What is the objective of your short public pitch? Look at it from your audience’s (hopefully investors on a lookout) perspective. They do not want to be flooded with detail. They will not even try to make an actual investment decision then and there. Their only objective is to make a simple binary decision: do I want to continue discussions with this guy or not. That’s all. And they want to be able to make that call with as little effort as possible to save energy for all the other binary decisions they are making. If you get to the follow up discussion, it’s a new game and a different situation – you can and should save the detail for later.

With that in mind, the less you talk about, the better. But what you do decide to talk about matters a lot.

The key questions your story always – whether 30 secs  or 7 minutes has implications on the depth you can go to – needs to provide answers for are these 3:

What do you do?

This sounds almost childishly trivial but is often surprisingly difficult to figure out. If your listener cannot position your case in their mind in a way they feel like “getting it” (“OK this is an ecommerce conversion tool”), they get stuck with the “what is this” question and see and hear nothing you say after that. So make sure you address this one efficiently to get that off the list quick. And don’t worry if they don’t get it exactly right, if you get to the next round you can adjust.

What makes you special?

I.e. what is your secret sauce, competitive advantage or whichever is the word you want to use for the thing that sets you apart. For the investor to be keen to follow up with you, they need to feel like “I want to hear more about this because of X”. You need to give them the X. Again, do not assume they can figure the essence out from your complicated story, you need to make sure everyone gets your main point crystal clear. If they didn’t you failed. This is the heart of your pitch.

Why should I care?

I.e. where’s the money for me? Every investor sees an endless array of startups pitching for them, why would this be a better opportunity than the others? Once again, don’t even try to be too specific, you can add the detail later. “The market is big, it’s booming and we can capitalize on that” is enough to start with (of course you need to show proof, plain words won’t convince anyone). Note the main selling point to win the investor’s interest is #2, this needs to provide enough numerical evidence to address the concerns she is likely to have if she got excited about #2. “Sounds nice but there’s probably no business so I’ll pass”.

Now, if the investor is any good she does have an idea of what she is looking for, what suits her investment criteria and preference. Your case can only appeal to certain type of investors, not all of them. Your story needs to be clear enough to allow her to quickly check whether this is for her or not. If you try to please everyone, at the end you will not please anyone.

You can find an endless selection of “best pitch templates” on the web. Use whatever template you want, it’s not the template that makes the story work, it’s the content and delivery. I always tell people to use their “own” style which they are most comfortable with – for the template, for their appearance, for the approach they take – as that gives the listener an added benefit of getting an idea of the “dna” and personality of yourself and your business.

Make your slides as easy to digest as possible = less text, more insightful visuals. Focus on driving home the few key messages which are important, leave the rest for later. Packing your slides full of text with small font is a suicide – it happens all the time but it doesn’t make it any more acceptable.

Practice your pitch, and for God’s sake check the time so that you can say what you need to say in the allowed timeframe. No matter how good your story but if you cannot manage the timing you will look like a moron and your credibility goes down the drain. People will think you are either very stupid or very lazy and neither are desirable traits in getting the investors to trust you with their money. Failing in timing is a completely unnecessary handicap as everyone can manage that if they just put in a bit of effort.

Make an impact, get remembered and make yourself easy to find. If you are one of the 15 guys pitching back to back, how does the investor remember what you look like and find you in the lobby if she wants to have a chat afterwards? Wear a T shirt with your company name or something.

Do follow up. You are the seller, the investor is the potential buyer. Unless you are the next Zuckerberg you can not assume people will come to you after having seen your pitch. Professional investors attend such sessions with serious intents, they are not offended if you approach them and ask for a follow up. If they are Pros, they will also tell you straight if your case is of no interest to them. Respect that and take no offense, you should expect them to have strict selection criteria and your case may just not fit that no matter how good it might be. The expected hit rate is low at best so be prepared to do a lot of legwork and knock on many enough doors to find the “investor/founder” match that works for both parties.

Take full advantage of the free advice. Even if your case is of no interest to the investor, she may be willing to share her views about it. If someone says no thanks, you would want to understand why that is. Unless the reasons are about some core fundamentals (such as, your field of business is not in the scope of the investor) you can and should do something about them to improve, so that your chances are better next time.

Raising funding is one form of sales work, all the same principles apply as in selling your goods to your customers. But this time the object of trade is yourself and your baby, which sometimes blurs your objectivity. Try to distance yourself from it and look at it from a 3rd party perspective.

Yes you need luck as well. But people who work harder often seem luckier too.


Risto Rautakorpi
Gorilla Ventures