You have been working tirelessly for weeks, months, maybe over a year, and after submitting your application to Matter’s accelerator program, you’ve been asked to come in and pitch.
You walk into a conference room and there are 2 people sitting at a table. There’s a projector, a podium, and a glass of water waiting for you. As you fumble with the cables, trying to set up your tech as smoothly as possible, the investors introduce themselves and wait for you to pitch.
You begin. As you’re talking and clicking through your slides, you notice one of the investors furrowing their brow, and the other one scribbling something on a sheet of paper. You wonder to yourself, “what did she write down? If only I could glance over her shoulder…” This goes on throughout the pitch — it’s mildly distracting, but you’ve pitched several investors now and you can multitask quite well.
Then as quickly as you began, it’s over. At this point, they ask you a few questions about your business, you do your best to answer them — even the radical questions like “if you were to pivot, what would stay core to what you’re doing?” or “what is that knot in your stomach that keeps you up at night?”
Then — “Thank you for your time!” and you’re out the door in less than 30 minutes.
And then you wait.
Does this narrative sound familiar? If it does, I have only the utmost respect for you. It takes some guts to put yourself out there, show what you’ve been building from the ground up, and get peppered with questions. You’ve been working on this for a year; we ask you to explain it in 10 minutes.
Now let me tell you what it’s like from my perspective. I’m an investor. It’s my job to evaluate as many qualified companies as I can in as efficient a time schedule as I can. This goes for most, if not all, investors out there. (Hence, the pitch format.)
And things are a little different for me than other investors because I operate on the earlier end of entrepreneurship. At Matter, we invest in a range of early-stage companies — all the way from pre-product & first money in to product+traction+2M seed round. But the fact is — it’s early, and I’m privy to the beginnings of greatness (which often times don’t look great when they come in).
In just a little over two years, I’ve seen at least 300 pitches from thousands of teams applying to be part of a Matter class. We require a 10 minute pitch and demo followed by 10 minutes of Q&A as the first stage of our process in selecting for a class. Sometimes I have up to 8 interviews back-t0-back in a four-hour block (yes, you get very strategic about when and how much water to drink).
Here’s my conclusion: Effective, emotional storytelling is not only extremely important, it’s critical to the success of your venture.
Yes, there are certain pieces of information you need to get across, but if you don’t have the vehicle (e.g. story), it won’t matter that you’ve got the passengers. You won’t get anywhere.
There are some bad patterns I’ve seen people fall into. Here are the top three worst types of pitches, in my experience:
All Vision, All The Time
This might be my least favorite, in part because it’s hardest to understand. This pitch is all about how the entrepreneur will change the world, but there’s no how, there’s no user, and there’s usually never a competitive analysis (because they proudly say that they are the first to have ever done this). Also, repeating the words “Cloud,” “Disruption,” “On-Demand,” “Local,” “Mobile,” and “Social” just tell me you read TechCrunch, not that you have an interesting startup. It’s important to have the big picture, but without grounding us in a specific, concrete experience, I’ll have no idea what you’re actually doing. Which gets us to the next one.
No Demo, No Dice
I cannot stress enough the importance of a demo, and doing it properly. This is the easiest way for us to get up to speed with what you’re doing, and to picture ourselves as the users and understand their context. It’s also incredibly telling for us as investors as to the “real” stage you’re at with your product. Don’t tell us about the amazing, addictive user experience if what you show us doesn’t walk the talk. If there’s a mismatch between what you’re telling us and what you’re showing us in terms of product design, traction, or maturity, then we don’t know what to trust.
The Sneaky Box-Checker
This one is a bit trickier. They seemingly tick all the boxes: top-down trends, user profile, product, business model, team…but throughout this pitch, I’m wondering to myself, “why don’t I buy a single word they’re saying?” And then it comes out in the details: the trends are unsupported, the axes are missing from their traction graph, the team is ambiguously committed, the list goes on. Don’t try to hide key risks or grease the numbers. It’s easier to find out than you think, and we can usually tell when you’re glossing over an issue.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is easy. I have a lot of respect for people who decide to jump ship into the ocean of entrepreneurship. So let me help you. Corey Ford, Managing Partner of Matter, developed this list of questions you should be able to address and weave into your narrative in 10 minutes. A Matter “cheat sheet,” if you will. (And we don’t stop asking these after interviews. They come up for every Design Review.)
- TOP-DOWN TRENDS: Do the top-down trends make the space worth pursuing?
- BOTTOM-UP POV: Is there a clear bottom-up user point of view?
(user + context + need + deep insights)
- PRODUCT: Does the product meet the need in a compelling way?
(Is the end-to-end user journey clear?)
- GROWTH: Is there a clear and compelling growth hypothesis?
- BUSINESS MODEL: Is there a clear path to making money? Is the opportunity big enough?
- SUSTAINABLE COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE: Is there a strategy to eventually secure a sustainable competitive advantage?
- TEAM: Why is this team uniquely qualified to build this venture together?
- NEXT STEPS: What’s the roadmap? Are there clear, concrete next steps and a goal to achieve by demo day?
- STORYTELLING: Is storytelling clear, concrete, and compelling?
STORYTELLING: Is storytelling clear, concrete, and compelling?
I’m going to repeat this one here in big bold text. Remember, I’m not saying you should create a slide for each of those bullet points above. I’m asking (nicely) to please weave those elements through a clear and compelling character-driven narrative. After all, I’m just a simple human and simple, emotional stories are the best way to help me understand what you’re doing.