VC Pitch Tips for the Lazy

Phil Libin has been tweeting VC pitch tips that are pure gold the last few months, and given we're coming up to Demo Day here at Techstars Boston (May 25, you're invited!), it seemed a particularly good time to highlight some of the best. This post is modeled on one from Stelios Constantinides called Paul Graham's Startup Advice for the Lazy, and curated with a Demo Day presentation in mind.

Get the full list of VC Pitch Tips, including those aimed at fundraising and general startup tips here.

Demo Day VC Pitch Tips:

  • Why this? Why you? Why now?
  • Label your axes.
  • When you're practicing the presentation in your head and you think you might apologize for some part of it, fix it instead.
  • Put aside financial interest and describe what the world looks like if your startup is successful. Make us want to live there.
  • Use your company name and logo intentionally and only when you want to have an impact. Don't waste them on your slide masters.
  • It's ok to be nervous and awkward. We're looking for authenticity, originality, energy, infatuation and mastery; not polish.
  • You won't get credit for hedging your bets; that's why we have portfolios. Build your startup around a sharp point of view.
  • Don't read your slides.
  • Even if this is the hundredth time, try to remember what you felt like the first time you pitched this idea. Do it like that.
  • Humility > bragging > false humility.
  • Clouds of random logos; whether customers, competitors, partners or previous experience; are not effective slides. Rethink.
  • Try this: delete all logos, clip art and bullets from your deck. What's left is what VCs actually remember. Is it good enough?
  • Retention better than growth as early predictor of startup success because it's less effected by hype. Engagement is 2nd best.
  • Finish early.
  • Bullet points often mask incoherent trains of thought. Rewrite as complete sentences t see where you're fooling yourself.
  • Don't rely on partnerships to reach your early adopters. Maybe a good way to scale, but a bad way to start. Do it yourself.
  • Try not to violate more than one long-established, conventional wisdom, unquestioned truth at a time. Or less than one.
  • Unless you really, really know what you're doing, please stay away from the font menu.
  • Speak at your normal pace. If you find yourself struggling to get through the deck on time, cut slides. Better than rushing.
  • These are words you don't need to use anymore: "SaaS", "Cloud", "Mobile". "Blockchain" is borderline.
  • It's really weird to add up the years of experience of each member of your startup team and present it as a single number.
  • If you get knocked off your script, don't rush to get back to the slides; good opportunity to show you really know the problem.
  • Be rigorously optimistic: Believe that the world will get better. Know that it’s your job to improve it. Have a plan to do so.
  • This should go without saying, but please don't trash talk your customers... You know what? Go ahead. Makes my job easier.
  • Hide the bullet marks from a slide. Look stupid? You wrote some jargo-gibberish and the dots were tricking your brain. Rewrite.
  • Quick bursts from external events, like an AppStore promo, are great, but evidence of sustained growth is much more persuasive.
  • Great products aren't neutral. They have a strong point of view inextricably tied to every design decision.
  • Make sure your CAC ain't whack, yo.
  • Eschew industry jargon, even when everyone else babbles it. It doesn't show mastery and it makes you blend in, not stand out.
  • Anonymous customer testimonials feel dishonest. Ask for permission to use real names or omit.
  • Products that help people do something good are generally more interesting than ones that try to prevent something bad.
  • You don't have to open with a joke.
  • When measuring retention, try to eliminate early noise. Something like: what % of week 2 users are still active in week 4?
  • For just about any metric, an improving trend is more interesting, and predictive of long term success, than a single point.
  • Every slide you show dilutes the impact of every other slide. Keep this in mind when deciding what to include in your deck.
  • If you're going to list advisors on your team slide, be prepared to talk about what advice they're giving you.
  • The world probably doesn't need more ads. Smarter, better, fewer: sure.
  • Design your deck with the right empathy point: optimize for the experience of the audience, not the comfort of the presenter.
  • Don't fetishize "disruption"; it's a side-effect of successful innovation, not the goal. Focus on creating big new value.
  • Don't worry about raising too much; you won't regret more cash in the bank, even with dilution. Worry about spending too much.

Happy pitching!

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