Start-up investors give their top 10 pitching tips

feature-judging-panel-outside-007-thumbDelivering the perfect pitch might sound like an impossible task, but the harsh reality is that the difference between an average pitch and an outstanding one could decide the future of your start-up.


The angel investors at Innovation Bay know what they’re looking for in a pitch, but they also know what they’re not looking for. The question is, do you?


Based in Sydney, Innovation Bay was founded in 2003 by Phaedon Stough and Ian Gardiner, with the aim of facilitating business opportunities between entrepreneurs and investors.


Members of the Innovation Bay network include senior business leaders and venture capitalists throughout Australia, with a strong tech focus.


In addition to regular networking events, Innovation Bay holds dinners where handpicked investors judge and put money into pitching start-ups.


Group buying site Spreets, which was purchased by Yahoo!7, emerged in this way, while, more recently, ImageBrief raised $600,000 from the process.


As Innovation Bay seeks video submissions for its next angel dinner on August 21, we spoke to some leading investors about the pitching efforts of start-ups – the good, the bad and the ugly.



1. Identify the risks


Joshua Tanchel, a partner at Deloitte Private, says most start-ups pitch in a similar way.


“We’re a major sponsor of Innovation Bay, so we get to go to all the pitch dinners and we spend quite a lot of time at various incubators and co-working spaces, so we get to hear a lot of start-up pitches,” Tanchel says.


“They have a problem they’re trying to solve, what their solution is, why it’s a big opportunity, their target market, how they will acquire customers, who their competition is, how they’re differentiated, the background of the team, and what the next steps are.”


“But they don’t always identify what the risks are. You need to show how you think about and manage those risks.”


“You’re better being upfront by admitting there are some risky areas but explain how you will manage them. I don’t see risks addressed in many presentations.”


Similarly, Dale McCarthy, founder of early stage investment firm Foundry, says all businesses have risks and potential downsides, and experienced investors expect these to be identified.


“If you downplay negatives too much, you come across as untrustworthy or naïve,” he says.



2. Practice what you pitch


“I saw one pitch where an older guy had a presentation timed and he pressed ‘Play’ on it, and it went over,” say Mick Liubinskas, co-founder of tech seed fund Pollenizer.


“He basically read what was on the screen, which was pages and pages of documents. He read his business plan to us. That was a bit of a shocker.”


“You need to practise your pitch a few times so you know what the story is. Learn a good pitch and practise it so many times that you just know it. It’s all about practice.”


“Having said that, it can be too rote-learned. Remember that no two pitches go the same way, so if you only know one way [it will be less effective]. When investors start asking questions, your pitch can be completely changed.”



3. Add some flavour


“You want to ask yourself, ‘Is this a long walk for a short drink?’ Make sure investors are coming for a long walk with a big prize at the end of the day,” Tanchel says.


“Often, you have all these high net worth individuals – VC investors – who might have seen 10 pitches during the day, so you really need to capture their attention and imagination.”


“It’s about really telling a great story. They don’t want data spat at them. It’s about bringing it to life, engaging them, using audio visual aids, etc.”


“There’s nothing worse than hearing a pitch where it’s just pretty dull and you lose interest.”



4. Learn to speak off the cuff


“Recently we went to San Francisco and we had a six o’clock flight back to LA,” Liubinskas says.


“At the last minute, we got a call from a prospective investor saying, ‘We’ve got an opening. Can you come in at four o’clock? We’ve got 20 minutes’. We drove straight there.”


“They want huge, world-changing opportunities, so we told them how enormous [Pollenizer portfolio company] Wooboard was going to be.”


“We didn’t use any of our original material or numbers, and the guy was completely blown away. That was pretty amazing – and then we drove straight to the airport afterwards.”


“In terms of quick impact, that was pretty crazy good.”



5. Be prepared – for anything


“On Tuesday I was pitching Wooboard and halfway through the pitch I went to pull out my phone and realised I’d left my phone in a bag in my room,” Liubinskas says.


“Another time, I was on stage in front of 400 people doing a pitch for Zingy and our app crashed in front of 400 people.”


“It came up and said something like ‘broken code’, which is the worst thing, but we got it going again.”


Stephen Baxter, founder of River City Labs, says technology hitches are a huge no-no.


“Things like getting presentations working beforehand is crucial. Macs have a habit of going to sleep during a pitch – that’s probably the most common thing I see,” he says.



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