Why knowing your business is essential when seeking investment

This week, Kehlan examines what it really takes to create a good business pitch and why knowing your business is so important when looking for investment.   

I recently had the pleasure of being on the road travelling around Ireland to hear start-ups pitch their business for the UPRISE start-up festival happening at the end of October.

Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Cork were the backdrops to a pretty interesting few days.

In that time, it was interesting to hear 20 different pitches and what they brought to the table. When you’re pitching your business you need to remember a few things.

If you have a product, bring the product. Over the days of pitching it became clear that if your business is a physical product, you need to bring it in.

A number of companies, including food producers, didn’t bring their product to show to judges. Having the physical product allows you sell without selling. If people can touch it or taste it to get a better understanding of what it’s all about, then use it.

If you ever watch an episode of Dragons’ Den you’ll see people arriving with all sorts of things to show the judges. The better people understand the product, the better they’ll understand the pitch.

Always presume the tech doesn’t work. So many people get flabbergasted and muddled up when their pitch slides stop working or are slow to change because of the clicker in their hand. Always presume that the slide deck doesn’t work.

Practise your pitch with and without the slides. If the deck malfunctions it shouldn’t faze you. The winner in Galway, Dash, got caught in traffic and arrived just as the last pitch was being heard.

With no time to sort out slides he just stood up and went for it. Dash won the Galway section of the competition. When you know what you want to say you shouldn’t be relying solely on the slides to remind you. Know what you want to say and say it.

Think like an investor. While many start-ups will enter pitch competitions with prize money involved, many forget that investors may well be in the audience too. There is this cute and cuddly idea that investors want to help you change the world. But the reality is that most are in it to make money.

That means they are looking for where you are going to make money. Telling people that you want a slice of a billion euro market isn’t telling people how you make money.

How will you generate money and what will be your sales funnel? Many pitches contain a look at the market they are trying to break into, but rarely explain how they are going to break into it. Put yourself into the mind of someone who wants to invest in your company and understand how they are going to get a good return on that investment.

Judges are there to judge. Leaving a lasting impression of your business on a few people who heard you talk for just three minutes can be hard. Judges are looking for answers to questions which your pitch has posed.

That means you will face difficult questions. If you don’t know the answer just admit it. Talking nonsense, or worse still, staying silent is transparent. Judges are people too, so there will be easy-going ones and not so easy-going ones.

That is part of the process of learning how to make the right pitch. Do your research on the judges too. Find out who they are, their background and if there is something in your pitch that can speak to them. Like any judging process, it’s what speaks to them that will decide the outcome.

There are no secrets. There are no secrets in business anymore. You can’t tell judges that the key element of your business is a secret which you can’t divulge. If you can’t disclose the full details of your company then, clearly, you shouldn’t be pitching.

When you have everything tied up with patents and the like, then by all means come and pitch. But judges won’t want to be left wondering about that really important piece of information that you can’t share with them.

Again, look at it from an investor’s point of view. If you can’t come out from the beginning and define how your product is different from the competition then it can’t be the right time for you to do the pitch.

What will you do with the money? I’ve seen a lot of start-up pitches and one of the real bugbears of mine is not hearing what the money will bring to the company. Winning is important of course, but what you do with the cash is even more so.

Whether it’s €1,000 or €1m you must define why the money is important for your company to grow. This is, after all, an investment so define how the investment will work for you. Too often, pitches end with none of this given. Judges shouldn’t need to ask what you’re going to do with the money. You should already know.

Watch your time. You are usually timed between three and five minutes for pitches. That may seem a short amount of time but there are reasons for it. The event doesn’t want to go on forever so that’s usually a given.

However, it’s also about the customer. If you can’t explain clearly and concisely your business in a few short minutes, how can you expect customers to grasp what you’re doing? I often ask start-ups to explain what they do inside 15 seconds. I get looked at as if I just asked if I could take away their Christmas dinner. You need to clearly define what you do in short amounts of time. Investors are usually very busy people.

If you get a chance to pitch to one you will have a very short amount of time. Practise, practise, practise and when you have practised, do it again. You have a time limit so make sure that you get the important points across in that time. To an investor, time is money.

Team is just as important as product. When investors invest or companies acquire, the team behind the business is often a very important part of the components to the ongoing success of the start-up.

Spend a little time on explaining why your team is the best one to make this investment happen. I have interviewed many businesses for this column after they have been acquired by a bigger company or have got a large funding series agreed. They always talk about how important the team was in getting the right result.

Whether you’re pitching in a competition or for investment make sure that you are prepared. Practise and make sure that the pitch works for Always put yourself in the listener’s shoes.

You may know things about your company that doesn’t appear in the pitch. If you were listening to you, would you give yourself the money? The idea is that there is somebody on the panel or in the audience who has money to invest. You need to give them the reasons to invest in you and your start-up business.


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