Convincing venture capital firms to invest is the entrepreneur’s greatest challenge and without proper and timely investments, even the best and most innovative concepts will fail to reach the market. Much has been published concerning developing the “investor pitch”, writing a “killer” business plan and other methods to successfully solicit investor’s funds. While much has been suggested the proof of a successful communication is the venture capitalist enters into the due diligence process with an intent to invest. Reaching this milestone often requires multiple meetings and varying levels of scrutiny and yet most entrepreneurs still fail to raise sufficient capital to proceed.
The following outline is suggested as an effective method for reaching the due diligence point and has been tested with venture capital firms and other funding sources with successful outcomes. Ultimately the investor presentation is telling a story of how an innovation is unique and valuable being worthy of consideration by investors who are exceptionally skilled in the process of “weeding out” unsuitable proposals.
As with all story telling the message must be compelling yet accurate and concise. It needs to have as staring point that conveys a meaningful problem to solve, the reason the proposed solution is credible and most importantly that the solution in valuable and can be scaled in a timely and cost effective manner to yield a significant return on investment often greater than a 10 times multiple. The logic of the proposal needs to be solid and the risks well defined with reasonable mitigation strategies.
The proposal begins with a section of “main messages” that begins with the end in mind and communicates what is about to be explained. It’s a summary statement parsed into topics relevant to the investor such as a clear description of the specific problem, value of the proposed solution, the history of the venture to date, defensibility of the proposed business, the go to market and business models, stakeholder and lead user analysis, anticipated market adoption rates and financial estimates, competitors and competitive response along with mitigation plans, and most importantly the executive team who will execute the plan to create the enterprise and source of return. Given the uncertainty in early stage business ventures investors primarily depend on the quality of the executive team to hedge their investment against the unexpected that always happens.
The summary section is then expanded in the body of the pitch with each topic carefully explained in a plausible manner followed by a closing section that echoes the earlier communicated main messages. If the story is properly developed and communicated the venture capital firms will begin a due diligence event. In general the more visual the presentation materials can be the more effective the message will be communicated. Pictures, graphs, timelines, charts etc. are much more impactful that text alone. Further each slide should have a conclusion statement so the investor understands clearly what is being communicated.
In general there are four kinds of investors:
1. Friends and Family
3. VCs and PEs
Each investor class have different needs from “The Pitch” so the CEO needs to assess the audience quickly and anticipate the top 1-3 issues the investor class will be concerned about. Since the most important investors are those beyond “Friends and Family” we’ll start with Angels.
Family and Friends
These are literally people the entrepreneurs know and who have confidence in the entrepreneur’s abilities to be successful. Normally the entrepreneurs themselves invest heavily in their project as a sign of commitment. Family and Friends will focus on the person their investing in more than the project elements since they’ll be more familiar with the person. Often the Family and Friend investor are not business people and lack significant business acumen so the entrepreneur needs to manage their trust carefully. Often these are the easiest source of funds but also the most limited. They normally offer the entrepreneur their first source of funds to get started.
Angel Investors or just “Angels” are as their name implies they’re interested in helping the new enterprise be successful for reasons other than just realizing a return. They may be investing to drive local job growth, satisfy the needs of high wealth individuals to participate in the entrepreneurial ventures in their locals and to make a better return than might be possible elsewhere. Angels often are limited to fund quantities of $1MM or less, may not offer very much post investment help via mentoring, networks and advice and wouldn’t be considered professional investors where this kind of high risk investing is something they have done routinely. Critical success factors for an Angel Investor Are:
1. to understand the proposal in a way that makes sense (e.g., solves a meaningful problem),
2. it can be defended as it attracts competition,
3. there is a clear and plausible exit strategy within a reasonable time frame (e.g., less than 5 years).
The Pitch to a group of Angels needs to focus on these topics.
VCs and PEs
These classes of investors are professionals who do high risk investing for a living and are knowledgeable about the investing process, structuring deals and maximizing returns. They often look for turning their money around in 5 years maximum.
