This is part of my ongoing series “Pitching a VC.”
The “Triple Play” of VC Presentations
A large part of my series has been outlining what the typical VC PowerPoint presentation should look like. Some readers have commented that in today’s world you shouldn’t even need a PowerPoint presentation – in this era you should always just demo your product. They’re partially right.
I also recently wrote a post about a company that came in for a presentation and never even got the slides out or presented a demo. I called the meeting a 10/10 because we had a great 90-minute discussion in which we had great rapport.
So is the PowerPoint deck passé? Can you just show up without one? Short answer – ‘no.’ You need to be prepared for the “Triple Play.”
Act I – The Discussion:
You’re goal in starting the meeting is to establish rapport. You want to build a dialogue where you get to know the VC with whom you’re meeting. It’s the same as in any sales-oriented meeting and make no mistake raising money is sales. I have found that the best way to build rapport is to start with intros.
Tell them about your personal background but also tell the story about how the idea for the company came about and talk about the early days. It doesn’t need to be made up and it shouldn’t sound contrived. Just the facts and make it as human as possible. DO NOT drone on endlessly.
Next you want the VC speaking. You should do enough research about the VC to sound like you know a bit about their investments and find some that are related to you in some way as a means of trying to engage the VC in a dialog. Don’t just ask generically about just what the firm has done but the specific companies related to the person you’re meeting with. Find any common ground between you and them as the basis for building rapport but be careful to not come across as a kiss ass. It’s a fine line.
Use something like, “I noticed you invested in a couple of companies in the x,y,z space. I’d love to hear what kind of investments you’re interested in these days ?” or some other similar way to engage them in speaking.
Now here is the part that I don’t believe can be taught. You need to be a good judge on whether you feel the VC is engaged with you. Does the conversation flow naturally? Are they asking you questions? Are they actively listening? Do they seem excited to answer the questions you have asked them?
The tell-tale signs that they’re not engaged are: reading through papers in front of them, not asking you questions, no looking you in the eyes or looking at their watch (yes, this happens). But more subtly it’s just an expression on their face that they’re not having fun.
Remember that 90% of all communications are non verbal. You need to pay attention. If you’re not “feeling it” then you need to get to the slides or demo quickly as a means of trying to engage. If you find yourself in this situation I recommend you politely ask, “would you like me to carry on telling you about the company or would it be helpful if I went through our PowerPoint slides or do you prefer that I start with a demo?”
Very few people ask. I recommend it. Let them guide you.
It could be that the VC only has 30 minutes and you need to get right to it – that’s OK. It happens. It could be that the VC isn’t the type of individual that really wants to get to know you as an individual unless they’ve decided that you have an interesting business. That sucks but there are people like that. Some VC’s are very bright but introverted. They don’t “do small talk” easily. That’s OK, too.
And I’ll be honest with you. Some days I’m just tired. My head is elsewhere. I need something structured like slides or a demo to orient me.
Act II – The Deck
90+% of VC meetings will involve a PowerPoint deck. So on any given day you need to be ready for Act II. The reason for this is that most VC’s still want to get oriented in some way and the established norm for this happens to be the PowerPoint deck covering: What problem are you solving? What does your solution do? How big is the market? Who are your key customers? Competitors? How do you make money? What are you 3 year projections?
Sometimes this is enough to pry the VC out of their shell and into an active discussion. But to assume that you don’t need a deck to pull out if asked or if the situation warrants is wrong.
Do not be put off by direct questions that are fired at you as you present. Again, 90% of communication is non verbal. If you seem annoyed with the questions or get defensive it will establish negative rapport. View the questions as engagement. Maybe they could have used more tact but at least they’re involved in the discussion. If you’re asked a tough question and you’re not sure if you answered in a way that they expected don’t be afraid to say, “That’s obviously a tough question. I’d love to hear you point of view on X topic. Do you see it a different way?”
Get through Act II as quickly as you can. You really want to get to the demo.
Act III – The Demo
In addition to getting quickly through your slides you also need to be prepared for the VC who wants you to get straight to a product demo. I find this is more often an ex operator VC and often somebody who deep down is a product guy. I find myself wanting to get to product demos pretty quickly. But admittedly I like some orientation about the market before I see the product.
Be prepared to weave through all of the key messages that would have been discussed if you were in your PowerPoint slides but get them out as you walk through your demo. DO NOT make it a features & functions presentation.
Talk about the customer problem and how you solve it. Talk about the market sizing and the competition. Weave all your key messages through the demo. If you can give the equivalent of our PowerPoint slides while conducting the demo that’s the best outcome. Here’s some advice on how to nail a demo.
Some final thoughts:
– Not everybody is good with impromptu discussions. If you’re not then stick to just the intros and break out your slides. Make sure that in your slides you’re not racing through them but using them as a way to engage in the discussion in a way that puts you more in your comfort zone
– If you’re good with white boards and one exists – go for it. Not everybody is. Don’t go for it if it’s not your strength
– If you’re not good at giving demo’s you’re going to have to learn to be. Practice. Get feedback. Find great presenters and have them hear your pitch. Giving great demo’s matters in every part of your business operations. The kiss of death is the CEO who says to me, “I’m not good at demo’s – my product guys never let me do them” (you’d be surprised at how often this gets said). If you’re not intimate with the product it’s hard for me to buy that you’re going to be a successful tech entrepreneur.
Worse yet some people say, “I’m going to set up a follow up meeting to have my sales guy walk you through the product.” Um … no thanks.