Don’t Pitch in the Passive Voice

By Joseph Flaherty

Almost any pitch is better when the founder and product are at the story’s center rather than waiting to be activated around slide eight.

Here are three tips on turning a pro forma checklist into a page-turning narrative:

Put a picture of your product on your cover slide. Show that you’ve got something from the start. Don’t tell VCs about why existing products are bad; show why yours is extraordinary!

Unless your startup is serving some incredibly niche market. I assure you, most VCs know that dev tools are a lucrative business, eSports are really popular, and millennials have different habits that need addressing. Show don’t tell.

It’s much more impressive to mention that you built a feature to address a massive unmet need than to cite it in the abstract.

Screenshots > Stats about your market gleaned from Google.

Objective info or 3rd party validation is helpful if you have it, but either is still more powerful when presented in product form. You aren’t writing a term paper. You’re trying to take on some of the most competitive companies in the world — act like it!

Some VCs like to start with the team slide. Others are fine holding it to the end.

My advice is to pepper your story throughout the pitch. Your past experiences in some way shape every decision you’re making, so make these choices legible!

For instance, if you can say things like:

“This feature was influenced by a key insight I had at Stripe.”

Or:

“My family has been in this business for three generations, and one thing other entrepreneurs don’t appreciate is…”

You will earn instant credibility.

You don’t have to cover everything in your pitch. Leaving investors with some questions is okay, especially if you can answer them enthusiastically with appendix slides.

Five of the most powerful words you can say in a pitch are, “I’m so glad you asked!”

Many startup pitches feel like book reports:

Big, underserved market.

Existing solutions are bad.

We can fix it.

The best startup pitches feel like spy novels — “We’ve got someone on the inside, they’ve given us secret info, and we need to act *now* to save the world.”

There should be a propulsive narrative at the core of your pitch. As Eric Paley has noted, your startup’s success should *feel* inevitable by the end of a pitch.

VC-backed startups are a vibes-heavy business.

Plenty of startups can tick all the boxes, but where the whole feels less than the sum of its parts. Storytelling is a soft skill, but it can make all the difference, particularly in challenging markets.

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