They can bring more than $1MM in funding and are often third in the funding cycle and part of the ventures “A Round” of investor demanding a significant equity position. These investors will focus on lead user customers, business models, go to market strategies and exit plans. Key to making an investment decision will be the quality of the CEO and executive team. It’s often said that the money follows the people and it does. Securing funds from VC/PE investors requires a compelling team, advisory board and strong understanding of the market place.
Strategic Investors are often companies that are interested in your offering because it aligns with a business they’re already in and offers them organic growth without having t invest in the invention/innovation process which is costly and uncertain. Often they already know the market and business dimensions the offering will need to address so their concerns are more around the quality of the offering and how well it’s protected by intellectual property (IP). IP is more than patents and includes know-how, trade secrets, proprietary relationships and access to customers especially lead users. Strategic investor will often offer some cash up-front with an earn out based on future success of the offering and sometimes include a “claw back” provision to recover the initial investment should the offering fail to meet the minimum expectations set forth by the entrepreneurs.
Knowing the Audience
A critical success factor for the “Pitch Team” is to know the composition of the audience and what kind of investor you’re looking for. The best approach to a mixed audience is to tailor the Pitch to the targeted investor class while recognizing the others present by having a strong basic overview that covers the elements described below. Having a good message paves the way to approach these investors later. In addition, the CEO should discuss the Pitch with the meeting host so they have an educated point of view of what kinds of questions are likely to arise and how they should be addressed.
Creating a Strong Pitch
An effective Pitch must have several key elements delivered as a story. Story telling is a powerful way of communicating complex topics to an audience unfamiliar with the material being presented. The basic structure needs to be logical and intuitive yet contain meaningful and sophisticated information. The approach useful with an investor audience is the same that would be used with a corporate Board of Directors seeing material for the first time. Often in this case a pre-read is provided but often it’s not read very deeply. The goal is to keep the materials simple without insulting the intelligence of the audience. Part of this is how the material is verbally communicated. Most importantly the presenters must recognize that there are no unimportant questions and all questions must be addressed respectfully.
The basic structure of a strong pitch contains the following elements:
1. Main Messages – tell the audience what the top 3-5 things you want them to learn
2. Project History – how did you arrive and a time to brag” gently
3. How does the offering work – what makes it unique and innovative
4. How the offering creates value – what problem does it solve
a. Market drivers – why is the offering desirable now, is the timing right
b. Value to, and by, stakeholder – know who “wins and loses” by your offering being available
c. Business Model – incentives to drive early adopters to buy repeatedly
d. Go to Market Strategies – where will the first sales come from and why
e. Customer and Partner Strategies – are intimate relationships required for a successful launch and if so why
5. What the competitive landscape looks like – how the problem is solved today
6. How will the offering be defended – intellectual property strategy, barriers to entry,
7. Where will it be positioned first and why (“Where to Play”) – lead users
8. How will it be managed and why (“How to Win”) – operation framework
9. Sales Plan – how will it be sold and serviced , what does the value chain look like and are lead user(s) influential in driving early adoption
10. Financial Projections – 3 years with estimated ranges of results based on supported assumptions – top 3 only,
11. Positioning the business for the future – plausible exit strategies.
An effective main message section can be broken into 3 parts: a strategic summary, commercial plan and financial analysis. The strategic summary tells the story from the innovators point of view and is chronological and highlights why the solution is important and compelling to the customers. The commercial plan describes how the solution will be delivered and scaled for the customers across the market. There needs to be sufficient need by a critical mass of customers to create a financially attractive enterprise. Finally the financial analysis provides estimates of what might be possible at high and low probabilities of success. This analysis needs to include scenarios of how revenues will grow and at what cost so profitability can be estimated over time. The ultimate value of the enterprise is a multiple of it profitability (e.g., EBITDA) at scale. The main messages section should close with brief comments about the skills of the executive team and why they’re qualified to make the investment successful. These comments must include specific reference to past skills that are relevant to the project. Critically any obvious gaps in the plan or team need to identified and mitigated.
