turn their dream into reality. This shows me a real level of commitment. With respect to the demo, I like them live, but as Bob Rosenschein once told me, there are 20 things that can happen in a demo, 19 of which can go wrong. So be prepared and have a cached version of your service to walk through.
5. Next steps: In any meeting, never forget to ask about the next steps. What is the VC firm’s process, when will they expect to get back to you, is there any more information that you can provide, etc…
A couple of other points to add:
Pre-meeting: Research the VC, the firm and get to know the types of investments that he/she likes to make, that the firm likes to make, and what is currently in their portfolio. Google is a great resource, look for VC blogs, and talk to others that may have pitched the VC and the firm recently. We need to sell to you as much as you need to sell to us.
A couple of don’ts: don’t be late, don’t be arrogant, and don’t ask for an NDA before you start the pitch