Let Me Introduce Myself

Posted on Dec 17, 2011 | 46 comments


I am a big believer in VC pitches that the bio slide should come up front. Actually, I think the advice in this post applies to any sales meeting also.

The short answer is that by knowing the key members of the management team the VC firm can quickly identify strengths on your time and know whether you have some competitive advantage in your chose field relative to other people with whom you will compete.

This is especially important since I believe that 70% of the decision of many VCs are based on the potential of the management team in one way, shape or form. I know it’s incredibly important to me in my investment decisions.

I wanted to write a quick post on a pet peeve that I have when teams present “who they are” whether in a bio slide or just in the up front introductions.

What occasionally happens is the CEO introduces his team giving a brief overview of who everybody is. I hate this. I want to hear everybody speak – to get to know the team. What purpose could there be to having the CEO talk on behalf of everybody?

You might say, “it’s streamlined, we don’t want the intro to take too long.” That’s an excuse. If you really believe that then just have your team practice their personal intro’s and tell them the time budget they have to hit.

Why is it a pet peeve?

For starters I think that if you bring people to the meeting with you they should all have a role in the presentation. No “bag carriers.” If they already have a limited role relative to the CEO then why would you kill an obvious place where they actually CAN be heard (but by the way, I think best practice is to assign pages to key execs in advance and know who will do which pages).

The second reason I don’t like it is that it is usually a sign of a domineering CEO, which I never like. Great CEOs can attract and retain great talent. This appears to be the case with Dave Morin who is apparently doing a great job at retaining his key talent in difficult times. When I see a CEO who takes 90% of the minutes of a meeting I assume that as a leader that person probably doesn’t listen to others opinions as much as they should. Either that or he/she don’t trust his/her colleagues.

I’ve run into the problem myself. We traveled the country last year meeting with people who invest in VC funds to get to know them better. Occasionally one of my partners would intro me because I’m the newest parter at the fund (at just under 5 years, they have been at GRP Partners 8-15 years). I would always jump in early into their intro and politely break in to introduce myself.

I don’t like being framed by others.

Let me introduce myself!

Let your team introduce themselves.

Image courtesy of Fotolia

  • http://www.feld.com bfeld

    And I’m a big believer that the team slide should come near the end!

    I agree that everyone in the meeting should introduce themselves upfront – it annoys me when the CEO introduces everyone. However, each team member should keep it short and focused. When the first 10 minutes of the meeting are spent listening to life histories, I’m miserable. Tell me who you are, what your role is, and something that you’ve done in the past that you are especially proud of.

    Then, remind me at the end with the team slide so it sticks in my mind.

  • http://twitter.com/stantonk stantonk

    In my experience, sometimes the technical co-founders of a startup are self-conscious about their public speaking abilities and shy away from doing so in pitches. Paradoxically, they don’t want to be left out of being in the room; it’s exciting, and they have a vested interest.

    In cases like this, is it best then for the CEO to just encourage the other founding members to speak anyways? Or just speak on their behalf..

  • Alex Magnin

    One of my favorite parts of talking to anyone about my company, especially VCs, is talking about how awesome each person on the team is.

    Often, I will think certain folks are being too modest in the meeting. Thats why it is great to have prefaced them in an early 1:1 meeting (“I can’t wait for you to meet Jason, he has such a deep understanding of this industry”), and then get the enjoyment of watching them knock it out of the park and prove me right!

    Good stuff, thanks!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    encourage them to speak. and practice many times before hand. the more they do it, the more natural it will come.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Ha. I know. We’ve disagreed about this one before. Like when we were giving feedback to the TechStars teams in NYC.

    I can live with bio slide coming later if they hit the highlights in their intro. The key point for me is that if you’re talking about hard-core tech innovation in the area of user interfaces and you have a masters in that – you should tell me. If you’re talking about energy efficiency and studied that at Caltech, I’m more likely to listen to every slide in a different light if I know that up front.

    And, PLEASE, keep intros short and punchy.

  • Anthony Durante

    I happened to attend the New England Venture Summit this past week and in practically every company pitch, the team slide was up front. Of course, with only seven minutes to pitch, the companies had no time to introduce whoever was there besides the presenter. In any case, I liked it because it gve me a sense right away of whether or not the team was pulling from experience, or launching into a realm they were newer at, with whatever venture they were working on. Plus, as you said, you knew right away where the gaps might lay.

  • http://www.doubledutch.me lawrence coburn

    Agree, this is the case for the CEO making intros. It’s fun to brag about your guys.

