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Perfecting Your Pitch, Part Two: The Horse Race

The business-plan pitch can mean the difference between VC funding and burn out. Bill Joos, vice president of business development for Garage.com, advises entrepreneurs to keep the pitch short and focus on three key themes: market, idea, and team.

You’ve just finished your formal business plan: 45 pages plus appendixes, bar charts, financial projections — the works. Now how do you get your next big thing funded? Put the stack aside and start paring down the ideas, advises Bill Joos, vice president of business development for Garage.com. To get VCs to bite, Joos says, you must write a Reader’s Digest version — 5 pages, maximum, that focuses on three key points: market, idea, and team.

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“Think of your executive summary in the context of a horse-racing analogy,” he says. “Experienced bettors want to know three things about every race: the quality of the track, of the horse, and of the rider.”

The Track

The marketplace, in Joos’s analogy, is the racetrack. “If your idea has no market, you’re not going to get into the race,” he says. “And bettors don’t want to view the racetrack from a blimp. They want to know whether the track is wet or dry, sandy or firm, slick or sticky. The same goes for investors interested in your marketplace. Don’t show them the view from Jupiter. The more grassroots market knowledge you can demonstrate, the better.” The ultimate detail? Feedback from actual customers.

The Horse

In the new economy, Joos says, a new business idea must act like a racehorse. “It must be fast, fluid, and flexible enough to lead the field even in times of change. VCs won’t believe the numbers you present in your financial statements, but don’t worry about that. Investors want to see the reasoning behind your assumptions. They know the business plan will have to change with the marketplace. But the quality of thinking behind the idea won’t change. The thinking that goes into a business plan is extremely valuable. Get the plan on paper — 60 pages, 80 pages, whatever it takes — then boil it down to 2.”

The Jockey

The jockey, in Joos’s analogy, is the team that steers a business idea to market. “If all else is equal,” Joos says, “smart bettors bet on jockeys. You’ll hear this again and again: VCs would rather have an A team with a B idea than a B team with an A idea. Human capital is simply harder to acquire than financial capital. The team is the most important part of you pitch — devote a significant amount of space to your jockey. But don’t give a litany of past experience. Talk about your background and how it will contribute to the current challenge. Talk about the learning experiences that relate to your present endeavor.”

Last week: Bill Joos gives your elevator pitch a lift.
Next week: More tips from Bill Joos, vice president of business development for Garage.com. For more information on Garage, its boot camps, or Bill Joos, visit Garage.com.