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Delivering a good pitch is as much about conveying emotion as conveying information. If you get the opportunity to pitch in front of a live audience, both of those objectives should be top of mind. The phrase, “They don’t care what you know until they know that you care,” is sage advice and is the basis for starting a 10-minute pitch.
Startups are hard work. If you do not particularly care about the market or the problem you are solving, you may bail out when the going gets tough. Investors need to know this is more than just a business.
Minute 1: Personal Introduction
Let the audience know that you, personally, care about the people and the problem you are trying to solve. Use the word “I” instead of “we.” I know you are representing your team and your company, but for now concentrate on establishing your passion and commitment. Tell a quick, personal story about how you stumbled upon the business you are pursuing and what made you realize it was where you wanted to focus most of your waking hours.
Your slide(s) should be simple. They are just there as a backdrop to your opening monologue and should make you look good. I, personally, like to show photos of me and/or customers experiencing the problem first-hand. The focus should be on you and your message.
Step forward to the audience, make gentle eye contact and engage them on a personal level as much as you can. The goal is for them to trust you, have confidence in you and to like you.
Transition out of the personal introduction into the overview of the problem you are trying to solve. Your job is to describe the problem as one that goes well beyond just you and your experience. A nice phrase is, “When I started looking around, I realized that I’m not the only one with X problem. Lots and lots of other people have it too!”
Minute 2: The Problem
Remember to keep an emotional appeal included in your description of the problem. People with this problem are: struggling, irritated, angry, disenfranchised? Keep human emotions real. Break down the problem into its component parts accompanied by a diagram.
Your slides during this minute are simply visual aids that help explain the problem. Like in the introduction, photos can express the human factor, but diagrams can help explain how the problem is experienced by people.
Keep close to the audience and help them empathize with those who experience the problem. As you move into the solution, physically back away from the audience, smile and spread out your arms to make bigger gestures. Your job is to bring up the excitement level in the room.
Minute 3: The Solution
At this point, you are going to maximize the crescendo. Show excitement and passion for your businesses solution. Transition to “we” instead of just “I.” Walk the audience not only through how the solution works, but also through the great benefits of the solution.
You need to position your body in front of the room and make it as big and bright as you can with big arm movements, a bright smile, confident voice and lots of eye contact. The audience should begin to share your excitement for your business.
Your slides are visual aids and diagrams. They should contain little to no text. Keep them simple as possible as complexity will only suck the energy out of the room. You don’t have to explain everything your company does, just the main points. Remember, you only have 10 minutes.
It’s good to show images or screenshots of existing products or beta releases and other hard evidence of your execution, but overexplaining the solution will make the presentation less compelling, and it will take too long. You want to leave the audience wanting more.
Once you have your audience feeling great about the solution, it is time to talk money.
Minute 4: Business Model
There are several money-related topics you’ll need to touch on during your pitch, including how you’ll make money, how much money you will make and how much money you will need. Keep these parts separate so they are easier to digest.
Now is the time to tell the audience how you will make money. There are literally dozens of possible business models, including selling the product, selling a subscription, taking a processing fee, licensing and so on. Explain how you are going to charge people for the solution you are offering.
On your slide is an outline of the customer unit economics for your chosen business model — the price they will pay and basic terms of a typical contract. Explain how you will “do the deal” with customers. Whenever you show numbers, stand close to your presentation screen and point to the numbers you are talking about. Numbers are hard to follow. Pointing as you talk will help people stay engaged.
If the business model is attractive, as it should be, you will have to explain who else is going after the customer’s money.
Minute 5: The Competition
There’s no such thing as a business without competition, and implying that you have none is a major red flag for investors and even potential partners or customers. Whatever problem you are going after is being addressed somehow, maybe not very well, but people experiencing the problem are trying to solve it, and the resources they access to cobble together a solution is where you will define your competition.
The key here is not to avoid the notion that competition exists, but how your company is different. The existence of competition validates the market. Do not talk about how you are “better,” focus on “different.” Your attitude towards the competition gives the audience a peek into your business soul. Are you dutifully respectful of their presences and power or are you arrogant and naïve enough to think your little startup will have no problem beating them? Err on the side of humility.
Your slides should depict your differences from the main competitors. Feature comparisons or positioning charts, for instance, can be effective tools. Many of the questions you will get from the audience will stem from what you say during this minute of your pitch.
Be clear and respectful before you transition to your sales and marketing plan.
Minute 6: Sales and Marketing
During you description of the competition, you struck a respectful tone. It’s now time to amp up the room again as you talk about how many potential customers are out there and how you’re going to get them. Show excitement and confidence as you walk the audience through the market data, your chosen point of entry and your communication strategy.
