3 Keys to a Successful Pitch
In 2013, all 5 “sharks” on ABC’s show “Shark Tank” invested $1 million in an idea. It was the first time this happened, and one of the largest capital raises on the show. That company was Breathometer, a small product that could measure blood alcohol content and connect to your phone. I had the opportunity to work with Founder and CEO Charles Yim on his digital product through multiple iterations, including his pivot to Mint, an oral hygiene monitor. It was fascinating to work alongside him. Charles is a pro at making the pitch. His product ended up not backing his claims, but that’s a story for another time.
Since then, my clients have set out to raise nearly $100 million in debt and equity and I’ve seen about $35 million of that funding close. I’ve built pitch decks in real estate, high tech startups, and small business debt financing. I’ve worked with pitches in Silicon Valley, London, Nigeria, Boston, New York, and across the Midwest. The art of a great pitch isn’t simply for raising money. Whether you’re selling something, asking for a charitable donation, or locking in a new investor, you need to get your message right. The way you position yourself, your product, or your service is critical. Across industries and projects, I’ve found a few things to be true of every great pitch.
Your pitch is probably too long (let’s be honest, this article is probably too long). A lot of people send me decks to review, and I regularly see 30+ pages. I’ve even seen a handful of 40+ page decks (you know who you are). That’s simply too long. And it’s not just pitch decks. We’ve all sat through that pitch meeting with a salesman, founder, or broker, droning on and on. Stop it. Get to the point. If you need to include deep information, have a handout ready or put an appendix on your deck.
There is a legend that Hemingway was once challenged to write a brief novel. He did it in just six words. “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” It’s not clear if he actually wrote that story, but it displays the power of well-chosen words. Clear, concise, crisp messaging is what sticks. The key to brevity is ruthless refinement.
People skim a pitch first. That’s how we all operate. Nobody wants to waste time. Research by DocSend found the average investor to spend just over 3 minutes reviewing a deck that they invested in. That is, they spend 3 to 4 minutes on the ones they actually like. This, of course, means many decks receive far less time. But it isn’t simply how long an investor reads the deck, but how they read the deck. My own experience continually shows people scan a deck first to test their interest. A verbal pitch is similar. People listen to the first few things you say to decide if the information is worth time and energy. Hook your audience quickly. Use size, color, spacing, and messaging to draw attention through the pitch intentionally.
The human brain is conditioned to be highly efficient. We are hardwired to recognize patterns, danger, and novelty. The brain is wired to ignore everything else, preserving energy for the next time a saber tooth tiger attacks or we discover fire. We can’t expect our audience to spend more than a few minutes getting familiar with our pitch. Likely, far less time. Keep the main thing the main thing and don’t forget to lead with a hook.
The greatest mistake made in any pitch is creating for ourselves. We get so caught up in what we want to communicate about a deal that we forget to consider what our audience wants. A pitch structured a way is doomed.
Understand your audience and tailor your pitch to their unique needs. Sometimes this means a pitch is tweaked repeatedly. If you’re working a real estate deal, a family office wants something different than an individual. A seasoned investor will seek different data than a new one. Your pitch will need to adjust accordingly.
Another critical audience error is viewing your company as the hero. It’s not. Your client or investor is the hero of your story and you are the guide. Try to understand your audience on an emotional level and define how your product or service will help them achieve their goals. A great pitch is built on a lot of listening and learning. A “one size fits all” message doesn’t work today. Be sure to focus on what your audience wants, not simply what you want to say.
The Wrap Up
If you’re pitching investors, remember your deck will likely land on a stack of others. If you’re in a meeting, you’re likely not the first (or last) pitch they’ll hear that day. In fact, we are all constantly bombarded with messaging. People are exposed to some 10,000 marketing and brand messages every single day. Attention is divided and gaining even a moment from your audience is very valuable. It can take a lot of hard work just to get your pitch to the right people, so don’t waste the opportunity. Be sure your pitch is short, structured, and styled for success.