People love stories, not decks

Jason Shellen
8 years ago · 5 min read

People love stories, not decks

Jason Calacanis recently invited me to speak on the topic of presenting to potential angel and venture investors at the Launch Incubator Spring 2015 class in San Francisco. In preparation, I asked some friends in the industry for their pitch advice. While I’ve pitched many times as an entrepreneur it never occurred to me that I could just ask VCs and angels what they wanted to hear!

In response to my informal survey, I received some solid advice as well as conflicting thoughts on data that should be included. Some even questioned whether a slide deck was necessary. Most of all, many investors personal preferences emerged so the key takeaway may be to know your audience. For context, the average amount of pitches a professional investor saw on a daily basis averaged around four pitches a day and angels saw around one a day. Their unfiltered opinions below, happy hunting!

What is one piece of advice you would give to founders before they pitch you?

“Tell a story. I need to know what problem you are solving and why you care about that problem.” — David Hornik, August Capital

“Show, don’t tell. show a demo, show customer testimonials; don’t tell me what you will do. Show me what you’ve done. start with a “bottoms up” story — why you built the product and started the company. unless you’re in an obtuse industry don’t start with ‘top down’ — ‘Market size is X; market inefficiency is Y’ etc.” — David Lee, SV Angel

“If you have co-founders, pick a single co-founder to do the pitches & the meetings. Two reasons:

  1. Nothing worse then having 2 or more people show up, but only one person does all the talking. Makes you suspect some odd founder dynamic.
  2. Fundraising is a massive distraction and pretty hard to run the company and fundraise simultaneously. If all the co-founders are involved, makes me nervous that the company isn’t running at full speed.”
 — Raanan Bar-Cohen, Resolute VC

“No presentation decks. Just tell me about yourselves & show me the product. A story is nice, but is not necessary at the meeting — I’ll either “get” the problem or not, and am usually not swayed by the narrative.” — Rich Chen, angel investor

“You have about 5 minutes to grab the attention of a VC during the opening of your pitch. If you don’t hook them by minute 10, it’s probably over.” — Charles Hudson, SoftTech VC

“Know your market. How big it is, how much you can address soon, who are the competitors, etc.” — Anon, angel investor

“If you have a pitch — make it! Don’t just show up and want to talk informally about an idea and “bounce around ideas”. Have a clear ask. Have clarity about what you want from me as an investor (how much are you raising, at what terms) or as an advisor. Just because you know someone that raised money on an uncapped note — doesn’t mean you should too!” — Brad Garlinghouse, angel investor

“Investors have really poor attention spans. Don’t wait till the middle to deliver the best part of the pitch. Get their greed instincts firing early. Whatever is most awesome about your startup, say that first — killer team, unique market entry tactic etc.” —Anamitra Banerji, Foundation Capital

“1) Hair on fire problem
2) Unique insight and/or defensibility
3) Know the economics (If not a pure consumer play)
4) Big addressable market
5) Amazing team (clearly of the ones to solve this problem)
6) Social proof (Advisors, pilot customers, investors)” — Adam Smith, Bowery Capital

What’s the most commonly overlooked piece of information you wish was in more pitches?

“Team bios and why they started the company; of all the things they could do in their lives, why this crazy thing?” — David Lee, SV Angel

“Genesis for the idea.” — Raanan Bar-Cohen, Resolute VC

“A very clear definition of what the early traction figures represent — Many people glaze over gross vs. net sales, which just makes it look like you’re trying to pull a fast one. Don’t do that.” — Rich Chen, angel investor

“Tell me about why the market will be big and interesting. Tell an exciting story about the potential. Spare me your bottom up TAM slides.” — Charles Hudson, SoftTech VC

“Bottoms-up, market analysis. I’d like to know how many deals you need to get done and a plan on how you’re going to do it. I’m sure the plan will change, but I want to get a feel for how you’re thinking about going to market and not just that it’s an X Billion dollar opportunity.” — Adam Smith, Bowery Capital

“Why now, why them.” — Anon, Venture Partner

“Who are you? Why are you building this business? Who are your team members? How’d you meet them?” — Anon, angel investor

“Don’t pretend you don’t have competitors. You can demonstrate truthiness and transparency by proactively sharing with me who you see as relevant competitors. I’m going to do the homework anyway (really cool search engine called Google) so you might as well proactively tell me and help me understand why you are better, stronger and faster.” — Brad Garlinghouse, angel investor

“Product demo. In-depth discussion about the user phenomenon behind the data. Non-obvious insights.” —Anamitra Banerji, Foundation Capital

Thank you to all who responded and I hope you’ll hear better pitches from founders in the future as a result.

For my take on what’s important for founders to focus on, watch the full This Week in Startups episode below.

PS: The slides I used are on Slideshare and are embedded below. However, and perhaps proving my point, the slides don’t make a lot of sense without narration — since it’s a story too, not slideware.

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