Everyone loves a good story. Some of our favorite stories are from movies we watched as children. They all have the same ending: “…and they lived happily ever after.”
We know the ending before the movie even begins, so why do we watch them? We watch to see the journey. The journey that started with a struggle or a problem is finally resolved as the prince and princess ride off into the sunset.
So why, then, do most investment pitches start with, “And my company is the next Apple or Facebook”? I mean, that’s the fairytale ending, isn’t it? That our startup is the next multibillion-dollar company?
Apple and Facebook didn’t start out as multibillion-dollar companies. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built their first product, the Apple I, on the mere vision that computers would be used by consumers — at a time when computers were exclusively used by businesses. Through innovation after innovation, Apple evolved into the company we know today, but the journey was not done without its struggles. (If you want to get the full picture of all the company’s struggles, read the nearly 600-page biography of Steve Jobs written by Walter Isaacson.)
Besides, as an early-stage startup, there are no great revenue numbers to put on a slide – only predictions. You may have a business plan, but it could completely change tomorrow.
What you do have is a story. You have experienced a problem or seen a need. Now you are actively working to provide a solution to that problem, or fill that need. Not only that, there have been bumps in the road thus far and there will be even more in the future — so your determination and passion to get the job done needs to show.
For example, my company provides expiration date management software to the grocery industry, but my investment pitch never starts out with, “I made Date Check Pro, and it will make millions!”
Instead, I start out by describing how I used to work in a grocery store. I checked far too many expiration dates on far too many cereal boxes, and realized there had to be a better way.
The goal of starting with the story is to show that you are personally connected to the problem you are looking to solve, and that you are the right person for the job.
Knowing this, investors are more likely to connect with you, the entrepreneur. One of our investors — Peter Layton, a former partner at Goldman Sachs turned serial entrepreneur and angel investor — told me recently, “I invest in people first and the idea second. I want to hear the entrepreneur’s experience with the problem they are looking to solve, their passion to solve it, and how they plan to do so. If the story is good, I am more likely to invest since I know there is a good founder behind the idea.”
So before your next pitch, remember these key tips:
- Share your story instead of pitching your company.
- Keep it short — six minutes or less.
- You’re running an early-stage startup. You don’t have perfect financial projections or a fireproof business plan. Include your plan to grow the company into your story, but be open to suggestions.
- Practice, practice, practice. Yes it’s a cliché, but you don’t write your story in one sitting. How could you tell it perfectly on the first try?
- Remember: You’re not “pitching,” just telling a story. Relax!