Tips for Presenting Ideas to Potential Investors
Posted by Trevor on 23 July 2013 | 7 Comments
Tips for Presenting to Potential Investors
Of the 27.5 million businesses in the United States, 20 million are nonemployers. The word nonemployer does not exist in any dictionary, but it is a word the Census Bureau uses to describe any business that pays federal taxes but does not have any employees apart from the founders or owner.
At one time most of these companies would have been mom & pop style service providers, but with the worldwide Interweb bringing the globe to everyone’s front door the word nonemployer crosses all industries and includes much larger companies.
Every year 2 million new nonemployers join the party, and every year… you know what is coming next… 2 million nonemployers leave the party. Almost everyone who drinks up and goes home early does so for the same reason someone might leave a real party early… they run out of cash.
I would rather own 10% of a $25 million business than 100% of nothing, so I am a proponent of small companies raising extra cash from external sources in exchange for some type of ownership. That could be a simple bank loan, a business grant, an Angel investor (single private source and don’t be fooled by the name because they can be devils in disguise), or Venture Capital (MBAs playing roulette with the hard earned gains of high net worth individuals).
Regardless of the source of money, investors (and I can say this because now I am one) make a motley crew of personalities, but have one thing in common; Investors have the attention spans of fleas. Imagine a children’s classroom and every child has the worst symptoms of ADHD. Think about what a nightmare it would be trying to present a business plan in that situation, and then as you start to speak you realize that not only do they have attention deficit issues but they appear to be deaf and blind as well and some have Tourette’s syndrome and their short-term memories have been destroyed by too much caffeine. That would reflect your average investor gathering.
When you go to raise money from an external source you have to take everything you have learned about effective presentation skills… and trash it. I learned this the hard way because I had grown up in a career that prized effective presentation talent. I could design the slickest slideshows of the time, and I knew all the golden rules of alternate color lines, the power of pictures over words, and the importance of first impressions. I remember it took me several weeks to create my first killer presentation for investors, and I practiced it until I was word perfect. At the appointed hour I got no further than the cover slide of my company logo before a barrage of grumpy voices buried me under a hail of questions. I had answers to all their questions, some of which were on slide 23 and 38 if only they would listen to the presentation. In that meeting I showed no other slides and the presentation descended into chaos.
It took me a year and countless such meetings before I finally got the secret to making an impression on an investor’s mind, and only then did I also start to get offers.
Here are my rules, and like most of my business tips they probably differ from what so-called experts might tell you. I am, however, in the trenches, not teaching a college class. I am someone who can invest, not a half-starving management consultant making money from online courses or blogs.
- No more than five slides or a five minute video ever, and even that many is risking that some of the investor brains in the room will explode from the strain of trying to stay on track. It can be messy, and this game is not for the fainthearted. Keep in mind that no one in the room will make a decision based on a presentation. If they are intrigued by the idea, they’ll want to know more. They will ask for more detail. They may interrogate you, which is what you want. They may propose bringing in an expert in your area of the business as a follow up (if they don’t suggest that, then you should). They will want to perform due diligence, and it is then when decisions are made. Your objective is only to hook them. The biggest mistake I see is the presenter who wants to tell them everything there is to know, and more, about the business, the market, and the future. Resist doing so at all costs because the more you tell them at this presentation, the more reasons you give them to disqualify you and say no to a follow-up meeting. Your objective is purely to keep them intrigued.
- The investors will likely be connected to a lot of successful and sophisticated companies who have invested a small fortune on their image and branding. Even though they know you are starting out, and are strapped for cash, you cannot risk coming over as amateurish with a homemade presentation or video. Invest in original background format, professional editing, and innovative eye-catchers. Because you only have a handful of slides or a five-minute video, this becomes even more important.
- Hit them with the main message up front. Don’t waste their time with introductory slides, agendas, or personal information. They know who you are already. Hit them with a sharp message aimed at keeping their attention for the next thirty seconds. Slide one or the opening scene of a video is why you need their money and what you will use it for that creates a benefit FOR THEM. They are not interested in the benefit of the money for you. What is in it for them?
- Slide two; show them the money! Investors love numbers especially big ones. Numbers are candy to these agitated creatures. Feed them. Imagine they are infants, and all wriggling in their baby-grow suits with arms outstretched and mouths bawling for treats. Throw them a number. They usually get numbers, but struggle with concepts. Show them how their money translates into growth of sales, and return on investment.
- Next is the business plan. Just hit two or three bullets about how you will execute the plan, and what tactics you will use to turn their money into profit for them?
- Tell them BRIEFLY about you. What qualifies you to execute the plan better than anyone in history? That does not mean tell them your qualification, but tell them in a nutshell why you think you are qualified to spend their money wisely. Investors invest in either the horse (the product or service) or the jockey (the entrepreneur). There are thousands of horses around, but winning jockeys are prized. An investor can always find another ride for a top jockey.
- CLOSE THE SALE. As an investor, I will shut down my mind if you make a great presentation, but fail to attempt to close the sale. If you don’t try to get me to commit to something, then how can I believe that you will get customers to buy your product or service? I prefer what I call “action closes.” These are attempts to get the investor to commit to further action that keeps them interested in what you have to say or sell. Think of it like “If you eat your vegetables, I’ll let you have some ice cream.” For instance, “If you like the concept of my company, what I would like to do is set up a telephone conference with several potential customers who have said they would be interested in buying product X once I have the $2 million I need to manufacture it. That will give you the chance to quiz them about the market and why we offer advantages over the competition, hearing it from their perspective rather than mine. I know several who are available on Friday. What time works for you?” That is a solid action close.
It matters not what you say but how you say it. It is all about passion. I don’t care if you are a nervous presenter who mashes his or her words, forgets things because of anxiety, or trips over the carpet and breaks the video. I expect nerves, and I like nerves, because they are signs of really wanting something. I have been told by three investors in the last decade that they had no intention of getting involved in one of my companies until they met me and were sucked up in the passion I had for the idea. If you are not head over heels in love with your idea and yourself as the leader of it, then investors will not be either.
Finally… Don’t linger, thinking that just because everyone is friendly you can now hang out as buddies. More investments have been lost after the sales pitch than during. Usually the presenter relaxes, and then says something dumb which leads to more questions, and that leads to over-selling and disqualification. The secret to successful salesmanship in any situation is:
(1) Listen for a buying signal (a statement of interest or curiosity)
(2) Close on the buying signal with an action close
(3) Shut up
(4) Get out
(5) Follow up later