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Mastering the 15 minute pitch

Luke Smith

Investor

We’ve noticed that the 15 minute format can be difficult for entrepreneurs so we wanted to provide some tips on making the most of a short pitch session. This will help in time-pressured situations like speed pitching events or ad hoc pitches.

At Forward Partners, we run the Office Hours programme, where pre-seed stage entrepreneurs can meet one of the investment team for 15 minutes to get some feedback and pitch for investment.

The sessions are always popular (we receive more than 10 applicants for each slot) and we’ve had great outcomes, with four of our past five pre-seed investments coming via Office Hours.

Remember, 15 minutes isn’t long enough for an investor to understand your business fully and that shouldn’t be your target. Your goal should be to get to a longer meeting where you can go through the opportunity properly and to do that you need to get your audience excited about what you’re working on.

While the following advice below focuses specifically on shorter meetings, my earlier article on how to pitch VCs still applies.

Focus on the key questions

When preparing for a short pitch, don’t try to cover every detail of your business. Instead, try to answer the key questions the investor will have. Generally, a good pitch will cover the following:

  1. Is there a big pain point?

  2. Is the product differentiated?

  3. Is the market big enough to achieve venture scale returns?

  4. Why are you the person/team to do this?

Getting a short pitch right takes a lot of time and effort. You should decide on the points you need to get across and be ruthless on cutting out anything unnecessary.

Be responsive to your audience

Having spent time constructing your pitch narrative, the temptation can be to view off-topic questions as a distraction but a pitch is best used as a springboard to engage with the audience. Often, investors will have seen similar companies and will have some key concerns based on their experience. You should be responsive to questions and let the conversation focus on particular points of interest or concern rather than trying to get through your pitch. The meeting is also an opportunity to benefit from the experience of the investor and that is hard to do if you are focused on getting through a monologue.

Don’t try to repurpose your standard pitch deck

If you’ve already prepared a pitch deck for longer VC meetings, avoid the temptation to use it. If you are going to use slides, use as few as possible (no more than five and three is better) and focus on answering the key questions above. For a 15 minute meeting I’d suggest aiming for five minutes or so of content with the remainder of the time taken up by questions.

Don’t waste time

A 15 minute meeting is very unforgiving of wasted time. While a ten minute anecdote from your early career explaining why you founded the business might be very interesting, it’s probably better suited to a longer meeting. Likewise, five minutes spent booting up a laptop wastes time and raises questions about your decision making. Plan how you want to present your business and focus on making best use of the time. If you want to use slides, print them and hand them out, it’s quicker and avoids problems with connectors or power.

Don’t bring too many people

Forward Partners is unusual in investing in solo founders but many of the startups that attend Office Hours have multiple founders and often the whole team will attend meetings. While the temptation can be to have the whole team present so they can answer any questions, it’s rarely productive to bring more than one or two people to a 15 minute meeting. Having too many people present makes it harder to dig into questions as everyone wants to have their say or risks people not speaking because their area of expertise never gets covered. It’s generally best for one or two founders to take point for the first meeting with the rest of the team getting involved down the line when there is more time.

Be clear about what you want to get out of the meeting

The majority of founders attend Office Hours to pitch for investment but some attend looking for advice or for some other kind of help. That’s fine; giving that kind of help was part of the reason we started Office Hours in the first place, but as investors we tend to approach every meeting at a pitch unless asked to do otherwise. If you aren’t looking for investment it’s worth being clear up front so we can make sure you get the most from the meeting.

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