Get Ready to Pitch

4 tips for impressing investors

Back Web Only Mar 26, 2015 By MaryJayne Zemer

Once you’ve invented the best thing since wearable technology, you’ll probably want to fund it. If you’re looking for investors to catapult your next-gen genius, you’ll need to know what investors want and how they decide where to put their money.

To impress the pockets out of investors, you’ll need to:

Put good people behind the project. Guy Kawasaki is a startup legend and the author of “The Art of the Start” (which, if you haven’t read yet, you probably should). Ask Kawasaki about why your startup’s leadership team matters and he’ll tell you that expertise “is the sum total of what your founders can do.”

More often than not, whether you sink or sail depends less on the viability of the idea itself and more on who it is that’s driving the boat. Does your team have grit? Are they resilient? Do they have the passion and motivation to get the job done? Are they design-thinkers?

The Y Combinator, based in Mountain View, has provided seed funding to more than 800 startups since 2005 and the notches in its funding belt include organizations like Dropbox, reddit, Scribd and Airbnb. From its application process to its approach to investing and incubation, the Y Combinator is heavily focused on the people behind the project. “The people in your group are what matter most to us,” explains the funding application. “We look for brains, motivation, and a sense of design. Experience is helpful but not critical. Your idea is important too, but mainly as evidence that you can have good ideas.”

At the end of the day, leadership’s competence is the No. 1 predictor of a startup’s success. If you’re a startup, your team is your greatest asset.

Grab them out of the gate. How long do you usually spend vacillating between two products in the grocery store? Or two seemingly similar apps? One minute? A few seconds? That’s about how long you have to impress an investor.

Investors spend an enormous amount of time determining which startups are a smart investment and which aren’t. That means investors read thousands of applications and listen to hundred of pitches, and it makes them a tough crowd to impress. But if you can impress them, you probably have what it takes to impress your customers. And if you can impress your customers, you’ll likely produce a solid return on investment. Ergo, you’re going to have to impress a tough crowd, and you don’t have a lot of time to do it.

If the Y Combinator receives 1,000 applications each day and has 10 days to read them, each partner will end up reading 100 applications per day. If your’s isn’t overwhelmingly more convincing than the competition, it probably doesn’t have much of a chance. The Y Combinator recommends you make your entire pitch exceptionally clear and concise: “Whatever you have to say, give it to us right in the first sentence, in the simplest possible terms.” If you can’t impress them right out of the gate, they can’t trust you’ll impress your customer out of the gate either.

Do your research. Impressing an investor is a little like getting something approved by the FDA: They’re going to evaluate the research you present to make the case for your product. If you can’t pitch it, they’re going to assume you probably can’t own it, drive it or sell it. They want to see that you’ve done your due diligence, understand your customer, know your market and have vetted this idea thoroughly.

It’s on you to prove that this is a viable investment. When you’ve done your homework, you make it a whole lot easier for them to say yes.

Pick the right homebase. If you’re looking to start a career in film, you’ll probably end up in Hollywood. If you want to kickstart a career in wine, you’ll likely explore opportunities in Napa. And according to Kirk Uhler, CEO at the Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance, it wasn’t so long ago that tech investors wanted your new tech startup to be headquartered in Silicon Valley, to safeguard their investment.

Investors love clusters. But their blind faith in them may be a thing of the past. The cost of doing business in Silicon Valley has been rising even faster than the cost of rent, and rent has been increasing at an average rate of $390 a month since 2012. The tech boom has made the cost of doing business in the Bay increasingly difficult for bootstrapped ventures looking to manage for cash flow.

“Their investment dollars go farther here in Sacramento” explains Uhler, “and local success breeds local success, which is why we’re seeing such an increase in investor activity in Sacramento.”

The tech clusters developing in Sacramento have been shaking up the traditional model of moving to the source of funding. If you’re investing in agricultural, sustainable technology and/or medical technology, then Sacramento is the new place to be. As the cost of doing business impacts startups around the Bay, investors are becoming increasingly interested in why you’re founding where you are and what makes your region of choice a viable option.

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