  • http://twitter.com/MattZinger Matt Zinger

    I agree that a sales pitch should start with an intro of the company and the team. I think an investor’s pitch should be a different approach. The investor needs to be able to connect the dots backwards (as S. Jobs used to say). After hearing about the product and the business model the team should come near the end so everything makes sense. 
    A client doesn’t always need to be sold on the business model of the company – I believe it is more important to sell yourself to a client rather than your business model which nowadays might be too complex for non-tech savvy people. 
    Those approach have been working great for us at Hotelcloud so far – both on the investor side as well as the client side. 
    This could be a bigger discussion though… 

  • http://babblingvc.typepad.com/ Paul Jozefak

    Mark, if you had to “break in” to the intro by your partners, that signals a domineering partner, no? Did you directly address this with them to avoid it at future LP meetings? 

  • http://www.alearningaday.com Rohan

    Thanks for providing the counter point here, Brad.

    Makes for a very rich conversation. 

  • http://www.alearningaday.com Rohan

    I would love to know who I’m listening to, first.

    Especially because I’d like to know their background to put in context their understanding of their own domain. 

    And hence, I’d typically start with a (crisp) personal introduction. 

    But, I see Brad would have it the other way around..

  • http://www.repeatablesale.com/ Scott Barnett

    Boy, this is a tough one…. I know this is showing my “controlling” nature, but a first meeting (whether with a VC, a potential customer, employee, etc) is SO important.  Everybody on the founding team has different strengths (or at least they should), and one or two of those people will be really good in front of an audience.  I would want those folks doing most of the presenting at a first meeting.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the CEO (if they are a great presenter) should go alone to the first meeting, knock your socks off, and THEN bring his team in for the second meeting.

    I don’t view this any differently than an initial sales call – you are trying to establish rapport and a relationship with the customer – it’s hard to do that NxM, just too many permutations of people that all have to go well.  Do it 1xM, get the process started, then bring in the rest of the team to complement that initial rapport.  It’s also helpful because that first meeting gives me (if I’m doing the pitching) the opportunity to “read the room” and understand the personalities, so when we do the larger thing, everybody has been briefed on who is who.

  • Mll. D.

    “I can live with bio slide coming later if they hit the highlights in their intro. The key point for me is that if you’re talking about hard-core tech innovation in the area of user interfaces and you have a masters in that – you should tell me. If you’re talking about energy efficiency and studied that at Caltech, I’m more likely to listen to every slide in a different light if I know that up front.”

    ==>I know this is off-topic, but what should a founder of a tech company highlight, when he/she does have neither an education in tech nor a diploma in business? Many women didn’t get a BS in engineering/computer science. So if they have instead a real interest in technologies and in running a business/leadership + a great idea, what should they do?

    I am asking because I am a 22yrs old woman who is about to graduate with a BA in international relations and I think I have a good idea. (My dad is an entrepreneur in a cutting-edge field, this is where I got the inspiration from.) Right now I am looking for a partner with complementary skills (aka a BA in engineering), but I feel I don’t have anything “real” to sell when I’ll have to introduce myself to investors.
    =>What would you suggest?

  • http://www.lagrangianpoints.com/ Jim Haughwout

    This post explore two interesting ‘conundrums’

    Conundrum 1: Where to put the bio. I agree that it really important to understand the team that you are investing in / partnering with / co-developing with / buying from. However, I have sat in many a pitch (usually as sponsoring co-developer or buyer) where I have had to sit through a long introduction of the firm, their successes, yada, yada, … only to get to a point where I have had to ask, “Can I actually see your product?” Of course, if you jumped right into a demo, your audience would be asking, “Who are these guys/gals? What have they done?”

    Conundrum 2: How Many Speakers. I agree 100% that having one person do all the talking is not good. Not only can be an indicator of a non-collaborative team; it usually results in a ‘lecture’ (whereas involving a few of the teams leaders usually results in productive, collaborative ‘conversations.’ The problem here is how to involve multiple team players — and allow time for discussion — in a short meeting.

    I have tried many approaches to tackle these two conundrums and found different solutions based on the type of meeting: investors, sales, partnership, etc. I’d love to hear how others have balance these two conundrums in their meetings.

