The do’s and don’ts of pitching a startup

Above: PHX Startup Week is taking place February 19 through 23 in downtown Phoenix at the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center. Technology | 27 Sep, 2017 |

One of the coolest things I get to do often is to listen to startups pitch their companies. Every single one is an educational experience where I also get to feed off of the passion and drive of entrepreneurs. The problem is, more than half of the pitches I hear are bad. Sometimes it is the delivery, but public speaking is hard for most people, and I can go beyond that. What gets to me is when the speakers just make silly mistakes in what should be a very simple task. 

After a couple of recent discussions with others who hear many pitches, I have come up with a list of Do’s and Don’ts for pitching a startup: 

Do boil things down to a few simple key pieces of information 

A presentation with too much information or explanation just leaves the listeners overwhelmed, and they walk away remembering very little. A good pitch will identify the three to six things you want everyone to remember, and state them clearly in a way that sticks. 

Do give enough information to get people interested 

Since you can only successfully convey a few key chunks of information, you need a way to get your listeners to want to learn more. The way to do that is to give enough information to get them interested. This subtle technique requires you to give enough information to convey a positive piece of information, but leave enough out the critical details so that they need to ask and engage. 

Do show passion and competence 

Successful early stage investors all say the same thing “I invest in people, not ideas or technology.” Therefore, in a pitch, you must impress upon investors that you have what it takes. Experience, industry knowledge, business skills, technical know-how all fall under competence. How you present and answer questions conveys how much passion you have for what you are doing. Having obvious passion and competence are key to gaining investment. 

Do answer questions as succinctly as possible 

Question and answer time after a pitch is in many ways more important than the actual pitch. It is when the entrepreneur has a chance to connect with judges and potential investors; it is when their true personality, skill, and knowledge shows. If a yes or no question is asked, say yes or no. If an answer requires more than thirty seconds, you should give a summary and offer to answer more in depth later. 

Don’t be entitled 

Too many entrepreneurs either have or appear to have a sense of entitlement. They have the best idea in the world and investors have money. Therefore they deserve the money. No one deserves someone else’s money, remember that it must be earned. 

Don’t get defensive 

Investors and judges are testing presenters and their ideas. They are pushing and poking and may ask some pointed questions. The worst possible response is to get defensive and push back. It does not portray the person pitching as a strong leader. 

Don’t believe in the fantasy 

The whole startup thing is cool, and there is even a TV show focused on pitching. On top of that, the goal of the effort is to become wealthy and successful. Moreover, that can breed a fantasy view of the whole process. Soon you stop being realistic about your idea and its strengths; you ignore key steps in execution. Investors and judges pick up on that and know that companies that believe in the startup fantasy, or a fantasy about what they are pitching, do not succeed. 

Next time you hear a pitch, or next time you give a pitch, remember these simple do’s and don’ts and see how they impact your presentation. 

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