At Foundry Group, we often have our portfolio companies come in to present to the four of us to work out the kinks in their pitch prior to heading out on the road to raise money. It can be very powerful to have the four of us in the room at the same time offering our perspectives, which overlap somewhat, but it also can provide unexpected insights when each of us respond from our unique point of view.
For this to provide maximum benefit to the company, it is optimal that the presenter comes in with their “game face on” and treats the presentation exactly like one they’d be giving to an investor they’ve met for the first time. Otherwise the conversation can devolve into “remedial mode”, which is better done with just one or two of us as we hone the pitch leading up to presentation day. It just isn’t a great use of our time to have four of us in the room when the pitch isn’t close to ready for prime time.
We recently had a company in to pitch to my partners whose presentation needed a few more iterations before it was ready to be shared with the broader group. Afterwards, one of my partners rightly chided me for not coaching the founders to treat their presentation to us as a “real” pitch, and counseled that I should have worked with them to improve their presentation before they came in. Mea Culpa. I did a disservice to my partners and to the founders by not insisting upon a tighter deck and story prior to the meeting.
There were numerous ways (see here, here, and here) the pitch could have been improved prior to unveiling it, but the overarching problem was the founders came in expecting to have a conversation with us rather than give a formal pitch, which was admittedly my fault. The result was that instead of being in pitch mode, they fell into the “meta trap” – they gave a presentation about the pitch they would be giving to prospective investors, instead of simply giving us the pitch.
This leads to unnecessarily awkward and cumbersome language like “and here I would say X about Y”, which levies a cognitive tax on everyone in the room. It brings to mind the quip that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” One modality of expression does not necessarily translate to another.
You can’t improve your pitch by talking about how you will give your pitch – you have to actually give your pitch.
The formality of having to actually deliver your pitch (even to friendly existing investors and advisors) forces clarity of thinking and clarity of language. You have to commit yourself to a specific narrative and flow, and you have to have to make concrete choices about what you will say. You can’t say things like “at this point in the presentation, we will talk about our market and why our product is great, and we’ve considered a couple ways to do this.” You actually have to convince the listener that the market is huge and the product is great and differentiated.
While it certainly requires more work up front, to maximize the value of the feedback you get from “friendlies” before going to the road to raise money, give them a formal presentation. While it may seem slightly artificial to be in “pitch mode” in front of investors who know the company well and are fully up to speed, it is far more beneficial and far less awkward than presenting about your presentation.
As the wise shoe-salesmen in Beaverton say: Just do it.