I still remember the best pitches I’ve ever heard over a decade later. I don’t remember the CAC or the LTV. I don’t even remember the business model or the revenue projections. Truly exceptional pitches are that memorable and it’s all because of how their story is told. As a corporate storyteller I’ve helped hundreds of startups to upgrade their pitching and win the funding they deserve.
You want to talk to investors in the way evolution has taught them to listen. Storytelling is part of human history and is what our brains have adapted for. The simple structures you should use will chunk the information into smaller pieces to make it simple for an investor to understand and get behind. According to Yuval Noah Hariri in Sapiens, stories are the reason we outcompeted the neanderthals.
You should use the same basic structure as Greek tragedies, Shakespeare and even the bible, or any good movie you’ve ever seen – the same 8 archetypal stories keep getting written again and again – so basically you’re paying $20 for a ticket and popcorn to watch the same movie again and again – but with interesting twists, colorful characters and maybe a few surprises. But your brain is content because it knows how to follow the framework.
You’ve probably heard about this structure before, many times – and there’s a reason – it’s been around for thousands of years – and I’m willing to bet, will be around for thousands of years more:
Start with the problem and only then, your proposed solution.
Yes, it’s that simple – the problem story, or origin story or even opportunity story is a crucial way to engage your listeners from the get go. It’s not something that they can argue with, because it’s your unique story. And stories have a way of resonating with them, drawing them in and making them think about a story in their lives that it reminds them of – which creates identification and understanding.
For a pitch, we’d then follow up with the business plan and the vision for the future. You might think this structure is easy yet it takes time and effort to master it fully.
Beyond the basic structure, here are the secrets that will really make your story stand out.
What investors really listen for
In my experience, there are three things investors really pay attention to throughout the entire pitch. If you lack any of these, they aren’t going to be interested and you’ll be wasting your time.
- Credibility – This is where your numbers and preparation come into play. You need to show them you know what you’re talking about with evidence to back up your words and hopefully with a stellar team of experts that have unique knowledge and experience in your industry. We’ll see how important demos and customer reviews are for this aspect.
- Likeability – Investors aren’t just judging your company, they are judging you. They want to discover whether or not you are someone they can work with. It’s not being a smiley yes-man or woman, they want to know that you are someone who is coachable, who can take guidance without arguing and without an ego flare up, as their aim is to help you grow as much as possible. Remember, you’re going to spend many years together, through thick and thin, sickness and health – for better and for worse – they want to know that you will be someone who is a partner. (Sounds a bit like a marriage? Investment periods can last way longer than marriages in this day and age!)
- Momentum – People want to invest in the winners. You need to show them you aren’t floundering around because they want to join something exciting and something that is going to new heights. Numbers speak volumes. Growth, revenues, partnerships, pipeline, reviews and testimonials can work a treat here because they show people already like what you do and are effusive in their praise.
The key thing is weaving this into your presentation. Make sure that each slide reflects at least one of these and hits their sweet spot.
Start with your why
A big part of your attractiveness as an investment opportunity lies in the purpose of your company. They need to be able to buy into your story and believe you believe in your company’s mission and vision. Not necessarily where you’re at now – but what you will be when you grow up. What tectonic shift will you have made 5 years from now?
Here’s some examples from some of the most successful companies ever:
Microsoft – To enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential
LinkedIn – To connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful
Facebook – To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected
Do you notice how easy to understand all of these are? You don’t need a computer science degree or a PhD. in cryptography. And also notice that they don’t mention anything about the tools, solutions or technology – rather what they will do for their customers. Don’t try to dazzle them with fancy words and if they can’t understand what you’re talking about, they aren’t going to make a guess and risk their money. At this part, it’s not about how you do what you do, (that will come later) it’s about what impact it has on your customers’ lives and why they will fall madly in love with you and never be able to imagine life without you. It should be easy for everyone to understand what your company does.
Next, you’ll have to move to your “what” (you are doing) and “how” (you will do it).
You can summarize your “what” into a simple solution statement that is different from your pure mission statement which only covers the why, and this is called your “simple solution statement.” Simple yes – easy – nope!. All you need to answer, in accessible language, is: “We do X for Y by Z”. Keep honing this sentence, practice this over and over and ask different people to listen to it and give you feedback on whether you’ve captured the essence of your company or not. Again – this is not the “how”, it’s the what. It’s not about deep tech or buzzwords, that will be shown in the demo, immediately following this part.
The longer it takes an investor to understand the basic information about your company, the more they will be trying to decipher it in their minds, the less time they will be truly listening and resonating with you and what you’re trying to do.
Let them be your champion
Telling your story is great, but showing it is even better. As quickly as possible, you want to move onto an impressive demo because it’s easy for an investor to connect with this.
Think about Steve Jobs when he presented the iPad. He could have just talked about it for an hour but instead he had one with him as an aid to tell the story. It meant there was less imagination and suspension of disbelief needed from the audience and they could focus on the possibilities it opened up.
We are visual creatures, we need to see to believe, and a picture (or a visual) is truly worth a thousand words. Even a mockup or an MVP is better than nothing and makes such a difference to the investor’s ability to visualize where you are heading and how you could solve the problem for a customer.
The most powerful way to showcase your product? You got it – through a story. Take them on the User Journey – show them how one of your clients, who was struggling in life or work before you was able to easily engage in the magic that is your product, highlight some features and then the glowing results!
If you already have happy customers, this is another fantastic way to show investors you mean business. I have hundreds of testimonials on LinkedIn which means whenever a potential collaborator or client searches for me, they can see the credibility in my story because people trust the opinions of others. If you’ve got hundreds of 5 star reviews on Amazon then tell the investors that and choose a few plum ones to show them the power. Anyone can claim to have a great product but when you back it up, you elevate yourself in the eyes of potential investors.
Investors should be captivated by your pitch and reading out numbers alone isn’t going to do it. Make sure your pitch deck is like a story and sprinkle in the secrets we’ve talked about here. Appeal not only to the logical part of their brains but the emotional part too. If you do it right, then your investors will remember your pitch over a decade later.
Written by Donna Griffit.
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