As an investor at Accel Partners, Theresia Gouw has heard her share of spiels from entrepreneurs. Here's her checklist for all the right (and wrong) things to say.
Tell your (brief) story
"VCs need to believe that you have authentic experience in the space. You've either personally felt the pain or problem you're trying to solve, or this is your second or third company and you know this industry through and through. Draw us in with a personal anecdote—a brief one—to convey how this idea came to you."
Use numbers sparingly
"Don't make an investor sit there and hear 100 different data points. Honestly, we're not going to remember. Focus on that one killer insight. Sorting through all the noise is how you show us your expertise."
"Point out the one or two top companies in your space, and highlight what they're missing and why your product is better. Failure to do this signals one of two things: Either you've been completely dismissive and haven't studied the market, or you don't have a very high regard for the VC you're talking to."
Cut the jargon
"Entrepreneurs use buzzwords because they're so steeped in the daily course of the business or they're nervous and revert to them as shorthand. If you continue to use them, it makes me think that you don't have a fundamental understanding of your company's product or position. I'm not afraid to say, 'Okay, let's pretend we can't use that word.'"
Ask me questions
"If your pitch starts to feel more like a lecture than a discussion, it's not a good sign. Pause your monologue and ask honest questions, to engage the investor head-on: What doesn't make sense to you? What are the one or two things you'd most like to talk about?"
Don't get defensive
"It's hard when people are criticizing your baby, but you can't get rattled. You should say, 'I understand why you might ask that question, but this is what our customers say,' as opposed to, 'Actually, that question isn't relevant.'"
A version of this article appeared in the February 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine.