Wesley Eames is the Co-founder and CEO of AncestorCloud (Boulder ’16), a genealogy marketplace connecting family researchers with experts around the globe. He is also the creator of Cousin App, and was previously an Advisory Board Member at Global Family Reunion and the Marketing Manager at Faulkner Media Group.
The “essentials” of pitching, and a great way to structure a pitch can be found in Part One of this post.
DOs & DON’Ts
Allow me to give you a few DOs and DON’Ts for your pitch. We’ve learned these over months of consistent practice, failure, and learning.
DON’T Wing It
Every pitch we’d done before Demo Day we had winged from simple bullet points. We always created the pitch and deck within 48 hours of needing it. This might work if you were just reading facts verbatim from your slide, but remember, presenting facts doesn’t get investors writing checks. You need to get the investor feeling fear or greed, and that takes a lot of practice and iteration. You need to appeal to System 1.
DON’T Fear Feedback
During Techstars, we practiced our pitch on everyone. We pitched our MDs three or four times a week, we pitched other people at dinner, while walking in random improvised settings. Anytime we saw an opportunity to get out of our comfort zone, practice our pitch, and get feedback, we took advantage.
DON’T Think Your Audience Will Understand
Your audience likely knows nothing about your company. You can’t assume that they will catch your vision from the start. In fact, assume the opposite, and make sure that it’s so simple that someone there for the first time will catch on to your vision. You want to get people excited within the first 10–20 seconds. If you don’t simplify your vision you will create dissonance between you and your audience.
DON’T Drag It Out
The most impressionable pitches to me are those with less. Less is always more. Be crisp and concise in all of your slides. After watching each company at Techstars pitch on Demo Day, this lesson couldn’t be more clear. What you do as a startup can often be complex, and involve deep explanation, but the best entrepreneurs can explain their vision in a matter of seconds.
DO Hire a Designer to Design Your Pitch Deck
We found it incredibly helpful to hire a designer to help with our deck. I’ve always been one to design my own deck, but the problem I’ve run into is I focus too much on design and not enough on the content of the pitch. By doing something as simple as hiring a designer I created a bunch of time for myself to focus on nailing the content and delivery.
DO Practice Over and Over
You will need to practice much more than you think. Practice walking, practice in front of people, practice with a mic, practice without a mic, practice in conversational tone, practice in more of a formal tone. We even practiced our pitch while people hurled ping pong balls at our faces so we were ready for anything. It’s a little untraditional, but just try it and you’ll stop thinking we’re insane.
You need to treat your pitch like Michael Phelps treats his Olympic events.
“At the age of 11 my coach told me I could make the Olympic team in four years, so I said ‘Okay, I want to make the Olympic team, so that’s what we’re going to do.’ And I started training for that. I went five straight years without ever missing a workout. Every single day, 365 days a year.”
You see, we only watch the Olympic star winning outrageous amounts of gold on TV, and we think, “Dang, what a natural athlete!” But in reality, he won those gold medals on the days when no one was watching him, or expecting him to show up.
DO Make It a Group Effort
You can’t just lock yourself in a room and think you’re going to come up with a great pitch. Open a Google Doc and invite everyone you know to read and rip apart what you’re writing. We had angel investors, managing directors, PR people, venture capitalists, engineers, product people, and lawyers all read through our pitch to give us their two cents. That amount of feedback, and the differing opinions, are what made our pitch grab serious attention from all types of people.
DO Decide On a Script Well Before You Pitch
You need to decide on a script early enough to give you a significant amount of time for presentation and presence. We chose a final script much earlier than a lot of the other teams in the program, and although we could have spent a lot more time finding exactly the right words to say, we compromised and spent more time on delivery, body language, and enunciation. I think this was one of the biggest contributors to the success of our pitch.
DO Spend a Third of Your Time on the Hook and Problem Description
The first minute, nay, the first thirty seconds, are the most important part of the whole pitch.
If you can hook someone in that first few sentences, you will retain almost everyone for the rest of your pitch.
Research has shown that we now have a shorter attention span as humans than goldfish. Your audience could be doing thousands of things with their time other than listening to you. Don’t let them down.
We found this especially hard because not only were we talking about older people and history (genealogy), but also a subject that makes most people yawn when they hear the word. There is nothing sexy about genealogy. So, we took two main approaches to conquer this in our beginning slides, as you will see. We added an element of humor and creativity in order to get people interested.
I’m not the smartest tool in the shed, and have never been the smartest. That said, we owned who we are, and didn’t try to be something we’re not. We’ve gotten the feedback from people that our team is cheerful, fun, and funny. People enjoy being around us. That’s our thing, so we capitalized on it.
We incorporated humor into our pitch. For others it may be easier or more natural to impress with knowledge or stats. For others still it will be easier to impress with uniqueness or novelty. Look, I won class clown in high school, so humor seemed like the most natural tone for our pitch.
In working on the delivery we ensured that if part of the script didn’t feel like something I would say, or didn’t work well with who I am, we removed it. We had some really strong, intelligent phrases in the script for a while that weren’t written by myself, but suggested by someone much more intelligent, and we took them out because I couldn’t deliver them naturally.
Pitching well is the gateway to fundraising, and only the beginning.
Without the ability to effectively communicate the vision of your company, you’ll never raise substantial money. Without substantial money, you’ll never be able to realize your vision. Despite common belief, you aren’t simply born with the ability to pitch. You create the ability to pitch in yourself through hours and hours of painstaking practice and hard work. And it’s all worth it. Your pitch and vision will be an asset for attracting mentors, evangelists, customers, employees, and investors.
This was originally published on Medium.