October 31, 2019 –
I recently participated in a workshop by Steven Rogelberg, author of “The Surprising Science of Meetings,” and found his insights eye-opening and actionable. The most significant were that as a leader you are likely to host rather than just attend meetings, so you need to remember that you are the steward of other people’s time. This means you have to commit to become an intentional leader, set the tone and be open to feedback on the way you lead meetings.
His advice got me thinking about my own meetings. As a venture investor who leads our firm, I sometimes participate in as many as 12-15 meetings per day, including daily meetings with entrepreneurs, weekly one-on-ones with our leadership team, board meetings with our portfolio companies, etc. Reflecting on what makes a good meeting experience, I realized that an effective pitch meeting can be a challenge for many entrepreneurs. So if you are an entrepreneur seeking funding for your venture, here are five tips, drawn from my experience of investing in more than 50 companies over the past decade, to help you improve the effectiveness of your pitch.
• Don’t wing it. The art of the pitch can be a learned skill. Some people are natural storytellers, while others might not easily communicate their big vision. However, I have found that with a little coaching, every entrepreneur can become a better communicator while staying authentic. I recommend spending time preparing a compelling and short deck, and rehearsing your pitch as a team, rather than winging it.
• Remember that economy of expression is key. Venture capitalists sit in dozens of meetings a week, and not to be disrespectful, but many of us have short attention spans. Our pattern recognition kicks in, sometimes in the first 5-10 minutes, so that is really all the time you have to capture attention to get us to lean in and engage. Founders who bring 25-30-page slide decks crowded with text to an hour-long first meeting are missing the opportunity to crisply communicate their value proposition. Of course, there are a lot of deep-dive conversations that take place after the first meeting, but economy of expression is key to getting asked back for a second meeting.
• Do your homework. While an entrepreneur might be put in touch with a firm through its referral networks, they should do their homework on who they are meeting. This can involve reading the bios of the firm’s leadership and any public content they have posted (such as articles), and scanning common connections on LinkedIn. You should also arm yourself with the knowledge of the stage of company and thesis areas the firm is investing in to tie your business to general trends the investors are excited about. I would estimate that less than two-thirds of the entrepreneurs I meet do this preparation.
• Understand the dynamic around the table. It typically takes about two or three meetings with a subset of investors before you are invited to present to the entire partnership at a firm. Entrepreneurs should ask their champion (the investor who is bringing them in) in advance about who will be attending the meeting and the different areas they focus on. For example, an enterprise entrepreneur could find out there are three people in the room with the technical depth to understand their architecture, but that the other three are consumer investors who will not find that relevant and might be more interested in the entrepreneur’s go-to-market strategy.
• Follow your instincts: Entrepreneurs have superpowers in so many dimensions, but sometimes forget to use those in investor pitch meetings. A partnership with an early stage investor can last 10 years, and company building can be a lonely task. At a firm like ours, there are two investors who formally work with every company. Entrepreneurs should gut check that they can get into their investors’ zone of trust before the investors become board members. It is easy to get carried away by best terms, so remember that venture capitalists can be in selling/wooing mode if you are an entrepreneur with a hot idea. I recommend you spend some social time with your future investors to help you really understand what it would feel like to be in the foxhole together.
By following these tips, entrepreneurs can greatly improve their pitch meeting experience and, hopefully, get to more efficient and rewarding outcomes.
Article originally posted on Forbes.