One slide should be dedicated to communicating the entire history of the project on a timeline so the investor can see the key events and achievements that have occurred and when leading to the present request for funds. This description is used to convince the investor much has been invested and accomplished prior to them becoming involved. The time involved is also a benchmark for against what is normally expected for an innovation to reach the market. Radical innovations often require 20 years from conception to first commercialization whereas incremental innovations can take less time. Generally the more radical the offering the more preconditioning the market will require before significant adoption is likely. If this preconditioning through prototypes, market testing, lead user adoption etc., has not occurred then revenue growth will be muted. The market needs a level of comfort with the offering before its use becomes a norm.
How the Offering Works
If the offering is “transformational” working in a very different way, then the benefit of this approach needs to be clear and compelling. Risk incurred by customers need to be effectively mitigated to limit the impact on adoption rates and pricing. Price should not be used to mitigate risk beyond a limited lead user base.
· What will the product do for the user?
· What is the expected life cycle of the product?
· How do advances in technology affect your product and business?
· What is the product liability?
· What makes this business and product unique?
· Does the product meet a specific need or perceived need of the customer?
· Does the product have brand-name recognition?
· Are there repeat uses for the product?
· Is this a high quality or low-quality product?
· Who is the end user of the product?
· Does this product have mass appeal or single large buyers?
Timing is a critical ingredient in launching a new venture. The key question to consider is: Is the market ready for the offering and if so why and to what extent. The most sustainable drivers are economic combined with a need for higher performance and some external event like an emerging regulation. The poorest drivers are based on some kind of subsidy that’s fleeting. An example of this is a government subsidy to temporarily encourage the market to adopt an offering that helps reduce pollution. Once these subsidies are gone the market returns to its past practices.
Value to Stakeholders
Knowing who the stakeholders are and how they’re impacted by your offering is necessary to help manage risk relative to adoption and revenue growth rate. The best situation is all the main stakeholders gain or are unaffected by the offering so they can be supportive or neutral. Naturally the competition is always impacted but even then it might be manageable via partnerships.
There must be at least one stakeholder identified as the lead user to introduce the offering. This stakeholder needs to be analyzed carefully and included in the go to market and business models.
Business Model by primary stakeholder
Each stakeholder needs to be assessed relative to the business model with the primary stakeholder deeply analyzed using financial models and business relationship structures. The lead user needs to be passionate about the offering, support it with money and “brand equity” and commit to a long term investment. For this level of commitment the offering needs to be available at lead user pricing and significant upside potential (e.g., exclusives) for the risk the early adopter takes to make the offering a reality.
Go to Market Strategies
How will the offering be provided to customers and most critically how will post sale service be provided? This is the area where most start-up ventures need to partner and be very effective in selecting the correct partner. The partner could be the lead user or some other stakeholder in the value chain or a combination of players. The go to market strategy needs to be assessed by many independent advisers to the venture before it’s shared with investors. A plausible and highly probable go to market strategy reduces investor risk raising the value of the firm.
Compare the solution to the next best alternative and why it’s superior and where it may be equal or inferior. The features described need to yield benefits that will compel adoption by the identified customers and markets at an attractive rate and profitability. The benefits need to be qualitatively identifiable and probable enough to encourage a customer to change. Any investments required for adoption need to be identified and justified relative to rate and cost of adoption.
Identify who the competition is and what they offer currently and how they’ll respond to the new offering. Competitor responses should be described in scenarios with mitigation plans defined. The offering is weakened if the competition can simply respond with price while providing equal performance.
· What advantages does your competition have over you?
· What advantages do you have over your competition?
· Compared to your competition, how do you compete in terms of price, performance, service, competencies, and warranties?
· Are there any substitutes for your product?
· How do you expect the competition to react to your company?
An early question investors will ask is: If your offering is successful how will you defend it against more powerful fast followers? The best answer to this question is a defense that is multi-dimensional including patents, know-how embedded in trade secrets, unique approvals that take time to replicate, unique relationships within the value chain etc. The defense needs to also have breadth comprising a collection of various weapons. For example a patent estate, supported by a trade secret and regulatory body approval is hard to defeat without significant time and money.
