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Pitching 101

I recently had an opportunity to be part of a tour that visited some of the big software companies in Silicon Valley. The group met with business development groups and also met with venture capitalists. After observing the interactions between the mostly young entrepreneurs and the more-seasoned (and sometimes jaded) biz dev folks, here are some suggestions for young companies when presenting themselves to big companies/investors:

  • Always remember that people care far less about your company/solution than you do – your company/product description has to be incredibly simple. People viewing your pitch will immediately try to figure out where you fit in their sphere of understanding. Making it easier for them will increase the chances that something positive comes out of the meeting.
  • Entrepreneurs worry about underselling their value, so they use superlatives and generalizations to make the vision larger. What often comes out is a description so general, that it basically becomes meaningless. How does this (somewhat fictitious example) sound? "XXX has created a revolutionary new consumer web experience that enhances browsing through patent-pending technology that combines semantic concepts with viral distribution." Huh?
  • Use examples to make the concept simple. People understand examples. "With XXX, a customer can find a product for purchase, like a diamond ring or a barbecue grill using a digital photograph of a similar product." I may not understand how it works or how it is deployed, but I get the general idea.
  • Prepare a 1 minute, 2 minute, and 3 minute version of the product description. Use the most appropriate description depending on the opportunity. Sometimes "less is more."
  • A one-pager – do NOT exceed one side - that summarizes all the basic information about the company is really helpful. Biz dev people and investors usually have a set of standard questions – it makes sense to summarize it all on one sheet and have it ready to hand out – this is good for conferences and shows as well. Typical things people will want to know, include the following:
    • Brief solution overview (company boilerplate)
    • Company Overview – investors, funding, management team
    • What Does the Solution Do?
    • Business Benefits
    • Unique Differentiators (why is this REALLY different from other companies)
    • Customers/references
  • Keep it real – what you say about your company has to pass the "sniff test." One CEO on the tour was asked why his product was better than a list of 4 others that do similar/identical things – his answer was essentially "ours works and theirs doesn’t." Ouch. An answer about how the solutions differ or how they address the same problem differently would have garnered a far more positive response.
  • It has become fashionable lately to present a company/idea in 5-10 minute presentations; often scrapping slides in favor of a real-life demo. I think this is wonderful. In today’s world of chronic and ubiquitous ADD, a 5 minute demo is just perfect for getting the idea across. It also makes a company think hard about their core value.