I’m writing this in the airport on my way to Austin, TX., where I’m going to be a judge at the University of Texas Venture Labs global business plan competition (used to be Mootcorp). Between contests like this one and angel investment, I’ve heard two dozen or so business pitches lately. I’m talking about the 10-20 minute slide presentations and accompanying questions and answers.
- Boring. And just so you understand, market need and solutions aren’t boring, especially when you show them in stories rather than alleged facts. Tell me a story that resonates. Tell me about people who care, ideas, how you started, why you started, and how you’re going to change the world. And please give me financial projections with assumptions laid out clearly, that’s not boring at all. Your business is exciting. Your prospects are exciting. Don’t dry it all up. Talk about it. With interesting pictures to back your stories up. Put faces on the screen when you’re talking about people. Read Resonate (better yet, get the new iBook version, which is sensational), or Presentation Zen, or just at least the blog post Really Bad Powerpoint. Or listen to The Art of the Pitch.
- Slides full of words. You say the words, talk to me, don’t have us all reading the slides together with you. That goes back to point 1 above, boring. You talk and show pictures. See point 1.
- Reading those slides full of words. Never turn your face to your slides and read us the bullet points. That makes all of us listeners want to throw something at you. Point 1 again.
- Buzzwords. Why is it that every single plan is disruptive? Can they all be? Don’t use the same words that everybody else uses. I don’t mind the technical jargon and buzzwords as much because people know they have to explain them. I mind all these trendy buzzwords that everybody applies. Not just disruptive, but market-leading, and viral, and pivot. They remind me of the old days when every software package claimed to be user friendly (and mine was the only one that really was).
- Internal rates of return and net present value. I’m glad they taught you that in business school. But both of those calculations are based on five years (or so) of future cash flows. Show me your projections, yes, and, even better, show me the assumptions behind them. But don’t quote me a damned IRR. I’ll judge your projections for realism and credibility, but that’s sales, costs, expenses, cash flow, and other basic numbers. Not discounted cash flow.
- Big market “facts.” I hate hearing about a $43 billion market, and even more so when you present a sales forecast validated by getting some percentage of that market. Validate sales by bottoms-up assumptions.
- Bluster. Know what you don’t know. Don’t bluff investors.
- Blaming. “Yeah, these numbers are probably wrong. Our financial person did them but we’re going to change financial persons.” What? Yes, I did hear that in a presentation once.
- Adjectives. Great, easy, simple, powerful, disruptive … tell me the story of what you have, where you are, how you got there, who’s it for … let me decide the adjectives.
- Bored co-presenters. When more than one person presents, the others have to act interested. Sure, you’ve heard the pitch many, many times, but if it bores you then that makes me less interested.
New businesses are fascinating. The new ideas, creating new markets, really smart people, that’s all fascinating. So step up your pitch.
(Image: courtesy of University of Texas Venture Labs global competition site)