The culmination of an entrepreneurship accelerator is the opportunity to pitch investors on your business. After my business partners and I spent eight weeks in a startup accelerator at the JFE Network, we got the chance to show off Credential Cabinet to a room full of attentive investors.
Pitching was a great experience. We told the story of Credential Cabinet’s past, present, and future in seven minutes. We got great feedback from the investors in the audience, insights from watching the six other companies pitch, and more perspectives from the mentors and leaders of our accelerator.
Throughout the accelerator we had been refining our business model and our product. Pitching put it all together. Telling the story of your company is about defining the problem, creating empathy for the pain you are curing, demonstrating how you are curing that pain, and showing why your solution is the best.
In order to create our pitch, we looked at basic models for a pitch deck. These models all work on the premise that the most convincing way to sell your company is by presenting the problem, showing your solution, and outlining the market opportunities and your company’s strategy for appealing to your market. Check out these resources for examples of great pitch decks.
After building our deck, we showed it to as many people as possible, including friends, family, mentors, business partners, and colleagues in the accelerator. The layout and clarity of the slides is as important as the content and your delivery.
It’s also critical to practice your delivery. While rehearsing the delivery, I wished I had studied acting, or taken an improv class, and perhaps I will in the future to ensure that I am more comfortable talking in front of crowds and have a sense of timing and delivery, since a great pitch has to be captivating and well-delivered. Practicing is the only way to get there. Practice in front of a mirror or in front of close friends who won’t be bored after hearing your pitch twenty times and who will provide honest criticism.
Because we were in an accelerator, we also got to pitch in front of “mock” investors before the pitch event. These were investors who were mentors to the program who weren’t going to invest in any of the companies, but could provide unbiased feedback.
There is no “correct” way to pitch. There are many articles about what to say and what not to say, but basically it boils down to telling a captivating story, demonstrating that you have a great team and product, and that you’re serious about building a great company. Your pitch will carry many subtle clues about your team, how much research you’ve done, and the positioning of your company. You should know the material on your slides, as well as the supporting facts.
After all that practice, our pitch went smoothly. In six-and-a-half minutes I clearly communicated why Credential Cabinet is so valuable, and why all professionals with annual license requirements and corporations that employ such professionals should sign up. The investors in the audience had great questions about customer acquisition, value proposition, and plans for growth.
Anticipating questions is just as important as preparing the slides—you don’t want to get caught flatfooted in a response to a question. If you know your weak points ahead of time you will be able to deflect attention from them. If you find your weak points, others will as well. Investors probably invest in about 1 percent of companies that pitch to them; they are always looking for reasons to say no. Having good answers at the ready reduces the likelihood that they’ll say “no.”
At our pitch night, we were the third of seven companies to present. I really liked the other pitches and learned from their approaches, even though their products were very different from ours. All of the companies did well. Watching other pitches either in person or on YouTube is a really good idea for preparation. Each team used videos, graphics, and talked about their company in different ways. Some of these strategies we will surely incorporate into our future pitches. I hope the other companies were able to take something from our pitch as well.
In the end, an investor didn’t jump out of the audience and fund our company. We knew going in that we need to build more of a client base before we’ll get funded. However, we are now better prepared to pitch. We also have a great relationship with our accelerator, and going forward we will still be able to work together and get advice so that we can continue to build and grow our company.
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