Five Years Too Late

January 13, 2009

Pitching 101: Say What You Do

Filed under: Uncategorized — fiveyearstoolate @ 11:30 am
Eric Wiesen

Eric Wiesen

I’ve been thinking about putting together a series of posts about pitching, not just to RRE, but in general. Some other bloggers, particularly my friend Mark Davis at DFJ Gotham Ventures, have done an admirable job of putting together well thought-out and structured guides that go through a lot of best practices around pitching, and I’m frankly not looking to recreate those efforts. Rather I occasionally see a poor practice repeated so frequently that I think it might be helpful to point out a few “hot spots” in pitching methodology that I think are important.

Today’s topic is one of the absolute most important: SAY. WHAT. YOUR. COMPANY. DOES. I am continually amazed by the number of PowerPoint decks, executive summaries and in-person pitches that don’t tell the investors being pitched what the company’s product or service does until halfway through. This is not the right approach. If you’re sending around a deck, the second slide should be a succinct description of what you want to do. In an executive summary it’s the first paragraph. If you’re pitching in person you should plan to tell investors what you’re doing shortly after introductions have been made and you have all sat down to “get down to business”. If you need a script, it’s something like this:

“Thanks for meeting with us. We’re [ScoobyDooCorp] and we’re [the first ad network for pet-related websites].”

Instead, the first half of the pitch is often one of three things:

  1. Long-form description/discussion of the management team’s accomplishments.
  2. Lengthy discourse on the problem or pain point being addressed.
  3. Treatise on the technology, how it works and why it’s superior.

Don’t misunderstand me – every one of these is important and I want to hear them all. But if you tell me these things before you tell me what your company does, it makes it much harder for me to contextualize the value of these other parts of your presentation. This isn’t a “VC ADD.” issue. It’s not that we’re so impatient we can’t listen to a well-structured pitch. But it’s much more valuable to you as an entrepreneur if I’m hearing your accomplishments, the problem you’re solving or the virtues of your technology in the context of what you’re going to do after I fund you.

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  1. Amen… has a pretty good 10-slide framework for pitching – probably more applicable for early/seed stage companies than later stage deals but useful nonetheless

    Also a big fan of the 2 slide deck system: 1st deck (~10 slides) is used in presentations to investors, has minimal text, and no eye charts. This keeps the focus on the speaker vs the investors getting lost trying to read 12 pt fonts on a conference room monitor. 2nd deck (20-40 slides) acts as a business plan and can read more like a document with more detailed text and graphs.

    Unfortunately the 2nd deck is usually used for both applications 😦

    Comment by jgannonwp — January 13, 2009 @ 1:11 pm

  2. Makes sense, but that said, typically the VC says something like, “tell me a little bit about yourself before we look at the deck.” The entrepreneur is then diverted from what you believe is critical to start the discussion with and they can’t not do it, because 1) the VC asked, and 2) they have always been told that “the team” is what the VC bets on (maybe more than the “we are an ad-network for dogs” idea). Yes, I know…if the entrepreneur was recommended to you by someone you trust, you already are “okay” with their pedigree, but if they weren’t, or if you are curious, the discussion goes sideways. If this is the playbook, then let’s all play by it.

    Comment by An Actual Entrepreneur — January 14, 2009 @ 8:43 pm

  3. I say exactly what we do right of the bat (“We help people figure out there careers”) to gauge the investor’s response.

    If I get the blank stare back, this person has failed the Turing test and they are obviously not human, nor have they spent time with any other humans who may have hated their job or not known what they wanted to do at some point.

    Comment by Charlie — January 16, 2009 @ 4:08 pm

  4. @jgannonwp I’m not a big system fan, but I agree with the basic premise that first-time pitches should be short and shouldn’t be the focal point.

    @An Actual Entrepreneur It’s a fair point, but what I’m saying is that even if the VC tries to divert you from making an effective pitch, you shouldn’t let him/her. They’ve done this thousands of times and aren’t necessarily focused on making sure you pitch as well as you can, but you should be. And the point of the post is to say that if you want your pitch to go well, as soon as the initial getting to know you stuff is over, state clearly and succinctly what you do, even if you have to gently change the subject to do so.

    @Charlie I like that approach. Either the investor sits forward and says, “Great, how do you do that?” or they lean back and give you the stare. Either way it tells you whether this meeting is worth your time and what your expectations should be going forward.

    Comment by fiveyearstoolate — January 16, 2009 @ 4:26 pm

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