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  • Maarten Albarda

Lessons Learned From Start-Up Pitches

Have you ever reviewed a start-up pitch to a VC or angel investor? I have been lucky enough to have seen a few, which I think reveal some tips that can help marketing presentations enormously, whether they are agency briefings or annual marketing plans.

A few disclaimers. There are as many schools of thought on the “best” way to pitch to investors as there are start-ups in Silicon Valley (and beyond). In fact, quite a few times I have seen pitches, or helped put together pitches, that received great responses but failed to land the investment. So take this as it is intended: observations from the start-up pitch trenches that may be of help in your trenches.


The first thing that makes start-up pitches usually very focused is that they have a clearly articulated objective: We are here to get your money. We want you to join our board through your wallet. A focused presentation with a clear goal sharpens the deck.

Two: The pitch presentation’s goal is to sell you the idea behind the business. Again, brevity and focus are helpful here. If you can articulate your “problem/solution” as clearly and succinctly as some start-ups can, you’d probably kill about 75 slides in your average deck. Brands too often are promising to address the retail challenges AND the pricing challenges AND consumer promise (intrinsics) AND consumer benefits (extrinsics) AND launch the new flavor or line extension as well.


Three: The benefits of the outcome also require clear articulation. “If you buy in (as an investor) we aim to deliver XYC return in ABC months/years.” This might be one of the most important elements that marketers should consider.


It is highly likely that you are in the middle of preparing or presenting your annual budget and plan. Can you promise a return to your investors (CMO, CFO, board, etc.)? I bet that if you could deliver a realistic return, the chances of approval or at least a fruitful budget negotiation are much higher than if you merely promised to solve everything and do so in the next 12 months with no budget increase.


Four: Be creative. If you’ve ever watched “Shark Tank,” you will have seen pitches that were delivered with a product demo of some sort. While some are corny and/or terrible, others nail it perfectly. I dare you to go beyond the powerpoint and wear that giant soup-can suit. Deliver your presentation in a supermarket or store. Take the deciders out of the conference room and into the consumer’s environment.


So where do start-up pitches sometimes fall short? First on my list is unrealistic expectations, which is a lesson marketers in their annual plans or agency briefings can take to heart as well.


Second is no clear understanding of target audiences. If marketers are sometimes guilty of defining their target audiences too broadly, some start-ups just talk about “users” without any definition of who they are, or where and how to get them.


But most important, and fantastically relevant to marketing briefings or plans, is presenting a poorly thought-out product or service. Funding is most often denied because the investors fail to see the same rosy horizon as the start up does.


Use these ideas at your own discretion. And only contact me if you landed that budget increase you wanted!

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