There isn’t a whole lot of mystery as to what should go into a basic investor pitch, yet the entrepreneurs I coach have a habit of getting in their own way.  I’m not sure if it’s because I deal mainly with early stage, high-tech start-ups and scientists/engineers love details, or whether people just want to do a good job and think that more information is better.

It’s not (generally).

What most entrepreneurs don’t know (or forget), is they are the thousandth+  person to pitch that particular investor / funder / reviewer.  They’ve heard and seen it all before.  Overselling and under-informing, not to mention presentation errors, go a long way to explain why those Blackberry’s start getting checked.

If you’re pitching as part of a competitive funding process, then if you’re not the first presentation of the day, you’re fighting information overload (not to mention post-lunch hypoglycemic-induced fatigue!).

So what are the basics?While great presentations are few and far between, simply providing the basic information that funders and review committees want to see, in an easy to understand format, will set you apart from your peers.  That information generally looks like:

  • What is your business / technology?
  • What problem are you solving for what market?
  • How do you make money?
  • How experienced is your management team?
  • What is your current status and what are your next steps?

Believe me, if you can simply convey that information in 15 minutes or so in an understandable and easily digestible presentation, you are way ahead of much of your competition.  This of course doesn’t mean you will get funded, but at least you won’t get denied for lack of understanding.

I’m lucky to work as part of a regional, entrepreneurial support ecosystem and almost all my peers convey roughly the same message.  However, I recently heard about a pitch metaphor one of mycolleagues uses and I think it can be really helpful in understanding the process of going through a presentation.  I’m not sure if he calls it anything, but I call it the Pitch Staircase.

How the Staircase works

Everyone knows how a staircase works, you take one step at a time and pretty soon you’ve arrived at your destination.  The Pitch Staircase isn’t special because it’s different, it’s special because of who you are walking the staircase with: a frail, helpless individual who needs lots of help getting down the stairs (e.g. the investor).

Imagine you’re standing on the top of the staircase with your 90 year old investor grandma.  To get grandma down the stairs, you’ll walk her to the top of the stairs, then take some time to make sure she’s got solid footing before taking a step.  Once she’s ready, you’d then carefully guide her down to the next step, and again take some time to make sure she’s stable before moving on.  Repeat this process, and pretty soon grandma has made it down the stairs with your help.

Using this metaphor for your pitches can help focus your presentation and keep you on track.  Imagine the person you are pitching to as grandma, and your presentation as the staircase.  You want to guide the investor through your presentation in a logical manner, not rushing into a new topic until you’ve got them on solid footing where they currently are.

What do the steps look like?

As mentioned above, most early stage coaches you talk to will tell you pretty much the same story as to what goes into a pitch, much like I outlined above.  As presented to me by my colleague, the “steps” he takes grandma down during a pitch are:

  • Problem
  • Solution
  • Market
  • Team
  • Process

A little different flavor than mine and I like it.  Very basic buckets of information that are all important.  I also like the sequence as it builds a logical story, also a very effective approach to early stage pitches.

Bonus – 5 quick, practical tips for effective pitches

I recently stumbled across the Instigator Blog.  Written by a former entrepreneur who exited and now is a founding partner at an early stage accelerator, I love the blog for it’s practical, real world take on entrepreneurship, pitching, marketing and all those other fun things that go with early stage start-ups.  Ben’s five tips on pitching investors boil down to this:

  1. Tell you story quick
  2. Change the pace throughout
  3. Sexy slides work
  4. Don’t over-emphasize the product
  5. End strong

While all of these are good tips, #3 and 5 stick out for me in particular.  Sexy slides definitely work on many levels.  I read a while back about a psychological “test” that started with an examination of your car trunk.  The premise was your trunk represented your brain and a messy, uncared for trunk indicated the same tendencies within your human nature.  A stretch perhaps, but a professional, yes – sexy presentation always reflects well on the presenter.

Likewise with ending strong.  Too many entrepreneurs end their presentation with boring financials, or next steps milestones.  Fight that urge.  End on a strong note with something that is going to help those funders remember YOU out of the 15 other entrepreneurs they saw that day.   I really like Ben’s suggestion on how to do this – that’s a teaser to get you to actually click over to his post and read through all five tips.  If you’re an entrepreneur getting ready to pitch or in the midst of constant pitching, it’s some great advice.