How to impress an investor.
A few words and advice on the art of pitching.

Piotr Bucki

The Americans cultivate a specific way of presenting products. They call it an Elevator pitch or a presentation in the elevator. This is all about presenting your offer (business, idea, and brand) in the best way and in the shortest possible time – approx. 20 seconds - that is in the time span of an elevator ride from the ground floor to the highest floor. It is a common statement in the States that if you cannot get your point across very quickly, you know nothing about your business and you fumble around in the dark. And they are perfectly right. Fetishizing the art of pitching is a dangerous practice, however, taken our current ability to present projects, ideas and concepts publicly, it is still worthwhile to resort to it.

Pitching itself has not yet found its suitable equivalent in Polish. The word “presentation” is encumbered by a certain semantic burden and connotes a long (sometimes) boring and clichéd form. Yet a pitch is a brief, accurate presentation of an idea of a product or service which conveys specific objectives. Based on the objectives we distinguish: a high-concept pitch (a one-sentence presentation explaining the idea of a given project), a pitch (competitive, prepared for the Demo Day or any other event), a media pitch (a statement for media), and also an investors pitch (that is a little bit broader form geared towards an investment process). Regardless of what we need a pitch for, we must remember that it is worth investing some time to it, though an ideal pitch will never patch up a worthless project, a bad pitch may ruin quite a successful one. First and foremost, any chance of understanding what our product is, why it is important, why it is potentially successful and what our business concepts of the market reality is will be lost.

A good pitch is not a product puffery. Successful pitches hardly ever focus on describing the solution itself. They rather show the mode of thinking composed of several components. BIG IDEA for a start– picturing a context, territory we operate on.

Good startups do it in such a way that we know straight away what market, customers and what concept the project will focus on. The first sentence is very often a prerequisite of success. As when we start we must win others over to our mode of thinking, to us and to the idea…… that the problem we are going to focus on is import ant from the consumers’ point of view. You can start a pitch with a personal story which will present a complicated and problematic mechanism we want to focus on. It can even start with a dogmatic statement which will demonstrate the problems

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This is what Cemal Kavasogullari does when he presents his startup Tooth Scan. He says: Teeth are an essential part of our lives. We need them to appreciate so many of life’s pleasures. To enjoy… to communicate… to fall in love. My mother suffered with dental problems for most of her life. She had to be hospitalized for dental surgery and the tooth infections lead to complications with her heart. She was lucky, but millions of other aren’t and they suffer the consequences throughout their lives.

A simple story and a few words were enough to realize that he would be talking about teeth, dental caries and dental problems/infections that can have dire consequences. Moreover, we recognized it is a global issue. Once the listeners get the context, it is important to elaborate on the concept (in a simple way) talking about this problem. You can refer to statistics, pictures, digits, trends – in brief – everything that will help us prove that hell is real. Elon Musk is perfect in applying this strategy in his presentations. Than we talk about the solutions scheme. And later we show the potential. The best way is to add a singular element which presented in a proper way impresses investors. It boils down to the so called traction.

Traction is a Holy Grail for start-ups. Actually, it is for each company which wants to prove that the world really needs and is ready to utilize its solutions. A good startup is launched in a belief that the world needs a solution we are working on. While, however, faith and beliefs might do in church or in the Parliament (sic!), business requires proofs. Theory supported by research. And traction, without which your descriptions and elaborations on ideas are merely a science fiction story. Investors wish to support such businesses which will operate successfully and will cope without their constant involvement. And they feel only businesses with traction will be successful. The idea itself has no worth at all. It is implementation that matters. And once it is implemented we get the results we can show as our traction. Profit, turnover, fee-paying users, non-paying users, beta testers, prototypes in a post-research phase and ….. media attention (listed in the sequence of importance) does wonders. The latter does not convey traction but rather shows interest in a given subject, which is spurring media. Providing information which sanctions our credibility really makes sense. Cindy Wu applies this technique in her presentation of Microryza (currently Experiment) project, citing at the same time Bill Gates. Other efficient startup managers apply this technique realizing that pitching investors is a test of strength. Obviously we‘d rather get win-win, investors, however, seek opportunities to get profits and not only to support noble ideas.

Thus a pitch aims to prove the idea will work, as we are the ones with passion, determination, zest, tools, knowledge, skills and the best skills as well as the best picture to prove our business thesis. This thesis proclaims the world will eagerly take on our solutions, that adequate number of people will pay for this solution and that we know how to bundle these things together. Sometimes it is said that financial backers do not invest money in a given project but rather in people.

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There’s some truth to that. Evidently, it has far more to do with investing in potential for doing grand things which will not vanish into thin air when time comes to pivot. Any negotiation with a potential investor is a tug of war. You must be self-conscious and learn to answer questions showing your unique mode of thinking and expertise in a given area.

Remember to communicate your message clearly and in a simple way. The simpler the better. The map is not a territory and your presentation may be one of many your investor saw this day. Be merciful to his cognitive abilities. Astonish him/her, arouse curiosity, and do not show your fear as you will come up as a natural victim. And you must prevent it at all cost. Even if you have high hopes of this conversation, never be too pushy in showing it. It’s a normal human game. Play it cool.

Piotr Bucki
- is an architect who does not design, academic teacher who does not fit schemes, communication fanatic addicted to analyses and social psychologist always looking for WHY? He considers himself a modern day Hermes – a researcher who combines different inspirations to come up with new solutions. He collects ideas and merge them into new ones. And he loves to build it all on solid neuroscientific base. As a freelance consultant, Piotr works with companies big and small, local and global, offering them support and a bit of a struggles with communication strategies.



This article was written under “Get Inspired - entrepreneurship, startup, cooperation”
project co-financed by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs
as part of the "Cooperation in the field of public diplomacy 2015" contest.