I had the opportunity to support Paul Singh on the first few months of his 2016 Tech Tour. I thought I knew what I was getting into at first; no different than any other event, conference or tour I’ve worked on for the last four years, as a consultant/freelancer focusing on event planning, publishing/marketing and sponsorships. Little did I know that I was about to get a real world lesson on the true difference between building a business and having a hobby. How I got involved in the tour and what I’m doing now, after it are both stories for another day.
Here’s are a few tips I learned first hand for startups who find themselves in the position to pitch an investor.
Show, Don’t Tell
If I heard Paul say this once, I heard him say it probably a thousand times. Show, Don’t Tell. No matter how nice you are, how well crafted of a pitch deck you might have or how amazing your idea is, it doesn’t mean shit if you don’t have anything to show. Now, don’t take this too literal to think that you need to have large, rapid gains in either customers or revenue (though that doesn’t hurt). Basically it all comes down to doing the work. Investors don’t want you to tell them your grand plans; they want to see what you are actually doing and if what you expect would happen really is. Even if the result isn’t what you thought it would be, a result is still better than a theory. A result is actionable.
Know Your Numbers
For the love of God, please know your numbers. If and when you get the chance to meet with an investor, even if you aren’t making an ask, the fastest way to lose any and all credibility or interest is to not know your numbers. Seriously. And if you don’t know a number, own it. You’ll only lose their respect if you try to give them a bullshit answer.
Own Your Shit
This is a great follow up to “Knowing Your Numbers”. As I shared above, the only way to make up for not knowing your numbers isn’t to fake it, but to own it. You need to be willing and able to own your shit: the good, the bad and the ugly. This means that if you are absolutely crushing it; don’t be shy about that fact! There was an entrepreneur that was afraid of publicly stating his recent successes because he was afraid of making some of the other startups look bad. There were few founders out there that really embraced how large their burn rate was or perhaps how lagging their sales were. That’s the fastest way to lose an investor’s interest. The select few who acknowledged the situation were often the only ones who had any worthwhile plan of action.
Listen to Learn; Not to Respond
So many of us have a bad habit of listening only with the intention to respond, not to actually comprehend what the person is communicating to us. I admit, this continues to be a tough lesson for me to learn and one that I’m still working on. I witnessed so many occasions where amazing advice and insight was offered to entrepreneurs that really needed it (and claimed they wanted it), only to be wasted on their closed minds. Don’t get me wrong. There were folks that sat there, took notes and asked follow up questions, but there were just as many who were defensive or worse, dismissive of what was being said.
Make the Ask
Ok, so not every one of the startups or entrepreneurs the Results Junkies team of investors and advisors met with were looking for money, but let’s be honest, most of them were. Some of these founders never made the ask. It was almost like that scene out of A Christmas Story when Ralphie blanks the minute he hops onto Santa’s lap. When you are prepping for a meeting, make sure you know what your ask is, have a firm enough understanding on valuations and are prepared to answer any of the questions that might get thrown your way. It’s better to ask then to run out of time and not get the chance. What’s the worst they can say? No?
They need You as much as You need Them
There’s a great book called The Obstacle is the Way inspired by Marcus Aurelius’ writings on stoicism and stories of when successful people failed or struggled. The story that spoke to me the most was how George Clooney changed his perspective when auditioning after getting passed up on role after role. He realized that casting directors needed actors as badly as actors needed a gig. The same goes to you, Mr. or Ms. Startup Founder. If you’ve got a good business and your numbers add up, take the perspective that investors should consider themselves lucky for getting the opportunity to invest in you, rather than you being lucky you get to pitch them. Don’t act desperate; Investors need good businesses to invest in, just as much as small businesses can use funding.