In most cases, the search for investor support follows a common sequence of events. They’re like stops on a subway route, and chances are you’ll have to stop at each one of them on your way to funding your company – more than once, in fact. Of course, there are exceptions: a well-connected friend sets you up with a meeting, or you really do find yourself giving your elevator pitch to a high-powered venture capitalist on an elevator.
But the odds of that are similar to those of being struck by lightning, and why stake the future of your business on something as fickle as chance?
The Process of Presenting to Investors
Step 1: You research investors
You compile a list of investors you’d like to work with, and that you think are likely to find your offer intriguing. Remember: the more closely the particulars of your company and your goals match previous investments an investor has made, the greater your chances of getting their attention. Remember, too, that less is often more: you’re much better off contacting a few, carefully chosen investors who are actually a fit for your business than a whole army of investors who ignore you.
Step 2: The email pitch
Once you’ve got your list of investors ready, the next step is to reach out to them with a concise, well-crafted email. This is where you introduce yourself and your company, let the investors know that you have an investment opportunity that they might be interested in, and invite them to learn more by visiting your crowdfunding profile—and then link them to it!
Step 3: Investors research you
If your email catches an investor’s interest, they will look for ways to find out more about your company. In this day and age, that mostly involves checking out your internet presence: visiting your company website, doing a quick Google search for any press mentions or customer reviews, and looking you up on social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. It also means checking out your public crowdfunding profile (which you’ve helpfully linked them to) in order to find out more about the particulars of what makes your business exciting from an investor’s point of view.
Step 4: Investors request more info
If investors likes what they see online, they will request more information from you— the kind that isn’t publicly available to just anyone. That includes the business plan page of your crowdfunding profile, where they’ll be able to see details like your revenue model and plans for future development, as well as the terms of your fundraise itself. They may also request other documents, like an executive summary or pitch deck. When investors request materials from you, be sure that you respond with the materials they ask for at the moment they ask for them. With every extra moment that it takes to get the information to them, you risk losing their interest.
Step 5: The in-person pitch
Everything you’ve done so far – the research, the email pitch, the crowdfunding profile, the executive summary – has been with the goal of getting yourself in a room with an investor to talk about your idea in more detail. If you’ve managed to spark an investor’s interest with everything you’ve shown them so far, this is the point when they’ll contact you to set that in-person meeting up.
The in-person pitch is easily the most important moment you’ll have with the investor. Keep your pitch concise and dynamic, your pitch deck – these days, that’s usually in the form of a PowerPoint presentation – minimal and free of clutter, and leave plenty of time for investor questions and discussion afterward.
Step 6: Investors request more info (again)
You’ve finished your pitch, the investors seem excited—this is the part where the checkbooks come out, right? Wrong! It’s the part where the investor requests more information—this time, the most detailed that you have: your full business plan, financial details, and information about who else already owns stock in your company. Don’t be discouraged when investors want to know more: it means that they’re excited enough about your pitch that they’re willing to do the digging and due diligence to confirm that there’s a real, viable company there, and not just a lot of smoke and mirrors.
Pitching the Perfect Game
It’s called “pitching” for a reason: you have to get your proposal over the plate in order for investors to take a swing at it, and investors’ strike zones are extremely small.
Your chances of getting your pitch into the sweet spot go up significantly when you provide investors with the right kind of information at the right time. Keep the process moving along on your end, and interested investors are likely to do the same on theirs.
The Four Types of Pitches
As you may have noticed, there isn’t just one “pitch” when it comes to capturing investor attention: there are several. It’s like laying out a trail of breadcrumbs for investors to follow, coaxing them closer and closer to investing in your company.
For the most part, drafting your various pitches is about repackaging the same information in different ways to suit each particular format. Some formats call for more information, others for less, and it’s crucial to provide the right amount of information in the right format. Investors are easily scared off by too much information too early in the process. They’re also easily bored, so if the right information isn’t coming to them when they want it, they’re more likely to move on to the next opportunity than chase after yours.
