If you’re an entrepreneur looking for funding, you know how important—and involved—the pitching process can be. Designing a convincing pitch deck and identifying an effective hook is just the start. Actually testing your pitch to see if it resonates with investors is the next step.
Why get feedback on your pitch deck?
You want feedback. On paper, your pitch may seem like a slam dunk, but until you put it all together, your deck, your plan, and your presentation are all hypothetically solid.
You want to vet your metrics with experts in your industry, see if there are any holes in your presentation, and make sure it reads well before you pitch your investors.
The more people that evaluate your pitch before investors see it, the better chance you have of succeeding. The more chances you have to catch any errors in reasoning, assumptions that are unclear to your audience, or things that just simply don’t make sense or flow well.
What feedback should you ask for?
Before approaching someone to review your pitch, you should know what type of feedback you want from them. This will ensure that they look at specific elements of your pitch and answer any outstanding questions you need to be answered. Here are a few elements to consider focusing on.
Style can easily overshadow substance. You may have a visually stimulating pitch deck that is so overwhelming or off base that it becomes useless. So, try to set aside your personal investment in the deck and try to answer the following questions.
Does your pitch deck fit your current brand? Are the graphics clear, consistent, and useful? Does the imagery choices match the focus on each slide? Do the color choices make it easy to read and skim through?
You want it to still be stylish and captivate your audience. But, you need to consider the readability of your slides, how it connects with the story your telling, and overall conveys the focus of your brand.
Clarity of content
This somewhat ties into the visual aesthetic but with a greater focus on the content your covering. It can be easy to stuff your deck with countless slides of information that serve very little purpose. So, you need to ask your audience to identify any sections that seem redundant, unfocused, or meaningless.
In the end, you want a streamlined and digestible pitch deck to present to investors. Yes, you do need to consider, an expanded appendix, similar to your business plan, that investors can peruse at a later time. But when presenting, it needs to be straight to the point and not just a copy of what you intend to verbally cover.
One of the biggest issues you may overlook is not including the right information in your pitch. A gap in your roadmap, no outline of how you intend to use funds or even an unspecified target market can sink your pitch.
So, ask those reviewing your pitch to write out any outstanding questions they have about your business. If you see a consistent gap, or even one call out that presents a major issue, find ways to add it in.
Where to get feedback on your pitch
So who are the best people to review your pitch? Drawing on advice from our own Tim Berry, founder of Palo Alto Software, and Josh Cochrane, our VP of Product Development, I’ve broken down a few of the different options for entrepreneurs looking for feedback on their pitch. I’ve also included advice from a few entrepreneurs, who shared what resources worked best for them.
1. Do a “practice pitch” for potential investors
A great place to start vetting your business pitch is with those investors that you hope will invest in your business.
After all, they are going to be the ones ultimately determining if your business is a viable investment, so why not find out early if there are holes in your data, or areas you should be covering more thoroughly?
Tim advises asking potential investors to sit in on a “pre-pitch” before the formal pitch session, a strategy that worked well for Dune Sciences, which won the 2014 Willamette Angel Conference investment.
“[Dune Sciences] asked at least three of the member investors to drop by their offices in the week or two preceding the due diligence and pitch session,” says Tim. “They were invited separately, and each of the three sat for the pitch and commented on it. The three who agreed to do it had some semblance of a relationship with the founders beforehand. They ended up with a nice pitch, and approximately $300K in seed money.”
Additionally, it may be worth your time to speak with investors outside of your industry. Seeking out investors who invest in a different space, can sometimes provide feedback from a new angle that those in your industry might have missed.
We’ll go over this more when we discuss angel investors, but it’s a good idea to keep in mind both the investors you have pegged for potential investment in your company, and those outside your field that may still be able to help in an advisory capacity.
2. Ask an angel investor
Targeting a particular angel investor can be a good tactic, as they are often willing to evaluate your pitch.
While every angel investor may not be one who will invest in your business, as they may have a different focus, they can still give valuable feedback. Again, this would be a prime opportunity to focus on the expertise of the investor rather than the industry. Working with them to identify holes in your business, versus pursuing funding through them.
Tim advises checking out Gust, which lists regional and local angel groups. From there, you can reach out to an angel in your area.
Similarly, AngelList allows you to search by region and search for angels in an advisory capacity; by doing so you’ll be able to find angel investors in your area who may be willing to give you feedback.
3. Find a mentor and establish a relationship
Having a mentor can be invaluable for your progression as an entrepreneur. Finding a person in your industry that you can rely on to get advice, answer your questions, and discuss your ideas with may well be your most valuable asset.
If you have a mentor that you’ve built up a good rapport, this may be the person who will give you the honest, sometimes disheartening feedback that will ultimately help make your business pitch better. According to Sean Higgins, the co-founder of ilos Videos, “you’ll want to connect with people who aren’t afraid to tell you that your projections are too aggressive or that you’re shooting yourself in the foot with slide XYZ.” “Usually it’s hard to get this kind of feedback from an outsider.”
Where do you find a mentor? Bryan Conklin, founder, and CEO of Zylo recommend SCORE, which helps entrepreneurs get in contact with potential mentors. “I recently got assigned a mentor from SCORE who has given valuable feedback on my pitches and plans for the business,” he says. “I plan on utilizing SCORE’s resources and my mentor to further refine my approach towards the business.”
