As the managing director of the MergeLane venture fund, I’ve seen thousands of startup investor pitches. Since I find myself offering the same feedback over and over, I thought it might be helpful to share my nine most common points of investor pitch feedback:
1) Arguable statements: Entrepreneurs often use arguable statements, state opinions as fact or make broad, sweeping statements about their pitch audience or certain groups. Examples include "Autonomous cars are clearly the wave of the future", "Millennials are entitled" or "We all prefer Uber over taxis". If the audience disagrees with the statement, they may stop listening to the pitch and start thinking about why they disagree. Even worse, these kinds of statements can trigger negative emotional reactions when listeners disagree with an assertion or feel connected to the group being judged by the person pitching. Inserting a “based on what we’ve seen”, supporting statements with data, or acknowledging the fact that a statement might be arguable can help.
2) Unnecessary slide text: Investors tend to be more engaged when they connect with the presenter rather than the slides. I find slides are most effective when they simply underscore important points (key statistics, bold statements) and illustrate things that can be explained more easily through a graph or image. I notice this most frequently on "team" slides where text could easily be replaced with logos of past employers.
3) Illegible font: I recommend eliminating any unnecessary text and testing the legibility of the font and images by standing about 15 feet away from the presentation on a laptop or iPad. Imagine what a person with less-than-perfect vision in the very worst seat of the room would see on the presentation screen.
4) Unnecessary complication: From my work with thousands of entrepreneurs, I am convinced that even the most tech-heavy, complicated businesses can be explained to nine-year-olds. I am most compelled by entrepreneurs who can convince a wide-variety of people to support their business. From my experience, this is a key indicator of a startup’s ability to secure sales, recruit quality talent, etc. I recommend practicing the pitch on someone outside the startup ecosystem — even a nine-year-old — to see what is and isn't clear.
5) Jargon and buzzwords: My favorite pitches evoke an emotional reaction from the audience. Excessive industry jargon and buzzwords can prevent that emotional connection and bore the audience.
6) Assumption of prior knowledge: An entrepreneurs’ ability to gauge an audience is often an indication of their ability to sell, fundraise, etc. I love pitches that effectively level set the audience without sounding patronizing. I recommend taking an inventory of the acronyms, industry terms and other assumptions of prior knowledge. Consider whether specific audiences may require additional explanation and try to find ways to articulate the key points to a broad audience.
7) Stating the obvious: Eliminate unnecessary transition statements like: "Now we are going to talk about the business model.” Omit conclusions the audience can draw on their own such "As you can see, this is a huge market." or “I have a rockstar team.” From my experience, minimizing gratuitous commentary bolsters credibility and audience engagement.
8) Lack of conviction: I, and most of the investors I know, look for entrepreneurs who are solving a problem tied to a deep, personal passion, who believe they were put on this planet to solve that problem, and will stop at nothing to make it happen. I want to feel that passion and conviction in a pitch. I often notice that presenters’ voices go up a few octaves as soon as they start to pitch. Speaking from the core, keeping the feet grounded and ending sentences on a strong note will help.
9) Overemphasizing the origin story: Many entrepreneurs see their startups as their babies. However, a convoluted origin story can distract the audience’s focus, raise unnecessary questions, and underemphasize the future vision of the company.
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