Dos and Don'ts When Making Your Venture Capital Pitch

Getting a meeting with a potential investor is the first step; now you've got to get that presentation perfect and make your pitch. The good news is that venture capital companies are run by real people looking for specific information and expertise from you. Show that your proposal has the potential to become a money-making business by talking about the things that your potential investor deems most important.

Do emphasize the strength of your team.

An under-equipped, passionless team can stop a start-up cold, even if the product is brilliant and the market is ready. A VC is looking for a team that is passionate (enthralled by the idea and ready to share the passion), complete (able to cover all the necessary areas of the business), committed (you don't want a key team member walking away at a crucial moment), and motivated (the business should offer them payback, too).

Do demonstrate your understanding of the market.

Know your target market inside and out. Do your research, do it again, double-check it, and then do some more. If you're not able to accurately identify and describe the market you're attempting to get a share in, a VC will immediately hear warning bells. It's not enough to have a great product; you've got to have a market ready to pay for it. And it's not even enough to have a great product and a great market; you've got to demonstrate your understanding and ability to reach that market, get its attention, and then get its business.

Do demonstrate the profitability of the market.

Some markets are saturated; some markets are new or underdeveloped. Show what your target market has to offer in terms of money-making potential for your investors. Get data on annual spending, demographics, growth, and any other factor that influences the buying power of your market. Then show how your business will get a share of that buying power.

Don't ignore or underplay your competition.

A VC knows that competition is part of business. Pretending you don't have any, or that they don't matter, is the mark of an inexperienced (and overconfident) start-up. Be prepared with detailed information about your competition: who are they, what is their size, their growth, their market share, their weakness, their strength? How are they like you and how are they different?

Do show how you will gain competitive advantage.

Competition definitely doesn't mean that the business is a bad idea; you just need to show your understanding of the competition, and then your strategy for growing and gaining despite the competitors you will have in the market. Identify your competitive advantage and show how you will articulate it and convince customers to come to you instead of to your competitors.

Don't be afraid to ask for adequate funding.

You're at the VC firm to get money, so don't be shy about asking for it. Talk in realistic figures about what you'll need to fund all aspects of your start-up. Don’t throw out low numbers that show an inadequate knowledge of what it will cost to make your business succeed. Big numbers may scare you, but they won't scare away an investor who is convinced of your business's ability to succeed. Low-balling, however, will make you look like an amateur.

Do assume that you will succeed on revenue projections.

Be as cautiously optimistic in revenue projections as you can be, because investors will cut your numbers by some percentage to get their own version of realistic revenue projections. Don't make numbers up. Be positive and don't be afraid to assume success. If you've done your research as thoroughly as you should have, you can afford to be positive.

Don't underestimate the timing on your break-even target.

Some businesses will take longer to reach break-even point than others. As with the funding request you make, it's better to be realistic and show you understand all the factors involved than to be naive about how long it will take your business to break even. Create a realistic time line that fits with the actual progress your business must make to reach the break-even target.

Don't ignore key risks.

Investing is a risk, no matter how sure a thing a particular investment may seem. VCs understand this, and they aren't afraid of risks, in general, just of unidentified and overlooked risks. Be ready and able to identify the key risks your business will face.

Do show that you have a plan for each major risk.

It's the role of business leadership to know the risks ahead and to have a plan in place to overcome them. What will you do if you face the potential setback? What is your contingency plan for each key risk?

Don't get too detailed on the technical side.

Be ready to answer detailed questions about the technical aspects of your business, but don't make them the bulk of your presentation. At most initial meetings, VCs are looking at the technical concept in general and the business model in particular. If the business model is strong, the next step may be to dive into technical questions. Don't put the tech side ahead of the business side, however.

Do take time to research your audience.

Gather as much information as you can about the people who will be watching your presentation. You may discover pertinent information, trends, or questions that are normally asked by particular people. The more prepared you are, the better your presentation will be.

Do target your presentation to the firm/audience.

Take another step beyond knowing the individuals in your audience and find out about trends in the VC firm which will be hearing your presentation. They may have a track record of supporting business start-ups such as yours, or your idea may be something out of the norm for them. Knowing about the firm will allow you to tailor your presentation to what they value most in potential investments.

Do leave time for questions.

Plan for your presentation to take about 2/3 of the time you're given, and leave the rest of the time for questions. This time is when you may find yourself explaining in more detail about technical aspects of your business, or when you'll have more opportunity to show your team's expertise, your knowledge of the market, the profit potential, and the preparation you're making for all the competition and risks you will face.

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