Think you’ve got it all figured out for that upcoming pitch meeting with investors?
Most newbie startup founders know enough to come prepared with a good plan laid out on paper, backed with mind-numbing amounts of data. However, information will only get you so far in a world where the average investor meets with hundreds of founders a year, yet pulls the trigger on comparatively few deals (see 25 Reasons I Won’t Invest in Your Startup).
Not all investors are calculating sharks like Kevin O’Leary; driven only by the almighty dollar. Most are verified humans that want to do business with other humans and build lasting relationships.
If you go into a pitch meeting talking like an automated robot, without the proper mindset needed to convey confidence in your idea, and display the human qualities that will make investors trust you, it’s unlikely you’ll leave the meeting with a deal.
Here are a few ways to get your head right before your next investor meeting.
1. You must exude confidence
Confidence is equal parts knowledge and repetition. If you’re not confident while standing on the pitch deck investors will think: A) You don’t have much confidence in your product; or B) You’re lying or holding something back. Neither scenario will result in a deal being signed. You may falter when you first step up to them, but make sure you recover fast!
Nerves can be tough to overcome, but it’s important to keep in mind that everyone in the room feels it, and it’s near impossible for a stranger to determine whether it’s due to you being outright disingenuous or simply because you’re not skilled at keeping your emotions in check. All they’ll know is that you’re making them uncomfortable, and that they don’t have the time or inclination to figure out why.
Tips for showing more confidence in investor meetings:
- Practice your pitch several times with team members and others who you trust. Obviously a good pitch is predicated on knowing what the heck you’re talking about, but really focus on being yourself and recognize that the meeting will actually go differently than you plan it to (Ie., investors will interrupt at times and converse with you).
- Learn to use hand gestures while you’re speaking. Not just to help paint a better picture of what you’re saying — but to also help burn off nervous energy and help you to calm down.
- Maintain good posture and look at the bridge of the investors’ nose if direct eye contact makes the nerves worse.
2. Frame the meeting as an opportunity in your head, rather than a challenge you have to surmount
The dread that comes with feeling like you’re being put under a microscope is a hindrance for many new startup founders. In order to “never let them see you sweat” it’s important to frame an upcoming meeting in such a way that you’re excited about the opportunity to sit down with someone whose genuinely interested in your business. This, rather than dreading the meeting or treating it as a negative — such as a roadblock standing in the way of the business’s success.
If you’ve got the business plan and financials dialed in properly, the investor is only going to turn you down because: A) They’re simply not interested in your business, or B) You did or said something that turned them off, such as being overly nervous, arrogant, pushy, etc. If you’ve got everything else covered, all that’s left is to talk with passion and answer all questions posed with the utmost honesty.
Tips for framing the meeting properly in your head:
- Gut-check: Do you believe in your idea and are you extremely (outwardly) passionate about it? If not, you’re not the right person to meet with investors.
- Get excited about the fact that you’ve finally secured an opportunity to sit down with someone who’s genuinely interested in your business. Getting a sit-down is often regarded as the hardest hurdle for entrepreneurs who have a verifiable good idea to overcome.
- Go in with the realization the investor may “pretend” they’re not interested in your idea — they may even say negative things about the business — but don’t let that affect your composure during the meeting. Stay the course.
3. Embrace the ugly!
Believe it or not, things should be expected to go wrong when pitching investors. You might trip and fall while walking up to shake a VC’s hand before you even get started. Your prototype might fail or fall apart. The person sitting across from you might point out your fly is undone. Who knows what will happen?
Investors like to see how a CEO can recover and pivot when disasters hit, whether big or small. When things go wrong in a meeting, it’s easy to get discouraged and feel like one negative is all it takes to alienate an investor. However, it’s important to recognize a seasoned investor has likely seen and done things in the course of their careers that you could never imagine.
Tips for embracing ugly:
- Don’t let your embarrassment or disappointment show — recognize that they’ve been there, even if they don’t come over and pat you on the back telling you “Everything’s okay, there, there.”
- Even good products will malfunction — keep your confidence in your products in check while pitching and be ready to go down with the ship supporting your team and its products if need be.
- Humor is the most effective tool for both disarming and smoothing things over when things don’t go according to plan. Be willing to show your modesty and laugh at yourself if you find yourself momentarily tongue-tied, or when you do something clumsy or otherwise silly.
In the end, a successful pitch does rely on a smart plan, backed with lots of data in order to land a deal with investors. However, when asked most investors will tell you that the most important factor in an investment decision is the people they do business with.
These professionals want you and your team to be yourselves. To be assertive yet humble, while showing a willingness to answer the tough questions with tact. These and other intangibles require the right mindset, not handouts, slideshows, or tightly-scripted speeches.