The Perfect Pitch – How to Avoid Those Painful Pitfalls (Part I)

“We made too many wrong mistakes” – quote from Yogi Berra

I have seen hundreds of “decks” and heard as many pitches and have also studied others’ guidelines on how to hone a pitch.  Unfortunately, I have also seen loads of mistakes so I thought I would offer my approach to the pitch process.  In doing so, I have unashamedly borrowed from many others and added my own thoughts to hopefully provide guidance to help you avoid typical missteps.

First, please keep in mind it is the substance of the content that really trumps presentation techniques.  As the old saying goes, putting ‘lipstick on the pig” does not really win the day.  The focus of this blog is the presentation methods and it will be in two parts.  The first part will consist of some general pitch deck guidelines as well as some helpful presentation hints.  The second part will contain “the” 15 slides you need for your perfect pitch.  While some pieces of this have been covered in prior blogs, I thought it best to consolidate some thoughts here.

When it comes to some general pitch deck guidelines, you may want to consider the following:

  1. Keep the goal of a pitch in mind – it is a succinct overview of “the problem” and your solution with the goal of having investors wanting to know more. It is not to close a funding.
  2. Watch your colors – light blue text on dark blue background is hard to read; clear trumps cute
  3. Less is more – bullet points and concise ideas (not sentences) rule and limit to 5 – 6 lines per page
  4. Avoid acronyms – everyone is not as knowledgeable as you are
  5. Slides should be bold and clear and work in a larger room
  6. Any content (facts) should be sourced

Of course, if you are successful in obtaining the “all important” meeting, after confirming all the logistics including the amount of time you have, you may want to consider these helpful presentation hints:

  1. Limit to one presenter – the person who best articulates your vision is my choice
  2. Maintain good energy and passion without coming across as being on something
  3. Relax – you are probably more knowledgeable about your company than others in the room
  4. Stay on point and on time – you want them to see the whole “show.” Practice using a timed presentation tool.
  1. Avoid grandiose statements – especially knocking off Facebook or the multibillion dollar market leader.
  2. Keep it simple – try the pitch on intelligent friends first
  3. Practice – they do not expect a finished Broadway show but will kill a dress rehearsal. Pitch advisors and ask them to cut it apart
  4. Spend some time explaining how you will overcome the toughest challenges
  5. Avoid exit strategy discussions – smart investors can draw their own conclusions
  6. Encourage questions – in the end – it should probably be 60% you talking and 40% you listening

Armed with these presentation ideas, all you need is a framework for your deck to kill it. How do you know you will cover all the relevant points?  For that answer, please see Part II of this blog.

Non-Voting Shares – An Elegant Solution

Clark Griswold, Sr.: “It’s a beaut, Clark; it’s a beaut” – dialogue from Christmas Vacation

I am often confronted with a somewhat difficult ownership issue that can usually be addressed by what is a relatively straightforward solution; namely the proper use of non-voting shares in a succession plan.  I am surprised that I do not see this technique more often and I have come to believe that it is somewhat misunderstood, so I thought it might be worthwhile to offer some clarification.

My history with this issue started with a consultation I had a number of years ago with a very frustrated sibling (Brother A.)  His father had owned 100% of their company and although he consulted with others during his business life, all knew Dad was in charge and he made all the tough calls.  Unfortunately, the father had passed away a year earlier and wanting to treat his two sons fairly, he left half the company to “A” and half to the other sibling (Brother B).  Unfortunately, “B” had never been involved in the business while “A” had been there for 20 years and had been through a pretty decent succession planning process.  So, what was the issue?  Well, “B” started to exercise his new found rights as a 50% shareholder creating confusion and turmoil in the organization which started to manifest itself in quality issues, turnover of key personnel and declining profitability. “A” believed that without addressing this issue, the Company would get into deep trouble.

So, I undertook a small consulting project to address this and quickly realized that “B” felt his role was uncertain and undefined, but thought he was doing what was right to contribute his expertise as a half owner.  While “B” was perfectly content with his economic interest, he felt he should contribute to help the business he owned with “A” but he just did not know how.  We objectively considered the skill sets required to run the business and “B” realized his were not a match.  He did not understand what his role should be and we established some corporate governance that defined the roles of “A” and “B”.  We also (with the help of legal counsel) outlined how both could maintain their economic interest while allowing the business to carry on.  So, in the end, we converted “B’s” shares to non-voting and all turned out well.
The message here is that one should consider using non-voting shares anytime there is going to be ownership change (other than by investment) resulting in the transfer of ownership to a party not actively involved in the business.  This allows the economic distribution goals to be met while allowing the “management” of the business to carry on.  Please keep in mind that one always has to consider the corporate governance/control aspects of stock ownership when reaching conclusions here.  It would have been a beaut to have had the non-voting technique in place to avoid some of the angst for both of these brothers.