Founder cheat sheet: 15 tips for nailing that pitch

PR, marketing, sales, design, and investing experts share their insights on how to make your pitch truly effective through great storytelling.

Last week, for our The Art of the Effective Pitch and Launch panel, we at Wunderdogs brought together an incredibly diverse panel of speakers. Each one of them had very distinctive expertise in creating pitches that win the room:

Jessica Schaefer: PR expert, founder and CEO of Bevel PR, a NYC-based financial public relations company. Previously, Jessica served as VP of Corporate Communications at Point 72 Ventures.

Chris Laughlin: Pitch design lead @ First Round Capital, Chris supports startups’ fundraising activities with best-in-class pitch decks. Chris also is a co-founder of a pitch agency 4th&King.

Joe Vasquez: Venture investor and startup advisor also serving as a venture partner for Revel Partners. Joe is a co-director of Runway accelerator (acquired) and early co-founder of StartX, Stanford University accelerator.

Christian Averill: Marketing expert, part of the team that revamped the story of BitTorrent, currently leading a boutique creative unit Quality Produce, advising to companies like Mozilla & Kraken as well as supporting cannabis industry.

Alli McKee: CEO and founder of Stick — a software platform for idea visualization, as well as social influencer in sales and marketing field. Alli is 2x founder, business designer and Stanford MBA alumni.

Moderated by Daria Gonzalez: Founder & CEO of Wunderdogs, an agency on a mission to transform amazing underdogs into big dogs. Daria is a former early stage investor @ GVA.Capital and Stanford MBA’16.

Based on their insights we’ve compiled a list of 15 tips for anyone who has a pitch coming up:

Drafting your story:

1. Build your story around four essential parts of an effective pitch: change, pain, gain and proof

Change: What has changed in the world? Why does this have to happen now?

Pain & Gain: What is the pain that you’re alleviating? Not the “you’ll move faster, you’ll sell more” — show how painful today actually is, because a lot of people accept that as the status quo. Next, map those pain points to your gain points and show your fit.

Proof: Whether that’s traction or customers, or your team’s experience — it is important to show proof in the most authentic and compelling way for your business.

2. Make sure your narrative is clear

One of the most popular types of feedback from VC’s is “I don’t even know what you do and I’m 10 slides in”.

3. Don’t forget big-picture thinking

Your vision and mission have to be inspiring and motivating. Something that will grow 5x, 10x, 30x + returns to a VC — investors are looking for a billion dollar asset, not a lifestyle business. It’s incredible how many founders forget about this. Investors are here to view you as teammates, to become part of your company, so sell them on your big vision.

Designing your deck:

4. Don’t underestimate the value of visual appeal

Chet Holmes, the author of “The ultimate sales machine”, a classic sales book, said “If you ignore the power of incorporating a visual component into your sales and marketing process, you may as well deliver it in a closet.” If you can translate your idea into a simple, clear visual, this really can make your idea implant in people’s brains.

5 …But keep in mind that content is king

It’s relatively easy to have something that looks amazing — make sure that the design serves your purpose. If you can’t work out a good design for your pitch, then you’re better off just having a conversation. And sometimes that’s the design. The beauty of a really good design is that it’s not getting in the way.

6. Find your balance

Spending $50K on branding and pitch deck design for your pre-seed round reflects poorly on your financial judgment — and investors will notice it. However, everything depends on the use case. For example, if you’re going direct-to-consumer, brand matters a lot — if you’re a series A and beyond, you should be investing in your brand heavily — we’ve seen the success of so many design-driven brands lately.

Before the Pitch:

7. Rehearse

Rehearsal is vitally important when it comes to speaking with conviction. ou have to paint a clear picture for the person you are talking to in so that the dominoes in her head fall the way you see them falling. You are building a dance and you are not going to do that by reading of the slide deck.

8. Research

Do your homework on the person you are pitching to. Some of these things might seem obvious, but it’s often left behind because you’re so busy and freaking out about all the other aspects of the pitch. You might learn something about the person you’re in the room with that’s going to change your whole approach.

9. Have your elevator pitch ready

The key thing to do when in the room is to understand that you’re judged within about 15 seconds — whether that’s a VC or even a job interview, or a new business pitch. You’ve got about that much amount of time to convince this person that you belong in that room and chances are they’re gonna judge you on your creativity. Is this someone who’s going to bring a good idea to me and can I imagine myself working with them? You’ve gotta have your elevator pitch down. You’ll have to leave the slides behind for a minute when you first step into the room. At first, you need to make things obvious: here’s why I’m here, here’s why it’s going to be good to work together, here’s the problem I’m going to fix.

During the Pitch

10. Practice small talk

Creating a relationship while you are setting up your presentation is really powerful and often undervalued.

11. Listen

In the Sales world, there is an idea of a discovery call, which is your intro call with a client. The more your prospect speaks, the more likely statistically you are to close that deal. This is not about “me pitching my solution” — it’s the more information you can get out of them to make it their pitch, the more you’re co-creating and collaborating with them rather than dumping something on their desk.

12. Read the room

Be aware of the person you are talking to: of their feelings, emotions, body language. Have a conversation with them as opposed to being directive and top down. Being ready to pivot at any point in time is important — you will see lots of body language if they’re not interested, so move the fuck on, change the topic — and always be prepared to do so.

13. Be honest

If you do not have an immediate answer, tell me about it. Otherwise, they will notice you are making shit up, rest assured they’ve seen it all before. Honesty builds great bridges.

14. Let them co-create

Leave some ideas a little bit open-ended on purpose: investors have to be interested in what you’re talking about. And if you can make them part of your brainstorm, if they start co-creating with you, there’s a good chance that 1) they’re going to remember you, 2) they will see you as someone they could work with.

After the Pitch

15. Follow up wisely

Winning the post-pitch goes back to your pre-pitch exercises: what story are you trying to tell? What did you read in the room that would be interesting to bring back to that person as a follow up asset? Sometimes it is sending them something that shows, “hey, I was paying attention, I know who you are”. In other cases, it’s picking up on things that they thought you were deficient in and making sure your cancel that question mark out and say, no, we are very efficient in that.

P.S.: Agency vs DIY:

Being able to pitch effectively is one of the prerequisites for being a good CEO. On the other hand, there’s absolutely no expectation that a Founder is also an exceptional designer or a competent marketer.hen the time is right, you can get a lot of leverage from working with an agency — here’s when:

  • When getting the customer’s perspective on your product is of value and getting to see your brand from the market’s perspective rather than your own is crucial for success.
  • If you come from deep tech background and did not have much schooling on how to pitch effectively — certain founders can get a lot of benefit from working with an agency as it relates to coaching as well.
  • When you’re a Founder who can’t design a simple PowerPoint, be aware that badly designed slides reflect poorly on you, for the most part. You’re better off having nothing and just saying, “Hey, I’m going to talk, I’m going to tell you what’s happening” than showing terrible slides to people who don’t even know you. Bring in someone who can help.
  • If you do not have 50–60 hours of your time to put into drafting your pitch.

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