The captain goes down with his pitch

You’re brilliant.  You’ve started a company and now you’re ready to raise some money to grow it.  Are you sure you’re the best guy to pitch it?

I sat through five pitches in December.  One was at a swanky downtown Toronto restaurant.  In attendance were twenty or so investment bankers and brokers.  The presenter spoke for an hour.  At around the 30 minute mark, I noticed one of the bankers look over to his colleague and mouthed the words “What the ____ is he talking about?”  At exactly the one-hour mark, a banker excused himself, and then another, and then another, until the entire room emptied.  Not a single business card was given to the presenter.

I asked the gentleman, “Can you please tell me in one sentence why I should invest in your company?”   I ask this of every company I might choose to represent.

The gentleman thought for moment and answered “Because it’s a home run!”

And that was it.  He was completely unprepared to answer the most basic of all buying questions.  He was the CEO.

What investors think when you tell them your project is 'a homerun!'

The presentation was confusing and completely devoid of a unifying thread from the first word to the last.  Most of the slides were a jumble of logos, full length paragraphs and indecipherable flow-charts.

Fair or not, a poor presentation is reflective of the guy giving it.   A start-up without a strong communicator is dead in the water and will only swim in the ‘friends-and-family’ pond.  The tragedy is that the business seemed solid and perfectly presentable.  But the audience didn’t feel the guy heading it could sell anything.  So they stopped caring.  If the lead guy can’t sell the vision, investor confidence disappears.

Here are three lessons from that pitch:

1.  If the CEO is poor at presenting, don’t let him present.  Determine who the strongest speaker on the team is and let him or her do the presenting.  Put aside the egos.  This is why you have a team.

2. If you can’t get your point across in 15 minutes, you won’t get it across in 60 minutes.  Plan for 15 minutes even if you have an hour.  Earn the attention to speak beyond 15 minutes.  A 15 minute pitch and a lively 20 minute Q&A means you’re a rock star.  Nobody ever complained that a presentation was too short.

3. You are being assessed.  Not your company.  Very few, if any deals are closed at the first meeting.  If you can’t get to the second meeting where they really look at the nuts and bolts of your idea, they’ve said ‘No’ to you, not your business.

Most people who start businesses are driven and talented.  But everybody has blind spots.  If your weakness is communications, you absolutely must get better.  Find a mentor.  The CEO’s job is lead fund raiser, lead sales guy and lead cheerleader.  All your brilliant ideas mean nothing if you can’t get them out of your brain in a way that inspires.