A pitch is often a company’s first impression and the path to help raise money and awareness. It sets a tone and directly communicates the potential a company offers to an investor. A good pitch covers the nuts and bolts of your company, and helps you sell your audience on your solution.
Because of this importance, a key phase of the Venture For ClimateTech (V4C) curriculum focuses on helping each team develop and pitch their company’s market opportunity to V4C’s board and key stakeholders. The lessons our V4C staff shares with our cohorts can be valuable to all startups that are working to secure funding and commercialize their ideas.
Here are our top 5 do’s and don’ts to help you effectively pitch your company.
1. DO know your audience.
Research the group you’re pitching to BEFORE the meeting. This will enable you to adapt your narrative to what’s most important to your audience to clearly convey why they should care about you. This will help differentiate your company, engage the audience more deeply in your story, and make you memorable. There are several ways to find info on investors. Start by checking out the portfolio page on the firm’s website to find what they previously invested in. If they’ve invested in similar companies, make sure you highlight how you offer something different or better, or how your solution can benefit or augment their existing investments. Also search the individuals you’ll be meeting with on LinkedIn or Google to see if you have mutual connections, participate in the same organizations and associations, or support similar causes. Another great tool to use is CTVC’s Running List of Climate VCs, which is a directory of funds that put climate first. You can search funds or plug in specific criteria to find VCs that best match the investment your company is looking for.
2. DO start with a strong script.
Create an outline of the core messages you want to communicate and draft a script. Your script should match your natural voice and cover key points supporting your primary message. Once drafted, walk away for a couple of hours and return to edit it with fresh eyes. If you can, have a friend edit the script to make sure it’s concise and to the point. Once the script is finalized, rehearse it by yourself and then with anyone who will listen. Ask listeners what questions they have. This will help you prepare answers to questions or situations that might come up during the meeting. Never assume you’ll have the full time allotted to pitch. Having a shorter and longer version of your script ready to go will help you adapt at a moment’s notice.
3. DO have your company foundation ready.
A pitch is a reflection on the foundational work of a company and the indicators that communicate interest and traction. Do you have a road map or a plan for fundraising? Has the company conducted any market studies or validated the product’s potential with any customers? Have you established a data room—a shareable but secure repository of due diligence documents like your financials, company documents, board of director materials, and marketing materials to easily share with investors? These documents will inform the slides you put together for the pitch, and will help you point to the more detailed information investors might need to make decisions on whether to fund your business.
4. DO tell a story.
This is where you can let your passion for your idea shine. Your company is solving a pressing problem, so present the evidence as to why you are the authority or in the best position to alleviate the pain (and be a hero in the industry or world). Your own personal story can be tied into the problems as well, if it aligns. Most important, communicate why are you are passionate about working on the problem. The individuals you’re presenting to are humans-beings, too, so appeal to the business case AND their hearts. Narratives can, and should, elicit the emotional aspects surrounding your innovation and the industry you’re in. This is where brand loyalty starts.
5. DO know your numbers.
Investors lean on data to piece together their own picture of your products potential and assess risks. Make it easy for them to see your company’s value by sharing stats on the total addressable market and your target market, the size and impact of the problem you’re solving, estimated pricing and margins, results of initial customer pilots, research that substantiates your viewpoint, and any other metrics that back up your story. Many questions that come up during pitches relate to data, so be ready to discuss how your team got to those figures. Otherwise your pitch can be dismantled, along with your credibility, through a single figure and question.
Now that you know where to start, here are the Venture For ClimateTech team’s top 5 DON’Ts for preparing a pitch.
1. DON’T slack on the design element.
If you’re going to be pitching an innovation of the future, it better look like it. Everyone has the ability to make some slides but not everyone has the ability to develop them into a comprehensive story. Attention spans are shorter than ever but good visuals can grab someone’s attention and actually buy you more time! So, invest in a designer or someone who can give your pitch deck a professional look. Doing so shows you care about the details. Many of our startups lean on Canva – it’s a free and easy-to-use tool to make graphics. There are many platforms, like Upwork and Fiverr to find freelance designers, or check your network for recommendations on a good, local designer.
2. DON’T wing it.
Winging a pitch is more obvious than you think, especially to individuals who watch pitches for a living. Winging a presentation is a ‘kiss-of-death’ to many investors and a fast way to disengage an audience. Every word counts when you’re talking to investors about your solution, so don’t waste it with stammering or “ums” and “ahs” that come up when you’re unrehearsed. Effective preparation can also help you handle the questions you might get to smoothly make it through the presentation.
3. DON’T write too much on your slides.
Far too often, founders use a lot of language on their slides to provide context that ultimately distracts the audience. With a lot of text, many individuals will tune out your pitch and start looking for the information they want to see. The truth is, you should have multiple pitch decks for multiple situations. At the very least, have a primary deck with less words and just the key facts and figures on it for when you are presenting. Then, have a pitch deck that has all of the written context in the slides. This can be emailed to investors later on so that they can read it on their own time. You can also add more detailed slides as an addendum at the back of your concise, primary deck to go to if an investor asks for more detail during the presentation. That way, you are ready for all scenarios.
4. DON’T have mistakes and typos.
One of the easiest ways to lose an investor or even an audience is to have a sloppy pitch deck riddled with distracting typos and errors. This gives the audience an easy opportunity to poke holes in the credibility and confidence of your startup. This situation is super avoidable by simply having a friend or colleague review your slide deck and point out errors. Even the best editors don’t see their own mistakes, so get a second set of eyes on your content!
5. DON’T read from your script or slides.
Reading from your script instantly takes the emotion and passion out of your pitch. It can also make you move too quickly through important detail. We know you’re nervous—most people are when giving a presentation. But if you don’t know your own business well enough to talk about it comfortably, people won’t trust that you can execute on it. Use and memorize bullet points and rehearse your script in front of colleagues or friends and family. This will help you ease your anxiety to let your natural voice, inflection, and delivery, shine through.
Each of these rules plays into the larger picture of being prepared to tell your story in a compelling way. Focus on your foundation, and like the many Venture For ClimateTech companies, you’ll find yourself on the better side of your next pitch.