The sad state of the startup pitch

As we reported earlier this week: the current state of the startup pitch was critically reviewed by US-based VC and co-founder of O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, Bryce Roberts: “You’d think that given the sheer volume of material written about how to pitch your company to investors that we’d be in the midst of some sort of golden age for the startup pitch,” says Roberts. However, as he goes on to describe his recent “deplorable” experiences with start-ups it appears this is anything but the case.

Roberts feels entrepreneurs frequently fall short be it through presentations and product demos all the way to barely putting in the time and effort into a pitch to an investor you’d like to help fund your business. “Of the 3-5 new pitch meetings a day I take, most founders can’t be bothered to put any type of framework around the conversation (PPT slides, Exec Summary, anything), many consider “demoing the product” to be pulling up a browser and clicking around aimlessly while trying to describe what they’ve built” says Roberts, adding “If you half ass it with an investor, you’re likely half assing it elsewhere in your business,” suggests Roberts.

Bryce’s article ignited a lot of commentary, including that from entrepreneurs, both fledgling and successful. Brandon Burns, Co-Founder at Badjer, suggested that Bryce was the source of his own problem, arguing that while there's a lot of info on how to pitch, it is also very fragmented, with highly varying and conflicting opinions. “How is someone to know if you're a "just show me the link" guy vs. a "gimme the 50 slide biz plan" guy?” Burns went on to suggest that when a VC sets up a pitch meeting with an entrepreneur; “they tell them what you want them to have prepared when they show up.”

Jay Levy, co-founder and principal of Zelkova Ventures, agreed with Burns’ point, stating “I think you make a very valid point and we just published what we like to see at first pitch meetings.”

It appears there could be a combined issue of communication and assumption in the world of the startup pitch and while some VCs are happy to actively work with entrepreneurs in favour of reaching a suitable pitch style; others still put all of their faith in entrepreneurs delivering the goods unaided, despite the frequently varied expectations of one VC vs. another.

Luckily though, it seems for the most part, entrepreneurs aren’t expected to know everything and as Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation and co-founder of StartUp Britain, told us “Whether pitching for investment or presenting a product to customers, Startups need advice (such as that from Bryce) to perfect their pitch. That’s why StartUp Britain launched “PitchUp!” which matches small businesses with large retailers for direct feedback on pitch performance.”

Whether you agree with Bryce Roberts or believe VCs need to be clearer on expectations and formats; the criticisms and agreements which this article fuelled indicated that sentiment around startup pitches is currently mostly negative. Luckily, this highlights a real opportunity for startups that are prepared to put in the work on a quality pitch to potential investors. Especially those that can smartly tailor them to an individual VCs preferred style and format.

However, don’t be too hasty to head out on the funding trail: Another area of opinion is that entrepreneurs shouldn’t be in a rush to seek VC funding. Duncan Malcolm, founder of Saild believes that finding “dream teams” is hard work; “What I believe is there are lots of great startups and product teams out there. But that not all of them are right for seed or further stages of VC. Nic Brisbourne (DFJ Esprit) recently made the point that startups probably shouldn't pitch for VC unless they have a $100m+ exit potential. I'd tend to agree.”

What have your experiences been during the pitch process? Share them in the comments or via @MicrosoftSB

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