Over the next couple of sections, we’ll focus on four main versions of “the pitch” to investors: the elevator pitch, the email pitch, the profile pitch, and the in-person pitch. We’ll look at what goes into each of these pitches, what the goal of each pitch is, and what you can do to ensure that each version of your pitch achieves maximum impact.
ELEVATOR PITCH: The Art of Economy
Your “elevator pitch” is the pitch you would deliver if you ever happened to find yourself on an elevator with an investor, with just the length of that short elevator ride to get that investor interested in your idea. It’s also the pitch you’d give at a party, on the subway, in the check-out line at the grocery store – anywhere you might encounter a potential investor and have a limited time frame – meaning mere seconds – in which to pitch your business.
Entrepreneurs live and die by the quality of their elevator pitches, so be ready to devote hours to drafting, scrapping, refining and finalizing yours. The good news is that there is a basic formula that successful elevator pitches tend to follow, with three essential ingredients: problem, solution and market size.
Every great company starts by solving an important problem. The more accurately and articulately you can describe a problem , the more valuable the solution your product provides will become in the minds of your audience. And the more relatable the problem you’re solving is – the greater the number of people that have encountered it, the greater the annoyance that it causes – the more your audience will wonder how they ever lived without your product in the first place.
Example: Going to the video store is a pain. People don’t like traveling back and forth just to rent a movie, and they hate paying late fees even more.
Once you’ve articulated a problem, the next step is to explain how your company’s product or service is the elegant fix to that problem that people have been waiting for – without even knowing that they were. A good solution is a direct reflection of the problem, so it’s important to tie your solution directly back to the pain points you identified while describing the problem.
Example: NetFlix provides customers with a huge selection of movies that they can have delivered right to their doorstep and never have to pay a late fee.
Another observation about problems and solutions: without a clear, significant, relatable problem, your solution is a lot less compelling. The problem that you solve gives your product a sense of urgency and demand, of action that needs to be taken. Without it, your “solution” is just the one company description among thousands.
The Market Size
A clear problem and a beautiful solution are nice and all, but if the only people the problem and solution apply to are polar explorers, it’s going to be hard to rustle up much enthusiasm from investors. Your market size explains how big the demand for your product is – how many people are inconvenienced by the problem, how many people will buy your product once it’s available – which in turn indicates how big of a company you can build with your solution to the problem, and how much investors are going to be able to gain by investing in you.
Example: For over 90 million Americans, going to the video store is a pain. People don’t like traveling back and forth just to rent a movie, and they hate paying late fees even more.
Put It Together, Then Pare It Down
Once you’ve articulated the problem, solution and market size clearly, the next step is to distill that explanation down to an easy-to-remember, easy-to-digest sound bite that still covers all the bases. Basically, it’s about getting as much important information into the smallest number of words possible.
NetFlix helps over 90 million Americans avoid driving to the video store and racking up late fees by delivering movies directly to their doorstep, return-date free.
In a lot of cases, you’ll be lucky if you get enough time to get even this short message across, so refining the message is key. Don’t be afraid to go through numerous drafts. Make a few practice pitches to strangers, get some reactions and modify accordingly. It takes practice.
The Tag Line
While you personally will remember every detail of your elevator pitch, chances are that members of your advisory board and other advocates you pick up along the way won’t be able to get it down flat, and investors won’t remember more than a general concept.
A tag line solves that problem: it’s a handful of words that gives you and others an easy way to describe your company and what you offer, not to mention a smooth intro to ease your way into the pitch. It’s also a nice thing to put on your web site, your business item, your crowdfunding profile, and so on. You’re building a brand, after all, and a good tag line is a great way to make your brand memorable.
The goal of the elevator pitch is simple: to capture the listener’s interest. There’s obviously not enough information there for an investor to jump straight to writing out a check, but if the elevator pitch intrigues them enough, they’ll want to find out more. The more good information you can get into investors’ hands, the more complete the picture of your company will become in their minds, and the closer you will be to shaking hands on an investment.
