Seeking investment? VCs say that there’s one element of a pitch that founders often overlook
Who you are can be as important as the idea you’re pitching. When VCs are seeking partners, they need to know about your background, not just your business.
Let’s imagine for a moment that rather than being a business founder; you’re a VC with £500,000 to invest in a growing company.
Two pitches land on your desk, side by side they are identical: the same product, with the same market, with the same figures… the only difference is when you get to the page about the founders.
Company A was set up by an ex-offender who got the idea in prison. On leaving, they won a grant and start-up loan to get the company where it is today. Their business partners are the police officer who arrested them and a forensic bookkeeper.
Company B’s “about us” page is a team selfie. But it doesn’t matter who these people are, does it? It’s all about the figures, right?
If you’re not intrigued by the Company A story of redemption, reconciliation and risk mitigation, check your pulse. £50k might not be the biggest investment you’ll ever make, but if you become part of this story, it could be the one you never forget. Company B may stir your suspicion: what are they trying to hide behind that cheery selfie?
This is an extreme example, but VCs tell me that they often find that pitch decks don’t include enough information about who the team behind a business is - and that information is essential. Be honest, when pitching your business, how much time do you spend writing the “about us” section of the pitch deck? Is it a few LinkedIn headshots and a handful of qualifications?
Recently, I attended a pitch event at which six entrepreneurs spoke against the clock. Only one of them explained how her personal experience informed her business idea. It wasn’t long before her idea was the only one I could remember while the rest got pushed off my busy mental desktop.
You have your elevator pitch, right? Great - say it out loud right now. Maybe record it as a voice note as well so you can review. You have 60 seconds - go.
Now you’re back, how many of those precious 60 seconds were about you and your leadership team? Did you give enough information for your imaginary VC to think “These are people I want to work with - tell me more”?
If you have struggled to raise investment for a great business, you might not be talking about yourself enough when you’re pitching.
I spoke to Kerry Dwyer, Senior Equity Manager at SwoopFunding.com which helps founders get investor-ready through building a pitch deck builder and giving access to a network of VCs. I asked whether founder biography was something that could make an investment more attractive. She said:
“Founders focus on the idea, the market and the growth plans: that’s what they go out and sell. They often think of themselves as the team ‘behind’ the idea rather than the team having as much value as the idea itself.”
But your idea is brilliant, right? Doesn’t that matter more than anything else? Kerry, who has seen hundreds of businesses pitching for equity investors and works with VCs on a daily basis says that you shouldn’t put all your eggs in the “great idea” basket:
“There’s a saying that investors will always go for an A team with a B product over a B team with an A product. This is because the best teams will be able to adapt and pivot their business model if necessary, or in some cases completely change from their original business model.”
What stays the same? The values and qualities of the leadership team.
Kerry says that even those who do talk about their background place too much emphasis on their previous job titles rather than the skills they have acquired over time:
“Some founders need to emphasise the skills they learnt in their previous roles that will be a determining factor in how the business can scale. Something I always look for is the team’s ‘unfair advantage’, which is often the founder’s ability or knowledge in a niche area. For some investors, this can be the most important slide of all.”
To increase their chances in the equity market, then, founders must tell their stories better, in a way that appeals to investors. Our ex-convict-led Company A team has demonstrated a host of skills and qualities; can we begin to guess how Company B would respond to challenging circumstances? No - because although they might be brilliant, we cannot know if we don’t have the information.
Communicating your story is not a luxury or an add-on. Simon Sinek would call this "finding your 'why,'" and it's the reason why Apple isn't just a tech company, or Nike isn't just a shoemaker. A good story is why the right investor won't shy away from Company A, while a complete lack of story will see Company B discarded.
Telling a story is more than just finding the "why." At the heart of a story, the plot and the characters are one and the same: events unfold as a result of the choices made by the protagonist, and the greater the danger, the stronger the antagonist, the more difficult the decision, the better the story.
Can you do this for yourself? Few people are able to understand and articulate their "why" successfully, because it is difficult to be objective about ourselves. But if you get it right, the "about you" page will ultimately be a roadmap of your future that is more securely grounded in the reality of your values than the projected figures you've pulled out of the air.
Think about that, and dedicate your time to your “about you” page accordingly.