11 Tips on Pitching an Investor, Mentor, etc.

Over the last few months, I’ve Been hearing lots of pitches from entrepreneurs. Before going on, I want to say, congrats to all of you on taking the leap towards building your businesses.

That being said, I want to tell you that most of your pitches suck! 75% of the time I want to go to sleep after the first 3 minutes. I guess it’s not your fault (the education system in India never really teaches public speaking). Do the research. It can only help you. Don’t “read Facebook” (I had to put that in. A lovely quote from an entrepreneur I recently met.)! Go read some incredible posts by people like Mark Suster, Dave McClure, Eric Ries, Brad Feld, Fred Wilson, etc.

I’m no pitch expert but here are a few pointers from what I’ve learned over the years.

  1. Do some research on the person/people you are pitching to and understand, as best as you can, their perspective BEFORE walking into pitch them.
  2. Start with the problem. In two to three sentences, explain what is the problem. If you can’t do it in three sentences, stretch it to five but get the problem across in e first thirty to sixty seconds. If you can’t hook the other party and help her identify with the problem in sixty seconds, you will lose them for the rest of the meeting. Check out this post by Dave McClure
  3. In another sixty seconds, explain your solution. Don’t take five minutes to do this. Sixty seconds to ninety seconds is the most time you should take to explain your solution.
  4. Don’t make up jargon that doesn’t fit with the industry vertical you are talking about. For example, I had two entrepreneurs working in the travel space talking about products and content and I’m thinking souvenirs and TripAdvisor. They were actually talking about customized city tours and concierge services. That was ten minutes of my life that I was never getting back. Stick to terms people identify with your industry. It makes it easier for people to follow along.
  5. Practice! Practice! Practice! Record yourself pitching on a video camera or webcam and watch it over and over. Critique yourself objectively and repeat. Share it with friends or family and see if they ‘get it’. Got to startup events like Startup Weekend where you can do 60 second pitches as well as long form demos and presentations.
  6. Refine your pitch every time you do it. Don’t stick to what you always do. If you have done 1), then you should be able to do your pitch in a way that resonates with your audience
  7. If the person you are pitching starts asking questions, that’s a good thing. You want them to interrupt you and be engaged. This means they are interested and/or trying to help. Don’t try to get thru the rest of your mental pitch in a specific order. Engage them in a discussion about the problem and your solution. (Check out Dave McClure’s talk ‘How to Pitch a VC’ from Startup Weekend Delhi)
  8. Be prepared to pitch without a deck. If you have one, pull it out but a demo is far more interesting if you really need to show something.
  9. Show passion! I find this incredibly important. Most of the entrepreneurs I come across in India may be passionate, but they don’t show it. Speak with conviction and show your passion about your idea, your business, and your team. Emotions can work in your favor if you do it right.
  10. Be open-minded. I may not know as much about your industry as you do but if you asked to meet, consider my suggestions with an open-mind. I may surprise you :-)
  11. Don’t pretend to know what you don’t know. It makes you look more foolish than if you honestly say you have no idea what I’m talking about. You won’t believe how many times people pretend to know and follow Eric Ries‘ Lean Startup methodology but really know nothing more than buzzwords. If you don’t know something, it will show so don’t pretend.

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2 thoughts on “11 Tips on Pitching an Investor, Mentor, etc.”

  1. Great post Pankaj, will keep these in mind while preparing for pitches.
    I would also add the advice Mukund gave at Startup Weekend Bangalore about telling a story to sell your vision to the VC/investor.

  2. Hi Sudeep,
    Great point. However, i think that it takes time for people to build up their confidence and pitching style to be able to tell a story to sell your vision as well as Mukund does. People should set that as a target and thru practice, they should be able to get there.
    Cheers,
    Pankaj