I see a fair amount of pitches and I’ve come to expect the unrealistic projections of hyper growth, the comparable buy outs slide, and the lack of clear use of proceeds. However in the last year the pitches have had more of a “high pressure sales” vibe.
Many of these companies are pitching in front of hundreds of investors at Pitch Days, Accelerator Graduations, and other Pitch contests. The number of companies fighting in the $500k arena has grown and in recent discussions with young entrepreneurs they’ve told me they feel pressure to “pump up” their results, projections, and team credentials to get investors interested.
I can see how this can happen when you’ve got 5 minutes to stand out over the other 12 companies pitching at the same time as you. Let’s take a look at a few of the things I’ve seen lately that make me take pause.
The Chief XXX Officer syndrome.
I’ve addressed this in the past so I won’t go into it again here, but it’s still something I see all the time. I recently saw a company pitch with seven employees. Five had C-level titles, including CEO,COO,CPO,CMO and CFO. I should’ve asked if the other two were EVPs. It’s not a huge deal but one that still makes me give an internal sigh.
Be careful using over the top adjectives. Recently a friend asked me to take a look at a pitch deck for one of their accelerator companies. The first thing that jumped out at me was the CEO was a “World Class UX designer”. Now when I see the adjective “World Class” I think “Holy crap I want to meet this person and talk about UX design”. Unfortunately the same adjective set “World Class” showed up again in the deck and at that point I realized he might be good but probably wasn’t “World Class”. I informed my friend that I’m pretty sure a kitten dies every time someone uses “World Class” in a pitch deck and being in favor of kittens they took out all references.
“We’ve had 2 Exits”
This one can be tricky. Recently I’ve seen pitches that led with slides about their exits. Now exits are awesome right? But when someone puts this out there my response is going to be “So tell me about your exits. Did you have investors? Did they consider it successful? ” Unfortunately often the answers aren’t so good. If you’re going to lead with your exits you should be prepared to discuss them in detail. Otherwise maybe that’s something best left for later discussions.
“Data Science” “Platform” ” Proprietary Algorithm”
The more buzz words in a deck that are meant to make the tech appear “magical” the more I grow suspicious. I’m a little torn on this one as I understand that most pitches are going to non-tech people and it’s hard sometimes to get tech concepts across. But be careful that you don’t get too carried away with statements like “Our data scientists have invented various proprietary algorithms that allow us to deliver a unique platform.” I mean really what does that mean? I could probably use the same sentence to describe every single SaaS startup I’ve seen in the last 3 years. Which leads me to the next section that is a little off topic but goes hand in hand with this problem.
“Talking down to investors”
You’ve got to know who you’re pitching to. At a minimum use Google to get some background on the people you’re going to ask for money. If you haven’t figured out that I was CTO of a software company for many years then you’re going to get in trouble if you try to “tech buzz word” me. I can tell the second the presenter is trying to snow me, which I usually let pass by unless the language used implies we’re too dumb to understand the solution. Start doing that and I’m jumping right in with hard questions about your tech.
“The aggressive follow-up”
I seem to get about a 90% rate of follow up emails from entrepreneurs. A tip to the other 10%, even if there is no chemistry a follow up “thanks for meeting with us” is just common courtesy. What’s just as bad is the other end of the spectrum. Instead of “Are you available to meet?” I get “I have an opening at 12:00 on Thursday so we can discuss your investment”. I usually just answer these with “Sorry I’m busy at that time” and don’t try to negotiate another time.
Here’s my suggested format:
Dear (Insert Investor Here)
Thanks for taking the time to meet with us earlier today. We’re hoping you have time for a short follow-up meeting. We’re available (insert 4 options here). If none of these work please propose another time or if you’ve already got all the information you need just let us know. We’re always happy to provide anything you need via email.
Obviously you can embellish it but I like something short and sweet that gives me a few times to pick from or the ability to completely opt out if I’m not interested.
I’m hoping these notes help a few of you adjust your pitches. I know you’re trying to compete with everyone else for investor mind-share but just like padding a resume can get you in trouble so can over extending yourself with your pitch deck.