A bad pitch can be the death of your fundraising hopes, even if you have incredible traction and technology. Thankfully, this goes both ways. A great pitch can be all you need to close a fundraising round, even if you don’t have anything more than a slide deck. Here are the most common pitching errors and how to avoid them.
Poor Problem Explanation
Mistake #1: Burying the Problem — Don’t begin with an in-depth explanation of market dynamics or technology. Focus on the problem as early as possible in your pitch. Most investors get bored if they don’t understand why the product is needed. For example, Instacart’s first slide might say “The average family wastes 8 hours/month on grocery shopping”.
Mistake #2: Solving Multiple Problems — Focus on one problem during your pitch. Although most products have multiple use cases, it’s easy for investors to be confused or see your vision as unfocused if they perceive you as trying to solve too many problems at once. For example, Instacart should say “We help get families their groceries in an hour” not “Grocery logistics for retail stores and consumers”.
Mistake #3: Problem doesn’t seem Urgent — Don’t assume an investor believes current solutions are inadequate. Provide evidence that your potential customers are losing lots of time and money because of the problem and ideally highlight the terrible nature of existing solutions.
Mistake #1: Speaking too Fast — It’s hard to talk slowly when you’re nervous and many founders will rush through a presentation as a result. Train yourself to speak slowly, approximately half the speed of regular speech, so people can understand what you’re saying.
Mistake #2: Not knowing the Words — Forgetting what you’re supposed to say looks bad to investors as it demonstrates a lack of preparation. Practice at least 5x/day in the week leading up to any pitch, and it will become natural quickly.
Mistake #3: Strong Accent — If you have an accent, take practice sessions with people who haven’t heard you speak often, to get objective feedback. If an investor can’t understand what you’re saying, they’re unlikely to invest time finding out more.
Missing Product Highlights
Mistake #1: Not Explaining Competitive Advantage — You must highlight why customers choose your product over other options. Otherwise, investors assume someone can copy the product and win by undercutting you on price. Ideally, you should mention how you intend to maintain this advantage long term.
Mistake #2: No Evidence of Customer Satisfaction — If you’re pitching that customers like using your product more than alternatives, you’ll need evidence beyond pretty app screenshots. Show user engagement metrics, NPS scores, and customer quotes to prove your product is a better experience.
Mistake #3: No Business Model — No matter how early your stage, you need to mention how you plan to make money. If you’ve communicated with potential customers about your pricing, and they’ve agreed (in principle), those numbers should be reflected in your projections.
Mistake #1: Under-designed Deck — Humans are naturally programmed to prefer things that look pretty. If you don’t use a designer for your deck, it probably won’t look good and investors will have to overcome their initial, negative reaction before expressing interest.
Mistake #2: Over-designed Deck — Your deck has to look good but it can’t only look good. If your deck is illegible, investors will be distracted trying to understand each slide, rather than listening to you.
Too Much Detail
Mistake #1: Technology Deep Dive — In-depth technology explanations can get boring quickly. Give investors a high level overview of the underlying tech and let them ask the questions to dive deeper. For example, we need to know “Instacart’s navigation system enables 1-hour deliveries”, not that “Instacart’s in-depth understanding of city topology allows for a 14% reduction on inner-city travel times over Google Maps”.
Mistake #2: Highlighting Advisors — Don’t spend time discussing your advisors. Keep them on an appendix slide, but no need to verbally describe their backgrounds — it distracts from your explanation of the full-time team. Plus, investors know most advisors don’t spend a lot of time with a company.
Mistake #3: Reviewing Projections — You should prepare a projections slide but don’t review them in your initial pitch. They’re rarely exciting explanations and it’s better to wait until an investor expresses interest before talking them through a 2-year plan.
Pitching for your startup is a heavily pressurized situation, so it’s easy to make damaging mistakes. However, observing basic rules will prevent a bad pitch and give you the confidence to shine when it really matters.
This article is part of a series on Seed Fundraising.
1. When to Raise Money
2. How to Build a Deck
3. VCs vs. Seed Funds vs. Angels
4. How to Get a Meeting
5. How to Request an Introduction
6. How to Get Early Momentum
7. How to make a Good Pitch Great
8. The 5 Most Common Pitch Mistakes
9. Meeting Requirements
10. The Basics of Meetings
11. How to Handle an Angel Investor Meeting
12. Know these Numbers for your VC Meeting
13. 4 Investor Gotcha Questions
14. How to Follow-Up After an Investor Meeting
15. How to Close the Lead Investor
16. The 4 Stages of a VC Process
17. How to Raise a $2 Million Seed Round
18. Go from Investor YES to Cash in Hand
19. When Investors Say Yes but Mean No
20. When and When Not to Use an Investors Name
21. Stop Making These Common Fundraising Mistakes
22. How to Avoid Bad Terms that Kill Startups
23. What to do After Receiving a Term Sheet
24. Term Sheet Problems Part 1 — Money Talks
25. Term Sheet Problems Part 2 — Boardroom Blues
26. Term Sheet Problems Part 3 — Side Letters
27. 10 Traits of Successful Founders
Sterling Road invests in pre-seed B2B startups based in North America. Full process here: sterlingroad.com/process.
You can reach me here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Kaego Rust, Brock Haywood, Alec Barrett-Wilsdon and David Smooke for their help on this article.
Photo by Jason Rosewell