Like 12-hour days and home garage offices, pitching is often an inescapable part of being a startup founder.
Whether you meet someone in an elevator or score a chance introduction to an investor, founders need to be ready to deploy their pitch at a moment’s notice. But no matter how many times you rehearse and deliver your startup story, pitching can still be a daunting process.
So what’s it really like pitching in front of an audience of investors?
Five startup founders share their experiences and reflections after recently pitching at the Pitch to Investors event run by Sydney-based incubator The Studio. Here’s a step-by-step guide of what they learnt in the process.
1. How to prepare before the pitch
It’s no secret the key to landing a great pitch is practice. But aside from rehearsing in front of your bathroom mirror, what else can you do to hone your delivery on the day?
For Allison Reid of virtual reality startup Equal Reality, pre-event pitch coaching is key.
“During the preparation session we received invaluable feedback on how to clearly and concisely articulate our journey,” Reid says.
Gaining this feedback from friends, peers and other investors is a vital step in ensuring your pitch resonates with the audience on the day.
According to Dr Kamran Ahmed, founder of social enterprise platform Music on my Mind, focusing on the bigger picture, rather than getting caught up in the finer details, was some of the most “game-changing” feedback he received from pitching to other entrepreneurs.
“I was previously pitching about where I was and my next immediate next steps, but the feedback I received was to pitch my ultimate vision. That’s a lot more appealing to investors and it’s also a lot more honest,” he tells StartupSmart.
Ahmed also advocates for practising your pitch with “everyone and anyone” to see if you can spot common trends in the feedback you receive. Sometimes, getting feedback from someone outside the startup scene can also add a fresh perspective to your pitch.
“This may sound weird, but on the way to every pitch I’ve pitched my idea to the Uber driver,” Ahmed says.
2. How to nail the delivery of your pitch
When you’re up on stage it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and go off script. Often the excitement of sharing your story with new audiences can lead founders to overshare every aspect of their story: something that should be avoided.
Most startups pitching on the night said if they had their time again they would make their pitches tighter, simpler and more compelling.
For Seneca founder Samantha Coras, telling a concise, compelling story about how her startup empowers personal knowledge management was crucial to keep audiences engaged with her pitch.
“Be bold enough to share your big vision and bring them on your journey,” she advises.
Chris Muir from global advertising marketplace AdBidx agrees with this sentiment, urging startup founders to drill down on their main value offerings, rather than tell their whole startup story.
“Keep it very simple. Better to get part of what makes your business special across and understood versus saying everything and confusing people,” Muir says.
If at any point your pitch does become derailed, it’s important not to panic — Ahmed says it’s all part of the learning experience.
“I like to try and think of it as a learning exercise rather than a ‘make or break’ pitch for investment. That helps take the pressure off a little and the whole thing flows more naturally.”
3. How to prepare for question time
You may have just completed your pitch, but it’s not time to relax just yet. One of the most important aspects of a pitch is the Q&A session that follows.
With a spotlight shining down on you, it’s important to know your numbers and have all the relevant information top of mind, according to Deborah Fairfull, founder and chief executive of online health and wellbeing marketplace Blisspot.
If she had her time again, Fairfull would have “answered questions without hesitation and been more myself”, advising all startups to be prepared to confidently answer whatever questions may be thrown at them.
4. How to network after the pitch
Whether your pitch has gone off without a hitch, or whether you’ve had the occasional slip up along the way, it’s the connections you make afterwards that matter most. Being prepared to network and tell your story one-on-one is just as important as confidently strutting your stuff onstage.
For Ahmed, post-pitch networking is a prime opportunity to foster meaningful relationships with investors.
“The way I approach networking is I try to have a conversation with someone who I connect with, rather than trying to sell anything to them,” Ahmed says.
Networking provides an important chance to sound out ideas and learn what investors are looking for in a founding team. In a world where many founders are constantly putting it all on the line for their passion project, validating your idea with experienced investors can also be a reassurance you’re on the right track.
“I had positive feedback from one of the panel members who understood that the wellness industry is booming right now. He saw the potential of Blisspot. That was heartening to me,” says Fairfull.