  • http://twitter.com/ScotchGuyDan Dan Bowen

    Nice Mark, 1990 Digital Underground reference? Many a ‘Humpty Dance’ was awkwardly acted out off of N. Torrey Pines Road way back then. When the time comes, I’ll make sure to have something in a presentation that is “pronounced with the umpty”…

  • Laribee

    It’s interesting how different VC’s can have opposing views and still be very successful. For example Guy Kawasaki claims that he focuses mainly on the breakthough technology rather than the management team. He suggests that the Google Guys, Steve Jobs, and many others would not have been initially funded had investors focused on their lack of managment skills. You also see VC’s without any operating experience doing just as well as ones with strong operating backgrounds. And recently some prefer Fat startups over Lean startups.

    It seems like if you pound the pavement long enough, you’ll find the right VC/Angel for your project. 

  • http://www.davidblerner.com davidblerner

    a couple of points come to mind- 

    1) isn’t it great to be an entrepreneur seeking capital in a world where you now know that:        a) if you’re pitching Mark you need to have that bio slide up front        b) if you’re pitching Brad- it better be at the end!
    2) either way I highly recommend keeping the intros tight- only hit salient points/highlights and let the investor delve as much or as little as he wants…  so if 2 or 3 team members are there, I agree w/Mark, each should speak, but very briefly… defer to the investor…

    3) as an angel I personally like a team slide up front (and we teach this to our B-School students) but & in the same breath I’ll say that any kind of meeting with prolonged life stories at the beginning is out of bounds! I personally need to be carried out on a stretcher when this happens…

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Like any time you present yourself (whether in a resume or in a pitch deck) your job is to display your most positive attributes as strongly as you can. Make the link between what you know (or whom you know) and what you’re planning to do.

    It doesn’t have to be that you’re strong in comp sci. But what are you strong at? And why is that going to help your company succeed? Why should investors entrust you with their hard-earned money?

    If you look at the first link I provided above I tell the story of a young woman who presented her business and it involved a beautiful machine she had designed to dispense cosmetics the way that Redbox dispenses movies.

    At the end of the presentation she mentioned that she was graduated from Yale magna cum lade with degrees in architecture and industrial design. I think it would have been more useful to know that up front.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Depending on the meeting it’s OK for the CEO to go alone to the first meeting. But when you get to an all partners meeting you need the team. One of the skills of a great CEO is to make his/her team better through coaching & practice. This is a great test of that skill.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Let your guys tell their own story. It’s more compelling.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Exactly!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Respectfully disagree. If your team is strong then by presenting them up front the VC is “leaning forward” during the presentation rather than wondering whether what you’re saying is credible or wondering on what basis you can make your claims. Always stronger to present from stronger ground. Maybe bio slides at end if team is a weak point. But then …

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yes, we’ve talked about it many times. I don’t think it’s being domineering, per se. It’s just habit. But bad habits need to be broken. I never break in forcefully – that’s just disrespectful. I look for a natural pause to break in. But it happens much less frequently these days :-)

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    That doesn’t mean he’s right ;-)

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    On conundrum 1 – that’s easily solved by really short, crisp introductions. If the other side wants to know more they’ll ask. Think of it as a cocktail party introduction.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    N. Torrey Pines Road? Never heard of it. Especially if you have any pictures ;-)

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    For starters, I never said “management skills” was what I looked for. I look for “relevant skills” which sometimes include management skills and other times don’t.

    I don’t believe that any VC seriously focuses on “breakthrough technology” independent of the team. I think that’s oxymoronic.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    what a great point about point 1! 

    re: point 2 – agree 100%

    re: point 3 – fortunately my ADHD doesn’t allow for long bios. If they’re “hanging themselves” with a 10-minute intro I politely jump in and try to move them along. Except in group meetings (on my side) where it would be rude. When I’m alone I feel confident I can do it without offending.

  • http://babblingvc.typepad.com/ Paul Jozefak

    Glad to hear you’ve found your “spot” in the pecking order. :-)

  • http://infochachkie.com/ John Greathouse

    Mark –  I agree that team should come first. However, there is value in having someone else sing your praises in your intro, as noted by our mutual friend, Robert Cialdini (Author of Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion).
    Maybe the answer is to do a bit of both…an intro by a third party, followed by one’s own embellishments.

  • http://twitter.com/goodburga Paul Burger

    While it’s clear that there is no single set of rules when it comes to this stuff, I think it brings up an interesting point for entrepreneurs who are going out to pitch. It is super important to know who you’re pitching!

    We are super fortunate to have angels/VC’s who share most of their professional and sometimes personal opinions with up and coming entrepreneurs, so there is really no excuse not to know the preferences of the person you are talking to. 

    So thanks for this little nugget. I’ll make sure that in the event we meet face to face, that that slide is up front. And @bfeld:disqus ….vice versa for you. :)

    Cheers!