4. Ask your intended customers for feedback
So far, we’ve covered a variety of ways that entrepreneurs can vet their pitch through industry professionals. But, while it is important to ask investors or other prominent thinkers in your industry for feedback, that’s only one piece of the puzzle—it’s also important to ask your potential customers for feedback.
Josh says, “I usually advise entrepreneurs to test their concept by getting feedback directly from their intended customers. Those are the best people to validate the company’s opportunity.”
Now, while we aren’t advising that you necessarily sit down with potential buyers and run them through your entire pitch deck, you should be asking them some key questions early on.
Josh suggests asking the following questions:
- This problem we’ve identified, is it a real problem for you?
- How big of a problem?
- Would you pay to solve it?
- What are the existing options to solve it? Have you tried them? How do they fall short for you?
- What do you think of our proposed solution?
- Does it strike you as a great solution to the problem?
- Would you pay for our solution?
- Any sense of how much you’d be happy paying for it?
Not only will this process help you get feedback on your product, but it will also inform your pitch. If you spot recurring themes in your feedback from potential customers, be sure to address that upfront in your pitch.
For example, do your potential customers say they would buy your product, even at its high cost, because they believe it will really and truly solve their problem? State this early on in your pitch, and you may have assuaged a lot of investor concerns from the get-go.
5. Head down to your local Small Business Development Center
An old standby for a good reason—your local Small Business Development Center is an excellent resource for information on a variety of business-related topics.
Operated by the U.S. Small Business Administration, SBDCs provide entrepreneurs and business owners with a variety of free or low-cost services, such as consulting, business plan development, and assistance with finding lenders and investors.
Schedule a time to visit your local branch. According to Tim, nearly all the locations will have someone who can assist you in polishing your pitch, though of course services vary by location.
6. Get involved with a university entrepreneurship center
If you are still at university, your school likely has plenty of resources for you to take advantage of.
From MIT’s Martin Trust Accelerator to University of Oregon’s Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship—which offers students a chance to participate in events like the New Venture Championship—your college is likely to have resources through its school of business.
Not currently a student? Touch base with your alma mater; plenty of schools allow former students access as well. Or, check out the programs for local universities in your area, even if you haven’t attended—you may still be able to access certain resources, or contact faculty that can help give you feedback personally or point you in the right direction. University entrepreneurship centers are also a great place to get information about upcoming competitions you may be able to enter.
7. Join a coworking space
Coworking spaces offer many benefits; not only do they give you a place to work outside of your home (often a “must” for new entrepreneurs, who don’t yet have an office), they give you an opportunity to network, build connections, and yes, get feedback.
Bryan has had great success since joining a coworking space and recommends it to entrepreneurs looking for pitch feedback. “I joined a coworking space in West Palm Beach, FL in February 2014 and received great feedback from other startups as well as visiting mentors on my pitches,” he says. “Coworking is great because you have other like-minded entrepreneurs to help vet your ideas, your pitch, and who can empathize with your struggles.”
Not only will you be in a position to build connections, speak with potential mentors, and get the word out about your business, but you can also get feedback from a variety of sources, from potential customers to potential investors.
8. Enter a competition
Business plan and pitching competitions are a great way to get targeted, specific feedback; after all, you are putting yourself into a context where getting feedback is the main goal, as opposed to getting funding (though plenty of competitions do include a monetary prize).
Tim advises entrepreneurs to check out this list of competitions. He warns that although quality and prize money varies from competition to competition, they can be a great way to practice pitching in a setting designed for getting feedback.
Sean Higgins, participated in the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management MN Cup, a new venture competition which he says was a huge help in getting advice. “The process gives you a ton of feedback, everything from what needs to go in your executive summary to how you actually presented your information.”
“Don’t sleep on pitch competitions!” he says, and we agree.
9. Deliver your pitch to friends and family
You might have heard it said before—your product concept should be broken down into language easy enough for a child to understand. After all, while you are deeply invested in your startup and know the ins and outs, your investors may not be as familiar with jargon as you are.
Now, take it a step further and consider giving your pitch to family members, friends, children, and anyone not in your industry who is willing to listen (but, ask permission—we don’t advise simply approaching strangers or pitching to a crowded street, as you might get a few funny looks).
Delivering your pitch to people unfamiliar with your industry is a great way to spot holes in your description of your business. While you may think something is obvious, those less immersed in your industry may not, and it’s important to be as inclusive as possible when pitching your business. After all, you don’t want to lose out on an investor because they aren’t quite clear what your product or service does.
What kind of feedback is best?
That’s a trick question—there isn’t one “best” way to vet your pitch before you pitch your business to potential investors. Ideally, try a combination of these, as that will get you the most well-rounded, complete feedback possible.
Ultimately, your goal is to cover all your bases, make sure your numbers check out, and that your ideas are clear and easy to understand—and getting feedback from a variety of sources is a great way to do this.
Need help developing your pitch? We’ve got you covered. Download our free Pitch Deck Template to get started on yours today.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in2015 and updated for 2021.