Getting to "yes" in a world of "no"…

The #1 way to pitch your startup is with a high-speed presentation, that…

  • can use numbers to get its point across, but is not actually a numerical argument.
  • is a selling aid, not a business-school case study
  • is a glossy brochure made flesh, filled with richly-saturated emotional appeals to the audience.

And just in case you haven’t worked it out already, the brochure is you and the audience is potential investors.

But before you try out your pitch on anybody who might conceivably be able to respond, write it all up in a shiny four-page brochure format. If you find yourself unable to do that, be very afraid (because it probably means you’re lacking some important sales skills) – and then immediately find someone who can do it for you. And in fact, lots of people can – the hardest bit is admitting that you can’t do it, and that you need their help.

So, if you find that this is the case, don’t be proud, be effective – see what you’re missing and find a way to beg, borrow or buy it in.

In fact, there are three big reasons for doing this:

  1. Many potential investors respond better to shiny glossy material in their hand than spoken stuff in their ear
  2. Many people you pitch to will pass the material on to other investors they know (for a whole variety of reasons)
  3. Finding effective soundbites for your brochure will help you do the same for your pitch presentation

But what are you actually trying to say? Actually, a pitch says nothing more than:-

This is the world I see, and it looks totally money.

Overall, if you’re saying much more than this in a pitch, you’re probably trying too hard. The point of a pitch is to find people who agree with you that what you see is indeed “totally money“, i.e. a great big juicy, succulent, mouth-watering opportunity for everyone involved to get rich several times over. So, work out what the top three reasons why investing in your startup is a fantastic, solid-gold, never-to-happen-again, buy-in-or-kick-yourself-for-the-next-decade good idea, and spend whatever time you have getting those three reasons across to your audience.

A pitch is not the place for carefully-constructed, highly-detailed rebuttals overcoming various sales objections you’ve encountered along the way, it is a place for enthusiasm and excitement. In modern movie terms, it is a Call To Adventure in the Hero Investor’s Journey: given that the second stage is called “Refusal Of The Call”, it is your job to find ways of dragging people past that Refusal by connecting them up with the gift of Supernatural Aid that propels them into your adventure. For example, this might be an article in the Financial Times bigging up your sector, or a shared LinkedIn connection that strongly endorses you at precisely the right moment.

However, what is arguably most important in a pitch is the way that you say all this. If you have never sold anything before in your life before trying to sell shares in your startup, be afraid. Few salesmen are particularly good at selling big-ticket items – and, let’s face it, a startup is (even at this early stage in its lifetime) a very big ticket item, making it a very hard sell.

So if you’re an entrepreneur trying to do this, look over at your bookshelf. If what you see says “Agile Development With Rails (4th Edition)”, “Linux Device Drivers, Third Edition”, “Programming Perl” or (dare I say it) “The Lean Startup”, I can only suggest that you consider broadening your repertoire… and fast. Say, “Close Every Sale” by Joe Girard, “Secrets of Closing the Sale” by Zig Ziglar, “Presentation Zen” by Garr Reynolds, “Mastering the Complex Sale” by Jeff Thull… you get the idea.

Put another way, you wouldn’t put yourself in the seat of an F1 car without a lot of training beforehand… and standing in front of a room of investors is a high-octane context where the stakes are high, one where people in the audience expect to be sold to vigorously (and to resist just as vigorously). And you’re just going to wing it, like you’re talking to some mates down the pub? Riiiiiight.

The big modern mythology that has polluted this whole discourse is that “some ideas are so powerful that they sell themselves“. Well… it may indeed be the case that this is true for one or two ideas in a generation. But please take this on board: it’s not personal, but the chances that your (say) urban social media hack falls into that extraordinarily elect group is basically at lottery-like low levels of probability. But you aren’t Mark Zuckerberg, your startup isn’t Facebook, so trying to achieve your success by emulating his outlier success is hopefulness bordering on idiocy. Let’s face it: you’re probably going to have to take a slightly different route.

If you’re an entrepreneur, 95% of what you do is now sales. If you don’t like that, tough luck – at some stage, you’re going to have to get over it, and get with the programme. Learn from people who really know how to sell. And then sell like you really mean it – because you do.

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