EMAIL PITCH: Keeping out of the Trash Folder
The fact is that in the 21st century, most of the legwork of getting investors’ attention is going to happen not in person, but in writing – starting with your introductory email. There are pros and cons to that fact: on the upside, you’re able to reach out to a lot more investors a lot more quickly via email than in person; on the downside, it’s a lot easier for investors to ignore you.
The addition of your crowdfunding profile to the equation takes some of the pressure off the email pitch to produce results. That being said, your email pitch still needs to be strong in order to capture investors’ curiosity and nudge them toward your profile in the first place.
A good email pitch won’t necessarily get you an in-person meeting with an investor, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. As with the elevator pitch, there are a few key ingredients that successful email pitches contain: a strong subject line, a personal connection, a compelling elevator pitch, intriguing company details and an enticing invitation to find out more.
Just like you, investors are bombarded with tons of email, and just like you, they tend to ignore a lot of it. In order to make sure your email gets opened instead of going straight into the trash folder, it’s important to start with a subject line that’s impossible to ignore.
It’s up to you to decide what element of your company or your pitch is most likely to get an investor’s attention. Maybe it’s a piece of particularly impressive traction (“Company XYZ growing at 300% per month”); maybe it’s your own professional background (“Company XYZ, founded by former YouTube CMO”); maybe it’s a personal connection you have with that particular investor (“Fancypants University alum founds Company XYZ”).
Whatever you decide to go with, make sure it’s clear, compelling and specific to both the investor and your business. An email with the generic subject line “Investment Opportunity” – in the inbox of an investor who sees dozens of “investment opportunities” every month – is destined for the trash. The same goes for an email with a subject line that is just the name of a company the investor has never heard of and has no reason to care about.
A Personal Touch
Remember when you first started applying to jobs, and you were told to customize each cover letter you sent out for the individual business you were applying to? Introductory emails to investors work exactly the same way. In fact, if you think about it, the whole investor-seeking process looks a lot like a job search in more ways than one.
You want your first email to come off as warm, conversational and, above all, personal – not like a generic form email that is clearly going out to a whole mailing list of investor types. Address the investor by name— first name, unless you’re talking to a curmudgeonly 80-year-old tycoon you think is likely to appreciate a deferential “Mr. Moneybags”. Most investors have some sort of biographical information posted online. Read up, and then reference something about their history that gives you common ground: maybe you got your start in similar jobs, or maybe they gave a talk at a conference once that influenced your approach to business. If you have a direct personal connection to the investor—whether you studied under the same professor in college, have a mutual friend on Facebook or LinkedIn, or your mom was their ninth-grade math teacher— lead with that. Starting your email off with details like these establishes you as a person in the investor’s mind, instead of a disembodied voice pestering them for money.
Your elevator pitch is the heart and soul of your email, and you shouldn’t be afraid to get to it as quickly as possible. Starting your email with a cold pitch may come across as forward, but a long introduction that doesn’t get to the point will be equally annoying to an investor.
Don’t be tempted by the change of venue from spoken pitch to written email to elaborate on your delivery, either: keep it streamlined, pared down to the bare essentials. The goal of an email pitch is still to deliver as much information in as short a space as possible, and investors will be impatient for you to get to the point.
In the pre-crowdfunding days, your email pitch was your one real chance to hit investors with your company’s traction, team and social proof – the details that transform your offer from just another harebrained scheme into a business proposition with real earning potential.
Now, of course, all of that information is included on your crowdfunding profile. But that profile doesn’t do much good if you don’t raise investors’ interest enough to get them there, so it’s still important to place a few tantalizing details in the body of your email pitch.
Brevity is still key here, so keep your details efficient, to-the-point, and fact-driven. For traction, focus on statistics that highlight your growth. With team background, stick to the experiences your team members have that are most salient to the success of your particular company. For social proof, be sure you reference individuals and institutions that investors will recognize.
