There are two communication “killer apps” that I witness plague startups with frightening frequency. These danger zones are lethal to a startup, especially one seeking funding.
If you are pursuing venture capital funding, read this prior to presenting. You will be glad that you did.
Killer App # 1 – No Central Message
I have witnessed this over and over and over again. Brilliant entrepreneur(s), fantastic concept or prototype, great ideas, detailed business plan…and no central message. You can have every fact, figure, and statistic on your side, but without a central message, it all doesn’t mean much.
This is crucial for a startup seeking funding. We are in extremely difficult economic times, venture capital is much more competitive and difficult to come by, and every entrepreneur believes that their concept is different, special and deserving – every entrepreneur.
There are countless books advising on how to stand out, what to say in a presentation, how to put together a funding request, etc., but very few, if any, on putting together a message.
If you are the entrepreneur you must be able to communicate your message in a manner that anyone and everyone can understand.
What are you trying to accomplish with your concept? If you are pursuing funding, you must be able to identify how you will deliver a return on that investment, profits, and you must be able to do this in a manner that is clear, consistent, and easy to comprehend – remember, you are asking people to invest at a time when investing, no matter the size of the VC firm, is a scary thing to do.
President Obama had a solid message as to why voters should support him and what he would deliver to them – Change. His message – clear, consistent, and easy to comprehend, and he won.
Killer App # 2 – No Practice. No Preparation. No Funding!
This can, and often does, occur whether an entrepreneur has a central message or not. The entrepreneur begins his or her funding presentation. The slides come out. There are lots of numbers, lots of writing, lots of information and not a lot of time to present it all.
The entrepreneur is nervous because this is THE meeting with THE potential future of the company – the funders. He begins to read the slides, all the while moving awkwardly around, or maybe standing still, resembling a statue. “Well, umm, XYZ has, umm, developed what we, uhh, believe is, ahhh, a revolutionary way to, umm…” and the presentation continues on in this painful manner until mercifully, it is over.
Your product or idea might be THE biggest and best idea the VC has ever seen or heard. The VC just doesn’t know it because he or she has been so focused and distracted by the verbal noise – umm, uhh, ahhhs, the body language, the speed and the lack of clarity that he or she has not been able to focus on the quality of your concept or product.
In this case you are better off simply dropping the presentation off for the VC to review at his or her leisure but for one problem. Once you have received the funding you are going to have to sell the concept to other investors and to the marketplace. Think that first VC is going to be confident in your ability to do that?
Some people are better presenters than others. Some people are more naturally charismatic than others. Some people are better storytellers than others. Having the benefit of a communications trainer is priceless, but often not in a startups budget. Practice does not cost anything other than time. Every person benefits from practicing before presenting.
You will identify verbal noise, tendencies toward awkward movements or word placement, pitch, tone, mannerisms, etc., you will identify places in your presentation or pitch where there is duplicative information (happens constantly), you will identify when you are providing TMI (too much information). If you practice, review, practice more, review again, and continue practicing – you will improve and you will give a better presentation, guaranteed.
I encourage practicing in front of people who are not on your presenting team or even in your industry – chances are that if they don’t “get” what you are delivering or are bored or distracted by your delivery, there is a decent chance the potential funder won’t either “get” it either.
***A note to Venture Capitalists – once you have invested, or made the decision to invest, make sure whoever is going to be the “face” of your company before the marketplace is a strong presenter. The landfill of lost investments is littered with great ideas that have been poorly presented to the market.
***A note to Startups – there are a number of fantastic blogs dealing with venture capital that provide great advice. A few of my favorites include Ask The VC, A VC, VentureHacks, VC Ball and Seeing Both Sides.