Tim JohnsonTim Johnson

Locking down VC funding is the lifeblood of most startups. Yet many startup CEOs make basic mistakes when putting together what could be their most important presentation. Given the competition for funding and the ever-present sense of skepticism in place since the dotcom bubble, there’s little or no room for error during these presentations.

Here are a few tips that will go a long way to making your investor presentation a success.

Begin with a very clear, quantified problem statement. Neuroscientists claim that people tend to focus on just one or two numbers when evaluating a product. In cameras, it’s pixels, in cars it’s horsepower. Find a stat that describes the issue your startup solves and lead with that.

O'Dwyer's Nov. '19 Technology PR Magazine
This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Nov. '19 Technology PR Magazine.

Continue with a brief, concise statement of your solution—what it does versus what it is. Briefly highlight what your solution is and quickly move into how your solution addresses the problem and why it’s superior to previous efforts to solve the problem. Include in this why you’ll succeed while others have tried but failed.

Build on this by highlighting your key differentiators. Be concrete and specific, mention patents or IP that’s proprietary.

If you have an MVP (minimum viable product), show a very brief demo to add credibility to your pitch. Video is useful here to also break up the presentation a bit.

Highlight your go-to-market strategy. Bringing a new product to market is expensive, outline whether you’ll go it alone, white label through partners, distribute through channel partners, etc. Focus particularly on your plan to gain market traction versus larger, established competitors.

Ideally, have this strategy already in place; i.e., online or brick and mortar retailers that will carry your product or partners that have already signed on.

List your team and their qualifications, make sure your team aligns with your company’s direction and goals. If your solution relies on new technology to solve a problem, highlight your CTO and development team, for example. If you’re in a market dominated by large players that you plan to disrupt, creating an advisory board of industry experts can go a long way to convincing investors you have a strong probability of success.

Know your audience. Investor presentation are typically limited to four or five minutes, so it’s important to know your audience’s understanding of your market. Avoid wasting time explaining the basics of your technology if the audience is made up of software engineers, for example, who know at least as much about your basic technology as you do.

Spend two-three slides max on financials. Discuss pricing and margins, include a P&L on a three-to-five-year timeline. If relevant, outline potential ARR (annual recurring revenue) and also include your exit strategy.

Frame your market realistically. If your solution is focused on the insurance industry, your addressable market is not the $900 billion health insurance market, but a slice reflecting the problem/issue you address.

Create a unique presentation for each investor audience. Take the time to create a unique presentation for each investor audience. Never use your 80-slide sales deck and simply flip through for the slides that are relevant to an investor audience. This sends the terrible message that you couldn’t bother to adequately prepare. And, spend a few bucks to have a professional designer improve the look of your slides. Nothing says “amateur” like poor use of color and graphics.

Wear decent clothes. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. You may be asking investors for millions of dollars and to take a chance on your company, so you need to do everything you can to inspire confidence. A T-shirt and cargo shorts don’t inspire confidence. Putting aside social commentary, most investor audiences today are still older and populated largely by men. Adjust your attire to your audience. 

Have a clear “ask,” are you looking for investment, strategy advice, something else? Be specific about the intended use of funds, plans to execute on advice provided, etc.

Anticipate investor questions and work them into the pitch. After you’ve presented a few times, you can adjust your presentation to answer in advance the questions that come up repeatedly. Proactively addressing investor questions and potential concerns positions you as an experienced CEO and will help boost investor confidence in you.

Practice and vet your presentation. You have between four and five minutes to tell your story. Don’t read your slides, make new points that supplement your story. Practicing your delivery will ensure you don’t make statements that lead you down a path you don’t want to go. Memorize the first minute of your presentation. That gives you time to scan the audience and get comfortable with your surroundings. As part of practicing, also time your presentation. You often get just five minutes or so to make your presentation, running out of time demonstrates a lack of preparation.

If you have more than one person presenting, have a clear reason for the additional person/people. If your role is to drive sales and you need the CTO on stage to explain how your technology is disruptive, and she can do it better than you, fine. But, simply having another person on stage wastes time in the handoffs between the two of you, and that matters when you have just a few minutes.

Every situation, investor audience and startup requires the need for a unique presentation, but among the presentations that receive kudos from investors, all have included the elements outlined above.

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As President and Founder of UPRAISE Marketing + Public Relations, Tim serves a wide range of clients, earning outsized results. For more than 30 years, Tim has helped companies ranging from startups to the Fortune 500 in various industries as diverse as consumer electronics, financial services, many shades of tech and more.