Most importantly of all, be judicious and strategic the amount of detail you include in your email – don’t put it all out there in the email and then have nothing in reserve to impress once investors move on to your profile.
The conclusion of your email is where you let investors know what your fundraising goals are and what stage of fundraising you are in, as well as where they can find out more about you. It’s also the part where you make a specific request for their time once they’ve had a chance to find out more.
The size and stage of your fundraise are important indicators for investors: they tend to have minimum and maximum thresholds for their investments and invest in businesses at specific stages of development, so they’ll want this information in order determine whether your offer falls in their sweet spot.
At this point, you’ll also want to let investors know where they can go to find more information about your company and your fundraise: specifically, to your crowdfunding profile. Include a link to it, as well as to your company website and any social media platforms you frequent – any resources that can help complete the picture of your company and what makes it a great opportunity for an investor.
When it comes to setting a timeline for getting in touch, be specific but flexible. Obviously, you want to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible, but it’s important to recognize that you’re more likely to meet on the investor’s timeline than your own. Suggest a time frame that would work well for you as a starting point, and be ready to work with what the investor offers in return.
Starting the Conversation
The danger with the email pitch is that the investor could tune out at any second, and reach for that delete button. But by the time investors have read through the entire email, they’re no longer a captive audience. Your idea has gotten out of the elevator and is headed to their office with them. After the email pitch, what was a one-sided request for investors’ attention starts to become something else: a two-way conversation about an opportunity that could benefit both sides.
PROFILE PITCH: Two Sides of the Story
If all goes according to plan, by the time investors finish reading your email pitch they will be eager to find out more about your company and what you have to offer them. A well-designed, well-organized crowdfunding profile is the perfect way to provide investors will the information they’re looking for.
Your crowdfunding profile will have a lot more information in it than either your elevator pitch or your email pitch. As a result, each individual piece of information will carry less of the burden of convincing investors to take the next step with you.
That being said, the profile is a pitch in itself. Every section serves a purpose, and you never know which piece of information will be the one to convince an investor that your business is the real deal.
Generally speaking, crowdfunding profiles for equity- and debt-based fundraising are split into two pages: the public side and the private side.
The public side is visible to everyone– potential customers as well as investors—and should focus on what makes the company exciting from a customer’s point of view.
The private side is usually visible only to accredited investors who request access and receive approval, and should be written to appeal directly to these investors. It includes some of the more sensitive details of the business, including revenue and product development information, as well as the specific terms of the fundraise itself.
The content and organization of the public profile can vary based on the industry and stage of your company and your own personal taste and voice. In general terms, though, effective public profile pages start with a Quick Pitch and include sections covering product details, traction, special characteristics, and team introductions.
The quick pitch can be a simple reiteration of your elevator pitch: problem, solution, market size. But it’s also a chance to paint a picture for the reader. For example, to describe what your target customer’s life is like without your product – the problem he or she faces, the frustration it causes – or shoot out of the gate with an astonishing statistic that will capture people’s attention.
Here’s where you describe your product: what it is, how it works, who it’s for. Don’t overwhelm readers with a ton of technical jargon; describe what your company does for the customer. It helps to keep the “problem/solution” spirit of the elevator pitch in mind.
Is your customer base already growing? Talk about it! Do you have partnerships lined up with large distributors? Let people know! Do you have a lot of press mentions, awards or accolades? Shout them from the rooftops! Every bit of traction helps, but be sure you highlight the pieces that are likely to impress or capture people’s interest.
Why We’re Different
Tell readers what it is about your company and its product that sets you apart from other companies and products they may have heard of or already used. Is it one-of-a-kind technology? Unbeatable customer service? Best-in-industry user interface? The more advantages you can name, the more impressive your offering will seem.
