Micah March 28th

Pitch Perfect – Pre-Pitch

(I am going to try something I have never done. Write a series of posts on a single topic. Lately, I have been really interested in the process of pitching a startup, and so thought I would write about it.)

One of the best parts of my life is listening to pitches from startups. Love it. I probably get pitched 4-6 times a week, and while I am not a professional investor, it has become clear as to what seems to be necessary to nail your pitch.

Lets assume that your company and team pass the smell test. What should you do to be successful?

I am going to break this down into multiple posts, and will start with the “Pre-Pitch.”

So many entrepreneurs fail in their pitch before they even walk into the room. Remember, you have started pitching a potential investor from the moment you get introduced.

Before you start to put together your list of potential investors, ask yourself two questions:

1) What is it we do? At the core of our business, what problem are we trying to solve?

2) Why am I doing it? Do I care about the problem?

If you are unclear as to your purpose or passion, it will come through in your presentation, and no investor will feel comfortable investing in that team. Your presentation could be amazing. Your demo impeccable. Doesnt matter. You are about to spend 80 hours a week to change the world. If you dont know how you are changing the world, or seem to care, why should I?

Investor Targets

Now, start building a list of investor targets. Who do you want to raise from? Why? It can be an expansive list. And the reasons can be as simple as “they will hype us up,” or “I like her blog.” It might not be overly convincing when asked why you are pitching the specific investor, but it can work.

After you have your freeform list of potential investors, review their investments. It can be the firm’s investments or the individual investor’s investments – which boards are they on? Remember you are not having a firm invest in your initially. You need to have a partner who champions the investment to his other partners. List two or three relevant investments next to each potential investor. Are any of them competitive? Know that could be a deal killer.

Ok, you have a wish list of investors, with 2-3 relevant investments next to each name. Prioritize the list based on those two data points. And fire up Linkedin. Start checking your direct / indirect connections to each investor. Follow them on Twitter. See who they chat with. Read their blogs. Who do they list in their blogroll. Who do they respond to in the comments. Who do they reference in their posts.

Once you get through that exercise, you should have a first version of a list of folks that you want to pitch.

Take the first five in that list. Folks that you are interested in having invest, have investments that make sense, and operate in your social graph, and send them an email that looks like this:

“Hey dude – I really enjoyed reading your post on XXX (make sure you actually 1) read it; and 2) enjoyed it). I found it particularly relevant because I am focused on a startup in a similar industry/solving a similar problem/etc, and would appreciate getting 15 minutes of your time to get your feedback / thoughts on a particular problem we are facing. Would you happen to have some time next week on Thursday between noon – 4pm PST.”

If you get a positive response, set up a meeting. DONT PITCH AT THIS MEETING. Use it for exactly what you asked for: feedback on a specific problem. Think of it as pre-knowledge for your pitch.

If you are lucky, you will build a relationship with the potential investor that you can cultivate BECAUSE ITS POSITIVE FOR YOU AND YOUR STARTUP. Dont cultivate a relationship just because you want to pitch the person in the future.

Key take aways: How does the person respond to you? What was the advice? Was it actionable? Did they advise or tell you what to do? Did you feel that they cared?

Why is the above important? Because if the person eventually invests in your startup, they will act the exact same way, and you want investors that are supportive and helpful.

Now, a few weeks or so have passed. You have met with 5 – 10 folks that have given you different types of feedback. The ones that are on your list and gave you the right queues (liked the idea, were helpful, were responsive), move to the top of your list. The rest cross off. They will not be good investors and/or may never invest.

Ok, you have accomplished three things at this point: 1) you are solving a real problem; 2) you are passionate about the problem; and 3) you have focused your investment target list.

Think you are ready to pitch? Nope.

Next post: Pitch Perfect – Get Your Story Down.

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