With the thousand and one guides available on how to pitch to investors, it can be hard for a startup founder to know where to begin. You have just a few minutes to present your product, market fit, revenue model, and team. As someone who has written (and rewritten) pitches for startups, I’ve got some strong opinions on the art form. I thought it might be helpful to provide what most guides don’t - some concrete examples. Recently, Healthbox's Innovation Day featured nine of Boston’s most promising healthcare ventures that had a lot of above-average presentations, and a few downright outstanding ones. The following five tricks, all gleaned from that event, should provide some inspiration as you fine-tune your pitch.
1. Have a Big Problem
Any writing guide on Earth will tell you to grab your audience’s attention with a strong opening hook - but what does that mean for a pitchman? It’s not small talk or jokes that get people engaged. It’s a problem.
Every pitch should start with a description of the problem, before getting into the solution (you!). Now, this can be a lengthy and fact-filled explanation, but it needs one breakthrough moment. I like to think of this as the “moment of recognition.” You need an image or a phrase that makes your audience suddenly recognize the problem - not in the abstract, but in concrete reality.
At our Healthbox event, the standout moment of recognition came during Scott Hebert’s fantastic pitch for Theravid. Scott had been talking in the abstract for a bit about the lack of patient engagement with physical therapy. He had rattled off statistics about the cost of patients who don’t complete their course of care. Then, all of a sudden, this image popped up on his deck.
It’s an image feared by absolutely anyone who’s ever visited a physical therapist (myself included), and it got a massive response from the audience. That was the moment in which the problem - physical therapy patient disengagement - became something investors wanted to solve.
2. Know all your players
For most companies, it’s not enough to show that you can solve the need of one group. That’s like trying to describe a chessboard and only mentioning the knights.
Let’s take LeanWagon as an example here. We offer health coaching packages to mid-sized companies. This means that to succeed, we need end users (employees), customers (employers), channel partners (benefits brokers), and talent (health coaches). We need to address all four of these groups in our pitch, and demonstrate that our company benefits each of them. A well-crafted pitch reassures investors that you’ve taken every single piece on the board into account.
Cofounder Dustin Haines presents LeanWagon’s health coaching platform.
3. It’s a business, not just a technology
Let’s be clear here: product pitches are great, but you’re not giving one. Here is everything people need to know about your product at this point: a) Does it solve a need? b) Can it make money?
Overly technical demos aren’t just unnecessary; they can actually be a negative from an investor’s perspective. That’s because trying to pitch your startup on its technology alone tells investors that you don’t care if the market wants your product. Why shouldn’t they want it - look how well it works! Investors have seen that inflexible mindset in a thousand failed tech startups, and they despise it.
So show off your product, sure. Show investors what it is and how it works in a brief walkthrough. But what investors want to see, more than anything else, is that your team gets it. An in-depth explanation of your software specifications shows the exact opposite.
The distinction between a tech pitch and an investor pitch can be tough to grasp, so I’ll give another example. Andrew Sartori, founder of Casagem, presented his homecare documentation platform in terms of what it means to its users. His simple list of front-end features, such as a barcode scanner and a native GPS app, showed that there was tangible value to customers.
Andrew Sartori presents Casagem’s mobile platform.
4. Don’t be coy - say what you want
So you’ve gotten investors thinking about the problem. You’ve clarified your business model and your market position. You’ve gone over your product value, without getting into its features. Now you need to wrap it up. Lots of pitches treat the ending as a throwaway, but make no mistake: the best pitches end on a bold and certain note. They end with the audience picturing your glorious future. That means a well-defined ask. State precisely what you’ll be doing in a given period of time, and how much money you need to do it well.
Already met your fundraising goals for the next 12 months? Only pitching for leads? Doesn’t matter; ask anyway. Asking for a specific amount creates a sense of urgency - a sense that this opportunity has an expiration date. That’s infomercial strategy, sure, but it works. More importantly, it shows investors that you have a concrete plan for your future.
5. Keep all eyes on you
Now that we’ve gone through the steps of a pitch narrative, beginning to end, it’s time to reflect on the bigger picture: your presentation itself. As a presenter, your visual aids can be your biggest help - or your biggest distractor. A cluttered slide deck keeps investors reading bullet points rather than listening to your points. And if they don’t listen to you, you don’t make an impression. End of story.
The keyword for pitch deck design is simplicity. You want your audience focused on your slides only as long as it takes to process them. That means one piece of information per slide, in simple words. Pair that with a visually consistent series of images, and you’ll emphasize what you’re saying, not detract from it.
Josh Fotheringham, founder of Caring in Place, is an example of an entrepreneur who doesn’t underestimate the importance of design. When he pitches to investors, his deck has a clear narrative flow that helps them through the stages of his presentation, without pulling their eyes away from him. He does this with simple, clean and customized images.
Caring in Place’s deck shows their market opportunity in just seven words.
So if you’ve been following up until now, you should have a strong investor narrative and a well-designed deck. But even with a great script and great slides, you’re still not all the way there! I chose the companies showcased at Healthbox Innovation Day because they had been pitching to investors for months. They were well-rehearsed and had gotten feedback on every angle. Presentation is like any skill - it takes constant practice. Good luck and happy pitching!
Kayla Warter is a Content Manager at LeanWagon. You find more content from Kayla on the LeanWagon blog located here. You can also follow LeanWagon on Twitter (@LeanWagon) by clicking here.