This is where you provide bios of your team’s key members, starting with a description of what they do for your company. Be sure to highlight past accomplishments that are relevant to your company and inspire confidence: successful launches of other startups, an impressive number of years in the industry, extensive leadership experience. And a bit of personality or humor never hurt anyone.
The private, investors-only page of your profile will be far more detailed than the public side, with a lot more sections. The tone should be more business-like, while still remaining conversational. The goal is to convince investors that your company is a viable business proposition, and to push them toward inviting you for an in-person meeting — or, better yet, making the commitment to provide funds outright.
The executive summary is a short, few-sentence description of your company, your vision and your goals. Describe the product or service you offer, what you have accomplished so far that makes you an attractive option for investors, and what goals the support you gain from investors will help you achieve.
Problem/Opportunity, Solution, Market Size
As you can probably tell from their labels, these sections cover the same ground as your elevator pitch. But now it’s in a little more detail, and there’s one important difference: it’s all about the investor perspective. The thing that makes your business attractive to investors is probably different from what a customer will be interested in: a customer might be excited about your unbeatable prices; an investor would be more interested in your unbeatable profit margins. A lot of times, it’s helpful to exchange the word “problem” for “opportunity: what market opportunity are you positioned to capture, and how are you going to capture it? That’s what you want to address here.
Pricing & Revenue
This section provides the nuts and bolts of how your company is going to make money, and how it has made money in the past if you’re already generating revenue. Charts and other graphic showing past revenue breakdowns and future income projections are powerful tools here, especially when they point to consistent and significant growth.
Here’s where you name the competition – the top three competitors is a good number to go with – and provide a breakdown of their position in the market, and their strengths and weaknesses. Then, you explain to investors how your company is positioned to blow those competitors out of the water.
Investors like to see evidence that companies are poised for expansion and evolution. If you have any plans in the pipeline, like adding new products or moving outward into new locations, be sure to touch on them here. If possible, provide a timeline of when these expansions are likely to happen—investors will respond well to that kind of organization and laser-sharp focus.
The bottom of the private section of your profile is where you’ll detail the terms of your fundraise: the amount of capital you’re seeking and the structure of your fundraise, as well as any additional details like minimum investments, valuation caps or amounts already committed.
You’ll also want to provide information about the goals the money you raise will help you to achieve, and how those funds will be used. Be specific and be detailed— provide amounts or percentages whenever possible, otherwise it will seem to investors that you haven’t given this fundraise much thought.
The conclusion of your profile can feel like a throwaway, but it’s important to finish strong and leave investors on a note that inspires confidence and excitement. Be sure to thank investors for taking the time to read through your profile – it’s a hefty amount of information, after all. Touch again on the goals that their support will help you to achieve, and how you are positioned to make their investment count. Most importantly of all, remind them that you’re looking forward to being in touch again soon to discuss your deal in more detail.
Laying It All Out There
With any luck, the next time investors will be hearing about your company will be when you’re in a room with them, presenting it in person. A strong crowdfunding profile can nudge investors toward requesting that in-person meeting sooner rather than later. It’s also an invaluable opportunity to show off your company to investors from both the customer and the investor point of view. And if it looks good from every angle, how can an investor possibly say no?
In-Person Pitch: DOs and DON’Ts
It’s the finish line that every entrepreneur is hoping to cross at the end of the long, arduous race for investor attention: the in-person pitch.
Once you’re in the room with an investor, it’s temping to think that the hard part’s over. But there are a lot of moving parts involved in a live investor pitch, and a lot of ducks you need to have in a row. The following are some tips about common mistakes entrepreneurs tend to make in the pitch process, and how you can avoid them in yours.
DO be brief and to the point
Professional investors have a lot of decisions to make quickly, and they are famous for their short attention spans. What this means for you is that your pitch is not the time for a long-winded, involved back-story about the birth of your business. Keep your presentation under thirty minutes – including a generous amount of time for Q&A.
