One of the unfortunate things that comes with being an early-stage entrepreneur is constantly keeping your pitch materials up to date, whether you are potentially seeking venture capital funding now or in the future. Whether investors reach out to you or vice versa, there are certain questions that are almost always asked. In my observations of the startup market — and my experience of the million-dollar seed raise my company completed last year — investors usually end up focusing on the three very specific items.
To maximize your company's chances of pitching your startup successfully and securing venture capital, here are the 3 questions that every pitch deck should answer:
1. Does it look like your customer base is growing?
If it does not look like your customer base is growing, you are dead in the water. That may be an obvious point, but I cannot tell you how hard it is to communicate customer traction to prospective investors. Investors, like you, have limited time, and you need to graphically depict that you are growing in as few word as possible, using a solid visual representation.
We have taken a lot of different cuts at this slide, but the version below seems to resonate best:
2. Do your customers like your product?
I’m speaking for both B2C and B2B businesses here — you need to be able to demonstrate that your product is getting "stickier" somehow, and the usage patterns of your customers are getting more favorable. In our case, we choose to depict traction in terms of number of pieces of written content our customers purchase from us each month — fortunately, that is trending upward for us:
The reason you need to demonstrate that your product is sticky is simple: acquiring new customers is MUCH more expensive than getting existing customers to pay for your product again. Not only that, but happy customers are also your best salespeople — if you are able to successfully demonstrate that your existing customer base is happy, that in and of itself is a low-cost sales channel. I cannot tell you how often we get asked for the above slide, and we try to update the data on this as frequently as possible.
3.Does it look like your business/product can actually scale?
Remember that venture investors are not interested in ordinary returns — that is why they are in venture capital and not in the S&P 500. If you are not able to demonstrate a clear path to $100M within five years, your company is not a good candidate for venture capital. We constantly get asked about scalability, and truthfully, there is no great answer for any company — all you can do is take your best shot. For us, it is a product slide that looks like this:
We figured out that the bottleneck for our customers creating content was coming up with topics fast enough. We introduced a product ("topic pitching") that allows our writers to pitch businesses on the fly and it has a nearly 52 percent conversion rate to paid business. Our writers are essentially doing demand generation for us, and that is what we want to communicate to potential venture investors should they come knocking at the right time.
Similarly, your business likely has a "magic" lever that will allow you to reach that 100M in revenue point (a big maybe, I realize) if you keep investing in a certain product, or channel. Once you figure out what the lever is, you need to figure out a way to communicate that.
It never hurts to keep your materials up to date, and it cannot hurt to have the above slides ready at a moment’s notice — should the right investor come along.
*Please note that I am using actual data/slides, but I have to sanitize certain information for obvious reasons.
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Sunil Rajaraman is the founder and CEO of Scripted.com, a marketplace for businesses to hire freelance writers. Scripted.com has a pool of 80,000 freelance writers, and ranks as one of the top five largest writer communities on the Internet. Scripted.com currently provides hundreds of businesses with thousands of blog posts, tweets, press releases and articles each month.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.
[Image: Flickr user Sam Carlquist]