A good story is the key to any pitch

When it comes to putting together your pitch deck and preparing for an investor meeting, there are countless articles and advice you can refer to. For example, we have a list of articles on our Resources page (see under “Pitching”). And one of my favourite blog posts is Tomasz Tunguz’ “7 questions a startup should answer in their fund raising pitch.”

These types of articles do a great job of telling you what to cover, but they don’t necessarily dig into how to deliver your message. And let’s face it. Bullet points alone rarely inspire; it’s the way your pitch flows and how you unveil information that gets your investors and customers excited.

Each day we connect with multiple entrepreneurs. Without a doubt, the ones who stand out are the ones who share a great story. We are more engaged when we hear a narrative of events as opposed to a list of facts, because we immediately decode the words into something meaningful to us.

If storytelling can make or break a conversation, pitch, or demo, how do you make sure you are telling your story in the most compelling way possible? Here are a few tips:

1. Tell your organic story

Fifty start-ups may have a relatively similar business model, so what makes you and your team unique? As investors, we want to hear the back-story: how is it that you came to the idea for your product and startup? For example, were you looking to solve a pain point that you experienced firsthand? That’s a great validation of both the need for your product, as well as your understanding of the space.

In addition, tell us why you and your team will be the ones to solve the problem and transform the industry. Why are you passionate about this space? What do you know that others don’t? And what have you and your team learned along the way of building your startup?

2. Know your audience

Entrepreneurs often tell me that, “Every VC wants us to modify our deck and see different metrics.” That’s true: every investor will have their own focus and interests and a good storyteller knows how to cater the story to their audience.

Do some homework on each investor beforehand to see what makes them tick. I personally like data and one can easily find that out after spending a few minutes on Google or LinkedIn. If you can’t find any details on the investor ahead of time, start the meeting by letting the VC tell you about him or herself. Then, use your improv skills to describe your product in a way that s/he can personally relate with it.  Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the investor has experience with the pain point you are trying to solve.

3. Why, how, and what

There are 3 elements to your story…why, how, and what. “Why” is your motivation and vision. “How” is your plan to achieve the vision (aka, your roadmap). And “What” is the product itself. Great storytellers touch upon all 3 parts. It’s the “Why” part of the story that will inspire investors, teammates, and users, while the “What” grounds us to the reality of the goals at hand.

4. Find the balance between features and pipe dreams

Imagine an idea spectrum where on one end, the story is too small and on the other end, it is too big. You don’t want to paint too narrow of a picture where you’ll be perceived as a collection of features and specs instead of a company. On the other hand, good investors won’t take you seriously if you offer a naïve pipedream instead of a realistic goal.

A good storyteller can strike a balance by illustrating that their current product is an MVP with many opportunities to grow into the overarching vision.

5. Nail your one-sentence pitch

Conciseness is important. By the end of the pitch, investors should be able to describe your business in one sentence. You can accomplish this by crafting one sentence, key message, or tagline and weaving it throughout the presentation.

Be as original as possible. You don’t just want to be the stoppers that plug the holes of a leaky bucket. You want to be a new bucket. In addition, be cautious of using the “We are X for Y/This for That” taglines (i.e. “AirBnB for Boats”), since it’s hard for us to get excited about these comparisons. If you haven’t already read it, check out Fred Wilson’s recent blog post about this.

6. Open and close strong

As all good stories go, a pitch needs a strong opening to capture the audience’s attention right out of the gate. Come out with a lot of energy in the first few seconds. Most importantly, you’ll want a strong closing to bring everything around full circle. So much of investing is rooted in intuition. Think carefully about what you want the investor to feel as he or she leaves the meeting. Then, be sure your closing point does everything it can to foster this feeling.

Final thoughts

The perfect pitch doesn’t come naturally to anyone; it’s planned, practiced, and tweaked. Practice telling your story several times in front of different friends and colleagues. See which aspects resonate and where you start to lose their attention. When it comes to adjusting your pitch, use your best judgment: you want to be flexible and open to feedback, without straying too far from your vision.


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