DO use the lingo
It can be daunting for those without a background in finance, but the more you talk in the language of investing, the easier it will be for investors to understand what you have to offer them. To help you with this, we’ve included a helpful list of common investment terms and their definitions in this guide. Study up, and not only will you be in a better position to represent your deal, you’ll be better able to understand and answer investors’ questions, too.
DON’T try to hide the risks
Making investors think you have something to hide is a poor way to kick off a business relationship. Be open about the risks associated with your business, and try to anticipate any potential weaknesses an investor might notice. DON’T stop at saying what the risks are, either: detail your plan of attack for mitigating them. That kind of transparency will show investors that you’ve thought ahead, that you’re a problem solver, and that you have the ability to deal with challenges as they arise.
DON’T forget an exit strategy
Sometimes entrepreneurs are so relentlessly focused on looking for capital, they forget that investors are looking for something, too: a return on their investments. When you’re pitching to an investor, don’t forget to give them a clear, realistic exit plan. In other words: tell them how their investment will be rewarded, whether that’s in interest or profits from sale to a larger company or an IPO scenario. A lot of entrepreneurs forget this detail, which seems tiny to them but is in fact huge for the people they’re talking to.
DO be clear about what happens next
Once you’ve laid out all the details of your company, tell investors what you want from them, and what you’re going to do once you have it. Be sure that you’re clear about amount you’re seeking, the terms you’re offering, and how the money investors give you will be used. Be explicit, and be specific, especially when it comes to use of funds – an investor is not going to be impressed by the news that you haven’t thought as far as where the money will go yet.
When you’ve said your piece and it’s the investors’ turn to talk, keep your ears – and mind – open. Answer all their questions thoroughly and thoughtfully, no matter how many times you’ve heard them before, or how self-evident the answers seem to you. DON’T get defensive, or interpret investors’ questions as attacks on your idea or your business plan, either. If investors are asking you these questions, it’s a sign that they are interested enough in your company to want to learn as much as possible before making an investment. Experienced investors know what businesses need in order to be successful, and what kinds of problems have a tendency to trip young businesses up; so, even if you don’t come out of the pitch with a check in hand, an investor’s feedback may teach you something valuable about how to improve your pitch, or your business itself, for the next investor you talk to.
DO be confident
Especially if your company is in early stages, your pitch may be as much about selling you as it is selling your company. The goal is to inspire confidence – both in your company and in you as an entrepreneur, leader and business partner. But there’s sometimes a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and definitely DON’T be arrogant—see the above points about the importance of listening and not glossing over your weaknesses.
DON’T neglect your business plan
Everything leading up to this– the email pitches, the crowdfunding profile, even the in-person pitch – helps to get investors’ feet in the door. But a detailed, well-written, well-thought-out business plan is the thing that closes the deal on an investment. Do not make the mistake of thinking you can talk your way to an investment on charisma alone. Investors will ask to see your full business plan before they make a commitment, so when you put that document in the investor’s hand at the end of your pitch, make sure it’s the best representation of your company that it can possibly be.
And One Last “DO”: Get Investors Excited
At the end of the day, the goal of your in-person pitch to investors is to paint a picture of a business opportunity that is simply too good to pass up. Combine powerful ideas with undeniable data, confidence and creativity with attentiveness and openness, and you will be well on your way to doing just that.
Going the Distance
Pitching your company to investors is a marathon, not a sprint. There are more legs to this race than there are to an Olympic relay, and the fact of the matter is you may go through the process dozens of times before you get the funding that your company needs. Sometimes you will get all the way to that coveted finish line of the in-person meeting; other times, you’ll drop the baton somewhere in the middle and have to start over from the beginning. Sometimes, you won’t even get out of the starting gate.
The good news is that practice does make perfect, and the more times you repeat the process, the more naturally it will come to you. You’ll keep discovering ways to make your pitches faster, smarter and better. You’ll find the weak points that make investors hesitate, and you’ll eliminate them. By the time you cross that final finish line, both you and your company will be stronger for it. And that is a victory in and of itself.