What Makes the Perfect Startup Pitch?

Next week, I’m in Tokyo for the NEST (New Economy Summit) 2016 and I’ve been given the opportunity to be a judge at the annual NEST Startup Challenge.

Attending several events a year, I’m often asked for my thoughts on “the perfect startup pitch.” I personally think there is no secret sauce, perfect font or structure to pitch with but the points below are the ones that I find important in getting to the goal point of funding.

Finding the right venture capital firm to pitch to: To me, finding the right investor – from investment profile to personality – is equally or more critical than what goes into your deck in painful detail. Say you’re pitching to Rich Wong to fund an Ad Tech company – i.e. the next AppNexus – the context/progression of the discussion would differ so much from the pitch to a venture capital firm more focused on the consumer vertical; the former would understand essentially 70% of the pitch without looking at a deck – market opportunity, competitors, your service penetration vector, etc. – versus the latter where they would have to be brought in, and steadily bought into the vision. So it’s great you want to research and make your pitch amazing but I encourage you to really find out who would understand you, your company and vision. If you’re in Silicon Valley, irrespective of the vertical, the relevant list of firms could be a lengthy one.

Finding the pitch trajectory you are comfortable with: A lot of people will try to give you advice and actively preach against presenting in a certain manner. I’m against this school of thought and prefer the presenter to stick with a format that gives him/her comfort and confidence in talking about the future, service/product and company. To achieve that, the presenter should practice, experiment and find out what works for him/her.

Having deep, over-arching past/present/future understanding of your own vertical and its cousins: The act of pitching is only one third of the battle and, as an investor, I need to know you know exactly what is happening in and around your industry. This is especially important with investors who know a lot about your service/product vertical and speaking out of context can be detrimental to you progressing your conversation.

Having complete mastery of P&L and KPIs: I’d expect anyone talking about their startup to understand where the money is going and to have a really deep understanding of how company resources are being spent and earned back. If I can do a back-of-the-envelope ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) calculation of your revenue to DAU (Daily Active User) increase while listening to you, I’d expect that founder to already have that in their heads.

An ability to simplify complex subjects down to good, solid use cases and examples with granular vision, as well as realistic goals for the future: If the startup talks about technical subjects that go beyond my scope, I’d ask more about the technology or process and expect the founder to be able to dumb it down for me in Reddit fashion of “ELI5 (explain it to me like I’m five)”.

Good attitude/demeanor in response to questions: I’d be more responsive to a happy and positive founder than that of an aggressive, reactive leader. In the end, the pitch is a conversation and being attentive to each other and mutually empathetic is – to me – one of the fundamentals of business.

Hope this helps and look forward to seeing you all in Tokyo or somewhere around the world. If you have questions or queries, you can find me on Quora or LinkedIn.

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