  • http://twitter.com/jbhelms James Helms

    Does this only count with in-person pitches?  What if I am sending a slide deck?  Should I also move the bios to the beginning.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Embellishment in the slide. Normal intro by person. Can follow with CEO saying, “he’s being a bit humble.” But NO self intro seems wrong to me.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yes. Even more so because in person you can at least introduce yourself. On slides – you can’t.

  • http://www.alearningaday.com Rohan

    Heh.
    To each his own.
    Tailor according to audience is the lesson, I take. ;)

  • http://www.repeatablesale.com/ Scott Barnett

    Agreed – looking back over your post again, it may make sense to talk about the different types of meetings you would have with a VC – because for a first meeting (with a VC or a potential customer), I don’t agree with most of your post.  For a subsequent meeting where you are trying to close the deal, I agree with you whole-heartedly.  But as a general rule (which is how I interpreted your post), your advice is a bit dangerous.

  • Zvi

    Once I pitched a VC, he interrupted me on the first slide and asked: “Who the hell are you?”.
    Since then my first slide is “Who the hell I am” ;)

  • James Mitchell

    So if an entrepreneur has done his homework, if he is pitching Mark, he will put in up front, and if he is pitching Brad, he will put it in the back. And if he is pitching a VC who has not written about this, he is totally hosed.

    In Massachusetts, there is a book called “The U.S. District Court Speaks.” Someone sends a questionnaire to every federal trial judge, asking him incredibly detailed questions about how they like to conduct their courtroom. How are exhibit numbered? Where should you stand when giving your closing argument? Etc. Any good trial lawyer will read the relevant chapter before appearing before that particular judge. It saves judges a lot of time from having to tell the attorneys what to do, and it saves the lawyers time from having to call around to find the inside scoop.

    Anyway, it would be great if someone did this for VCs. In the meantime, would it not make sense for a VC firm to prepare a 1 or 2 page memo titled “How to Pitch Us” and send it to the entrepreneur ahead of time? For example, tell the entrepreneur how much you care if his team members are there for the first meeting.

    One question I think most entrepreneurs would want to know is, “How carefully will you have read ahead of time whatever we sent?” Also, administrative details such as: How much time will I really have? Will I have Internet access, and if so, wired or wireless? Who will be at the meeting?

  • http://twitter.com/wvanloo wim van loo

    Frankly speaking I found this blog/post while preparing for my very first VC-pitch and I was finding confusing information on the internet on how to proceed.
    Usually in sales I skip slides since I rather talk/make conversation , basicly the ‘people-buy-people approach’.
    It would be great if I could find a way to adapt a presentation to the VC’s wishes :)

  • http://berislav.lopac.net Berislav Lopac

    What about the situation where you have a really strong team in terms of (technical, industry or managerial) skill and esperience, but there is nothing inpressive-sounding you can put up on a slide? For example, if they don’t have any academic accomplishments or if those they do have come from no-US universities no VC has ever heard of? Or if after 20 years of entrepreneurship they don’t have any internationally successes to show since they did it in a small country tucked at the Balkans? How much a slide like that can help the team at all?

  • http://andrewdumont.me/ Andrew Dumont

    Nearly every investor (VC or angel) I know invests primarily in the people leading the company. As with everything in tech, it’s not the idea itself that’s important. It’s the execution. Without the right people driving the ship, the idea is irrelevant. 

    Great post, Mark.

  • http://www.federaldrugs.com/ federaldrugs

    Nice one, there is actually some good points on this blog some of my readers may find this useful, I must send a link, many thanks.

  • Roscoe2020

    Great post?  RUFKM?  How about you have a great idea then the audience can chill the F out about the order of the slides

  • SeanSmithID

    I’m with Brad on this one. When entrepreneurs pitch me I like to get a few key bullets on their experience at the beginning so that I can frame how they have gotten themselves into this company and what they are bringing to the table. Then at the end it’s nice to have the reminder and see everyone’s bios laid out – if for no other reason, just to make sure the info sticks.

  • http://twitter.com/jayplunk Jim Plunkett

    I am with Mark…but then again I am a little more seasoned

  • Jim Watson

    Good stuff, Mark.  I used to work in pre-sales and hated when the account exec didn’t let me introduce myself.  The good ones did, but the less seasoned ones didn’t…and ended up leaving out some important bits to help show my credibility at the table…which was going to be key as the sales process progressed.  Like you, I too often had to politely break in.