I’ve seen hundreds of business pitches, and most of them—at best—are just okay. There have been plenty of pretty good ones that hit all the key components of a pitch, but only a handful of those took it a step further and were truly great.
When I think about what set those excellent pitches apart from the rest, it turns out that they all shared some of the same qualities. And if you employ these nine tips for taking a good pitch and making it great, you’re going to give the kind of pitch that stands out to investors, too.
1. Tell a real customer story
When possible, open your pitch by telling a real customer story that addresses the problem your product or service solves in the marketplace. Avoid using buzzwords and tech talk when you tell your story. Instead, use real names and real customer challenges. Keep it simple and realistic. In the end, what people will remember after they walk away from you are the stories you tell, so it’s important to have a few compelling customer stories ready to share.
2. Pare it down to the essentials
I’ve heard many entrepreneurs deliver their pitch as if they’re auctioning off their grandmother’s antiques. It must be because they think they need to address every aspect of their business plan in one fell swoop, but doing so makes them seem anxious, tense, and nervous. I always wish they’d relax and realize that when you’re giving a pitch, less is more. Prioritize the most important things you want to share and stick to those pieces—and take a nice big breath before you speak. Believe me, it will help you deliver a more compelling and thoughtful pitch.
3. Outline your business model
Your business model tells an investor how your idea will (or does) convert into being economically viable. The best way to show you how to communicate your business model is to show you an example of a good one. Let’s take ZipCar, for instance. Their business model can best be described as:
- A membership-based car sharing company (they brand their members as “zipsters”)
- Reservations are easily and quickly made online
- Customers pay by the hour or by the day
- Serves US, UK, and Canadian markets
- Also targeting college campuses
In just a few short bullets, you can see how they make money and from whom. Your business model should answer the questions: What do you sell? To whom? How much do they pay? and How do they pay you?
4. Make sure your presentation is crystal clear to anyone and everyone
If you can get someone who doesn’t understand your business model to grasp what you’re communicating, then you’re prepared to give a pretty good pitch. Some of the worst pitches I’ve seen have been filled with acronyms, tech speak, and gobbledygook. Keep your pitch short, sweet, and to the point. Practice your pitch on someone outside of your company, and ask them to repeat what they think your business model is back to you. I’ve done this many times, and it’s always an eye-opening exercise to hear what people repeat back.
5. Talk about yourself
It’s important to know that investors invest in people first, and ideas second. As a matter of fact, I’ve had several investors tell me to keep them posted on my next startup because they’d like to invest in me and my next venture. So don’t be afraid to toot the horn on your and your team’s accomplishments—especially if those accomplishments relate to what it takes to start and scale a venture. Tell (and whenever possible, show) the investors why you are the right people to lead this venture.
6. Tell us, what have you done lately?
By this I mean that you should share the successes and traction your team has had since the inception of your company. It always surprises me how frequently this is left out of pitches. Investors want to hear about your first customers, other investments put into the company (including your own sweat equity), key media placement, signed letters of intent (LOI) to purchase/partner, product and customer milestones, key hires, etc. As the CEO of your own company, you will be expected to be the lead sales person, so show the investors that you know how to sell them on your own company.
7. Address competition head-on
First of all, never say “I don’t have any competition.” This is a rookie mistake, but many entrepreneurs say this. Everyone has competition, even if it’s indirect competition. Think about when Henry Ford built the Model T. Were there other cars on the market at that time? No, but he had to find a way to steal people away from other modes of transportation (horses, trains, and walking, for example). One of the best ways to illustrate that you understand your competitive landscape and your differentiators is to present your competition in a matrix format like this one:
8. Give the numbers that are behind your numbers
Don’t say you’re going to be a $50 million business in three years, because most investors won’t even believe it—unless you’ve done this before in another company. What’s more compelling than big talk is to show exactly how you will reach those millions—what information about your company do you have that’s made you forecast those kinds of sales? Share what your assumptions are about your business model.
For example, here’s an appropriately detailed financial forecast for a SaaS (software as a service) business:
- We leverage the site traffic and customer base of partners A, B, and C
- 100,000 unique visits/month to our network of online sites
- 1,000 new leads captured per month
- 0.22% average conversion rate
- 5% monthly churn rate
- 16 months is the average lifetime value (LTV) of a customer
- $160 is average revenue per user (ARPU)
- $12.50 is our customer acquisition cost (CAC)
You want to see investors take out their phones and begin calculating numbers. This is a good sign—it means they want to see how you think, and see if it matches (a) what you’ve indicated as your total revenue numbers, and (b) what they know about your industry.
9. Show your darn product!
I’ve seen so many pitches where the entrepreneur doesn’t even show their actual product. For some businesses, showing their product is not easy to do, but for most people pitching for funding to investors, it is. Even if your product is not yet built, show mock-ups. It’s amazing what a visual representation of your product and your business can do for the overall effectiveness of your pitch.