Slides will depict data, charts, and graphs which you will want to point to as you explain. Images of web sites, brochures, trade show booths in action, etc. are fair game here, too, and will help build excitement in room.
It is important to tie your sales and marketing plans together so it doesn’t look like you are shooting a scatter gun of one-off tactics. Show the logic and flow of lead generation to final sale and how your team plans to take the prospects through the buying process and into the customer experience.
End this minute by translating the marketing sizzle into numbers. It is time to talk about money again!
Minute 7: Money
Earlier, you explained how the business is going to make money. Now, it’s time to tell the audience how much money you are going to make. This is the good part. Your description of the deal shows the unit economics of a single customer (price), and your market description shows how many potential deals are out there (quantity). Armed with this information, you can describe how revenue builds over time.
Break it down for the audience. Show income and expenses in graphical format. Nothing beats a good bar chart, and pretty much anything beats a screenshot of a spreadsheet. Back up to your presentation slide and point to information like the weatherperson points to a weather map on TV.
Keep the tone upbeat and engaging. You’ll want to exude as much confidence as you can. To this end, avoid showing different scenarios in your forecast. Pick the scenario that you think is most likely to happen, and be prepared to defend your assumptions.
To make the business believable, the audience will now need to meet your team.
Minute 8: The Team
It may seem a little strange to wait until towards the end of your pitch to introduce your team, but waiting has benefits. It’s important to introduce your team in the context of the business so the audience understands why it is what it is. If you introduce the team upfront, you will have to circle back to describe their roles later, which wastes time and can get redundant. A 10-minute pitch must eliminate redundancy.
As you introduce the key players on the team, you can highlight what function they will perform and brag (yes, brag) about how great they are at their function and how lucky you are to be working with them. Talk about yourself with humility, and talk about your team like they are the best team in the world.
Rather than showing headshots and bullet points, show images of the team in action or in a group. You want to make sure the audience sees a team, not a collection of individuals.
Next, you will explain the great work this great team has accomplished!
Minute 9: Proof of Concept/Traction
A team without results isn’t much more than a cocktail party. To get investors or customers, you need to show results. What has the team accomplished? Have they launched an MVP? Does the company have revenue? Are the customers happy?
The more traction you can show, the better. This, more than just about any other minute of your pitch, will demonstrate your team’s ability to pull off this business in the real world. Display customer testimonials and read them out loud. Show pictures of your solutions in action. Maximize the excitement in your voice and facial expression. You’re almost at the end of your pitch, so be sure leave it on a high note!
You have one minute left. It’s time to ask for the money.
Minute 10: Ask
Assuming you are pitching your business for the purpose of raising money, you will spend the last minute asking for it. By now, your audience has everything they need to know if they are interested, or not, in working with you. You must paint a clear picture of what you need from the audience and what investing with you will look like.
Investors want their money to be used for growth, not exploration. Show them that everything is in place to grow, you just need to fan the flames.
Many founders aren’t sure how much money they will need and to what terms they will be willing to accept. They are keen to keep things open-ended. In my experience, however, investors want a starting point. Give it to them.
You already showed them how much you are expecting to make. This financial objective is based on many assumptions, not the least of which is how much outside funding will be required to execute the plan. Break it down for the investor. Do you want one main investor or a number of smaller investors?
If, for instance, you are raising $1 million, you could break it into 10 chunks of $100,000 each and say, “We are raising $1 million from up to ten investors in $100,000 units in exchange for a convertible note. How many units do you want?” Your slides can show the breakdown and the high-level terms of the note. This makes the deal easy to understand. An interested investor will not walk away from the deal based on your initial offer, they will counteroffer, and you’ll be off to the negotiating table — mission accomplished!
Express enthusiasm for their participation in your business. Keep the energy levels high.
The trick to delivering a compelling 10-minute pitch is to let the story flow logically and to avoid repeating yourself. It’s not logical, for instance, to introduce the team before anyone knows what kind of team is needed. Likewise, it’s not logical to talk about progress and traction before talking about how the business works.
Each topic in the above outline neatly flows into the next, allowing you to build your story and maintain the energy level in the room. A good pitch lets the story unfold naturally and doesn’t force things together. In this pitch, you may notice that there is no “money” or “financial” section. Making money is simply part of the flow of the story, so it is touched on multiple times during the pitch.
Perfecting the pitch means practicing the pitch. It’s much more than what you say. It’s also about when you say it and how you say it.