- Put in the required prep time ahead of your meeting
- Practice your pitch with unbiased friends/ contacts to unearth any points which aren't instantly clear or which require clarification
- Ensure that you can communicate your idea concisely
- Be authentic, be honest, be enthusiastic
Before we get ‘into the meeting room’ it’s wise to briefly revisit another Path Forward article written by my colleague Luke on getting to your first meeting. Implicit here is that you need to have a strategy about how you’re going to raise your money, how much you need and who you want and need it from. Having an understanding of the investment landscape will help to make the unfamiliar, familiar. A greater degree of preparation, in every sense, will pay dividends in your meetings.
Do more of: having a strategy to fundraise. Know why you’re sitting in a meeting with the person in front of you.
Do less of: undercooking your preparation - even with regard to understanding the investment landscape.
In what might not be a surprise, some things that are requisite for founders are also at the forefront of the minds of investors. Making the unfamiliar, familiar is what the investor wants and is what is paramount for you to manage. The context from the investors side is that they’ll see 1000s of opportunities a year and meet hundreds. It’s high octane: we’re in the game of familiarising ourselves with new markets and opportunities very quickly. This presents founders with a bit of a double-edged sword. Effectively communicate a market opportunity, a hot use case and the product that you’re thinking about or working on and you’re away to the races. Fail to do this, and you’ll be running up a very steep hill.
Do more of: deeply understanding your customer and how that drives product, objectively substantiating the strength of the use case, thorough desk-work to map the market (it’s participants & their dynamics, your competitors and substitutes). This podcast may help. Once you’ve got to this point (no mean feat!) it’s time to hone your concise communication. While it might feel a bit foolish at first, the process of distilling your pitch is one that we’ve gone through at Forward Partners as a fund. You’ve had a pitch deck to communicate your market, product and team; now try to do that for your market, product and team in 100 words; now 50; now 20. Try your new pitching on people who don’t know you and who have no familiarity with your business - they should give the best feedback on whether facets and concepts are being well understood. The ability to concisely communicate to the investor thorough work and a record of execution in an unfamiliar market will put you at the front of the queue.
Do less of: we’ve all got our own personal styles but waffling is unlikely to yield good results. Concise communication is an indicator of deep knowledge and good preparation. In a scenario where you don’t know something, that’s 100% ok, say so rather than making it up on the spot. “Let me get back to you on that” is a perfectly acceptable way to park something and move on.
Believing in you as a founder, or founding team, is crucial to any investment decision. There are certain stylistic things that you can do to nudge people in the right direction - like communicating concisely - but there’s also some more fundamental stuff that you can work on. If you’re at a very early stage and looking to operate in a regulated, professional industry (banking, healthcare, law, etc.) having ‘founder-market fit’ in the form of relevant expertise might well be essential. In all other cases what VC’s really look to understand is whether you are the right person(s) to build a massive company.
That means a couple of things. Firstly, we’ve got to believe that you can rally people to your cause. You need people to want to work their socks-off for you, and keep doing it. There are lots of leadership styles but they all end up in roughly the same place: authentic communication of passion, energy and knowledge. Secondly, the key skill for a founder as the business grows and grows isn’t how good you were at doing XYZ on day 1, it’s how good you are at knowing what - who - your business needs to grow. That means that you have to have a superb understanding of what you’re not good at, where you need help and then to plug that gap (related to the first, rallying, point).
Do more of: not being afraid of showing the real you. The real you, the one without the business mask, is what we’re looking to invest in. The real you that builds and represents the business, who motivates colleagues, who makes superstar hires.
Do less of: the business mask and letting it get in the way of honest conversations.
A great, recent example of concise communication mixed with strong leadership; Jeff Bezos’ recent letter to Amazon
Guy Kawasaki’s Reality Check is one of the key texts on this kind of thing.