Whether you’re on stage at Demo Day or trying to convince the first customer to sign up, continually mastering your startup pitch should be one of your top priorities as a founder.
Before they give you money, VCs want to know that you’ve not only created something great, but that you’ve got the competence, foresight, and flexibility to build your big idea into an actual game changer. Meanwhile, potential users want to know that you’re not just another app but actually have their best interests in mind.
Whether you’re looking for funding, users, or both, you have to sell people with your startup pitch. And who better to ask for advice than the hosts of the new podcast The Pitch?
Josh Muccio and Sheel Mohnot started The Pitch podcast in June. On each bi-weekly episode, startup founders pitch their product to a network of angel investors. In addition to this project, Muccio hosts The Daily Hunt podcast and Mohnot is an angel investor.
In a recent interview, they gave us some invaluable insight about the best and worst startup pitch they’ve heard and how to perfect yours.
What’s the most non-conventional startup pitch you’ve heard?
Mohnot: It’s actually one of my own. We were pitching my startup FeeFighters at a FinTech conference in New York full of stodgy people. We wrote a pretty funny script that involved magic, Samuel L. Jackson, and a little bit of swearing, and it went over really well. The crowd loved us and we won “Best of Show” at the conference.
This proved to me that humans are humans, and everyone loves humor and excitement. You can present something as boring as a new payment gateway/processor via humor. You can see the video here.
Whether your audience is investors or potential customers, accelerators like Highway1 are a great resource for helping you craft your startup pitch into an engaging story.
What’s the most important part of the startup pitch?
Muccio: At the seed stage, it’s hard to really get a sense for a company. So, there are three things that I think drive investments:
- Traction: If you have traction, that trumps everything.
- Team is crucial: Prove to me that you are smart and determined to win.
- Tell a story: If you built this product to solve a problem you were having, then tell that story in a compelling way. If you’re building it for a target audience other than yourself, then tell the story of one of your first customers. The story should clearly communicate the problem you are solving and the vision you have for the future. Then you can talk about how you solve this problem better than anyone else.
YC partner Michael Seibel breaks this down in his own format for a 30-second and 2-minute startup pitch.
What are the first questions VCs ask after a startup pitch?
- What makes you the right team to do this?
- What do you know about this industry/space that others don’t?
- What is the competitive landscape like?
If you can cover these questions in your pitch itself, that’s great. If not, be prepared to answer them clearly, confidently, and concisely.
What’s the most common mistake founders make in their startup pitch?
Muccio: Suicidal mistake: not clearly and concisely telling me what the product is. Practically speaking, founders tend to bring feature bloat into their pitches as well. Only talk about the most critical, differentiating features of your product. Don’t confuse your audience with an overabundance of features you’re working on.
Mohnot: I’ve been to a lot of Demo Days where, after listening to the pitch, I still had no idea what the company did. Huge mistake. It happens every time: I have to go to their website to figure out what they do. If you only have three minutes to pitch, you better damn well start with a concise explanation of what it is that you do.
Angel investor Ron Conway says you should be able to sum up your product in one sentence. Whether pitching to a VC or a potential user, make sure you get that sentence out so people know exactly what you do.
Is there a certain type of demeanor or personality that you find is most successful in startup pitches?
Mohnot: People who just know their shit better than anyone. They are rare to find, but every 50 pitches or so you find someone like that. The one that comes to mind is Ryan Petersen from Flexport. His company is a shipping/logistics company that is crushing it.
When he was pitching, I remember thinking “Holy shit this guy is smart, determined, and he knows way more about this industry than anyone else.” Here’s a video of him at Startup School, six months before he actually raised money (and before he went through YC). You can see what I mean.
The more you know about your business and your industry, the more you peel away at what Marc Andreessen calls the onion theory risk.
What’s the best way to prepare for your startup pitch?
Mohnot: Practice. Practice. Practice.
When I was pitching for my own startups, I could see myself getting better over time, in almost every way. Confidence, knowing the answers to questions, refining the deck, etc.
You can get some deck inspiration from the best of the best over at Pitchenvy.
In each episode of The Pitch, you’ll hear a new startup pitch and an update from previous companies that have been featured on the show. You can listen to the latest episode here.
Also, if you like hearing about startups through your headphones, check out the StartUp podcast created by Alex Blumberg. It’s already taught us a lot!