Pitching is a vital part of any start-up’s journey, where entrepreneurs’ visions, ideas and products are scrutinised by the investors that could truly be the difference between success and failure. With a wealth of information available about how to impress, it is surprising that some are still tripped up by mistakes that could be easily avoided. Speaking as someone who is often pitched to for coveted spaces on a start-up incubator in the city-centre of Amsterdam, these are the key ways that I think start-ups can improve their presentation skills.
Be precise and open
There are two main aspects to a successful pitch; being precise and open about what you are asking for and selling yourself as much as the company. The first requires a large amount of preparation, learning everything possible about the audiences you are pitching to, including their prior investments, critiques and what appeals to them. The second is far more personal and perhaps only achievable if you are dedicated to and excited by your start-up idea. A study by researchers at Princeton suggests that humans categorise others in less than 150 milliseconds of meeting them and that lasting impressions of your character can form within 30 minutes, so every second of the meeting counts.
In order to start the pitch impactfully, the first message must detail your request, how much money you are asking for, whether you are looking for active involvement from the investor and if you require access to their network . The potential investor will want to keep this information in the back of their mind throughout the pitch so that they can weigh up the cost and risk of the project. One of the biggest mistakes start-ups make is failing to be specific about the funding and support that they need. Generalisations or ball-park figures do not inspire confidence in investors who want to feel that their money will be treated with the same respect they have for it.
Use data to substantiate your idea
Another way to win confidence is to build credibility throughout the pitch by using hard data as personal proof of problem solving and achievements of the project thus far. It is important to consider that providing a range or an estimation will never be as effective as presenting actual data and explaining how you came to that conclusion. Naturally, investors are interested in numbers but what is often overlooked is that they also want to be exposed to the process.
Persistent, responsible and dedicated pitches have a lasting impact
There’s a particular set of traits and attitudes that entrepreneurs must display in order to win interest. It goes without saying that persistence and dedication are two of the key qualities that potential investors are likely to look for. They want to feel the contagiousness of your excitement and visualise the dream, so it often helps to bring along a prototype or presentation. They are looking for evidence of how you interact with others and your awareness of networks and potential partners as well as your ability to attract people to the venture. But, crucially, overzealousness is off-putting and being closed to feedback could likely result in disappointment. Remembering at all times that you are trying to secure an investment in yourself as much as your start-up should encourage the right attitude.
A key quality that I look for – and think is often lacking from – most pitches is a commitment to responsible leadership and a clear demonstration of how it benefits the start-up. Showing that the venture provides a real value and return on investment to its employees and society at large creates the picture of manager most would want to invest in. At Nyenrode Business Universiteit, our start-up Incubator, where students pitch for a small number of coveted places, has a real focus on responsible leadership and encourages sustainability and stewardship from all of its ventures.
Just a few months ago, a group of female students pitched for a place at our Incubator, showing a real commitment to their growth as responsible leaders. Although in its infancy, they are currently developing a social enterprise that will aim to bring female issues to light in a contemporary and sustainable manner though a unique business model. The venture will empower women by crushing the gender inequalities caused by menstruation. Their initial pitch stands out as an example of best practice, with a contagious sense of excitement and prototype product which gave us a feel for their vision. A clear openness to building and improving their idea secured them the one space that became available after a more developed start-up, Aquible, moved to California to roll out their plant-based protein product made from water lentils.
When asked how she prepared for this winning pitch, one of the student entrepreneurs replied that she wanted to reach people on an emotional level whilst still stressing the seriousness of contemporary women’s issues. She aimed to open a dialogue about this and gave an impassioned and colourful pitch. It is this kind of entrepreneurship that investors enjoy to foster.
Pitching is a challenge that all start-ups face and, with a huge amount of competition, success can be pivotal to whether the company is able to develop further. Ensuring that start-ups go beyond excellent preparation, exact figures and data and an interesting demonstration is key. If you can showcase why you are a worthy leader to partner with, your company will automatically inspire twice the confidence in a potential investor.