Presenting to Venture Capitalists – Part II

Here is the response from the third Venture Capitalist I contacted, about what works in pitching to VCs:

I’m glad
you’ve asked as I think about this a lot. 
First some context, a VC typically declines 90%+ of ideas that get
emailed on.  You then meet the rest
hoping to screen out 80-90% of the balance.  Subsequent meetings consist of diving into specific aspects,
meeting the broader team, negotiating, etc. The first pitch (where you meet the
10% or so who made it through the first cull) is therefore the only real pitch.
So much for
context.  Now, here’s what works
for me:

don’t read any material before the meeting – apart from the summary that made
me decide to take a meeting in the first place.  I prefer to hear it from the horse’s mouth.   

The meeting
lasts 1 hour.

I prefer to
be the only person from my company. 
I expect the CEO to be pitching. 
If he wants to bring others, that’s up to her/him.

My key
objective is to figure out if the CEO is a backable guy.  If the idea has holes in it, but the
CEO is a rock star, we’ll figure something out.  If it’s the reverse, forget it.
I ask the
CEO to project his PPT slides, but then don’t look at the slides much.  Instead, I engage the CEO in a
conversation, asking for his background and then what the big problem he’s
solving is.  This tends to spark
off questions which I’ll ask right away. 
If I don’t I’ll either forget about them later (but will leave the
meeting feeling I missed something) or, worse, I’ll keep thinking about them
during the meeting and stop listening to the CEO.
CEO:  Now the good CEO will answer
my questions as they arise, switching the projected PPT slide to a relevant
page IF AND ONLY IF, it captures in an instantly understandable picture what
would take him loads of words to express. 
HOWEVER, the good CEO will not be a slave to my line of questioning
(which may well go off at a tangent as I don’t have all the facts yet), but
will steer the conversation back to key elements of the story – again dipping
into relevant slides where they help. 
I glance at relevant slides for a couple of seconds, but most of the
time I’m looking at the speaker.  I
ignore wordy slides because if I start to read them I stop listening and lose
the plot.  Maybe it’s just the way
my brain is wired or maybe we’re all like this.  Any idea? 
(Andrew’s note: yes, we’re all like this—we can’t read and listen very
well at the same time)

The crap CEO will get short circuited by my approach, will ask me to ‘hold my
question until slide 76’ where the answer will be found and will soldier on through
each slide in strict sequence.  The
other variant of crap CEO will become a total slave to my questions and the
session becomes Q&A driven by me. 
As I said, there is a good chance that this way I’ll miss a key part of
the story.  
What I’m
really fishing for in this process is whether a CEO with all the requisite
drive and passion can also think on his feet, but stay in control.  I find that there is a high correlation
between CEOs’ ability to do well on the first pitch and their effectiveness at
the board and at the company management levels.  On the board, the good CEOs drive the agenda, but are
flexible enough to adapt to the board’s input.  At the company management level, they listen and adapt plans
depending on the team’s input without the company winding up as a democracy,
kibbutz or other similar undesirable set-up.
So how does
this effect the pitch I think is effective?  Well, I don’t want paper as it’s distracting if, like me,
you don’t want to step through it in sequence as the (good) CEO will need to
locate the right page that backs up what his saying (if one exists) and give me
the page number. Then I have to flip through and find the right page.  It’s much easier for him to do this
with PPT.  With my preferred way,
the number of slides in the PPT is irrelevant as we’re typically not accessing
more than a few of them and not in any particular order. (Andrew's note: this would seem to militate against using conference room style in a VC pitch; however, this particular VC may be thinking of the typical 20-slide deck that he does not want to be flipping through; a 3-5 slide conference room style deck is much more manageable.)

My biggest takeaway from the above is that you should come in with a clear story to tell, be willing to answer questions in the moment along the way, but keep to the story.  


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