Operational Strategy – “How to Win”
Once the offering is “bullet proof” then it will be easier to recognize the critical success factors to make it broadly successful. These “How to Win” tactics are described in the business plan and often only include 3-5 major activities that must be done well. For example, if the offering impacts a plant’s production it must be reliable and have a low failure rate in use combined with a mitigation strategy to fix problems in the field very rapidly. Further, failures that cost customer significant money, need to be insured against in some way.
· Why does this business have high growth potential?
· What makes this business situation/model special?
· Why will this business succeed?
· When will you break even incrementally and on a total cash basis?
Customer and Partner Strategies
How does the venture grow? Is it alone form its own resources or by leveraging the resources available in the value chain? If the venture requires capital for physical assets and human resources then some kind of partnerships are almost always required. In the case where the offering doesn’t require physical assets such as a software offering the venture could reach a critical mass of sales without a partner (e.g., You Tube) and then sell to a strategic buyer (e.g., Google). Having a framework and preliminary discussions with partners that facilitate executing the business and go to market models is a significant advantage in raising capital. Being able to say the partner has been engaged and is favorably impressed with the offering and business concept is very desirable.
· How large is the customer base?
· What is the typical demographic of your customer base?
· What is the lag time between initial buyer contact and the actual sale?
· What are your sales per employee, sales rep.?
· How concentrated is your sales base (e.g., number of customers to 10% revenues)?
· How much of your revenue and profit is transactional versus relationship based?
· What role does exclusivity play in your revenue/profit base?
Sales Strategy – 3-year view, alignment with business model
Once the venture has been funded how will it operate on “day 1” of its new life? The sales strategy needs to be granule enough to say that the offering is ready for a “soft launch” into the identified market segment with a partner to generate a certain financial outcome. Most of this has been presented separately and now the sales plan is a combination of all the thinking by the venture into an execution plan that can happen immediately.
If the funding is to finish development of the offering the venture leadership team needs to project what would happen once the offering is ready for introduction.
· Where do you see bottlenecks developing?
· How important is quality control?
· What is the current backlog?
· Is the product assembly line based or individually customized?
· What are the health and safety concerns in producing this product?
· Who are your suppliers and how long have they been in business?
· How many sources of suppliers are there?
· Currently, are there any shortages in components?
· How much production is done by a third party producer versus owned?
· How much production is chemical vs. non-chemical?
· How many employees do you have?
· What is the anticipated need in the immediate future?
· Where does the labor supply come from?
· What is the employee break down, i.e. full time, part time, managerial staff, support staff, production/service?
· What is the cost of training?
· Is the labor force primarily skilled or unskilled workers?
· Is there a union and what is the company's relationshi
Financial Projections – Assumption and key variable slides
Once the vision of how the offering creates value and is going to be successfully adopted in the market the question of “What’s it worth” must be answered. Credible financial projections are based on a list of well thought out assumptions and how changes in those assumptions impact the outcomes. Several scenarios should be created where the variables are identified and the impact demonstrated quantitatively. If possible each scenario should be assigned a probability of occurring.
Often high (>80%), medium (~50%) and low (<20%) is sufficient. Often financial projections will generate significant conversations with investors so the team member responsible for presenting these must be fluent in the language of financial and have a credible background to speak on the topic with authority. This is often the CFO or CEO or a combination of them together.
· What are your standard financial ratios as compared to your competition and industry norms (e.g.,
- COGS, GP, Operating Income, EBIT, EBITDA, interest expense, debt and kinds of debt, net profit etc.)?
· Where does the revenue and profits come from by market, sector, product, geography, offering etc.?
· How old is your company's equipment?
· What are the yearly maintenance costs?
· What are your capital requirements over the next five years?
· Do your competitors have an advantage due to equipment?
· Do you lease or own the property/facilities?
· What are the terms of your lease?
· How much do you owe on the mortgage?
· Are the facilities adequate for future expansion based on your business plan?
· Will the expansion require relocation?
· What is your Capex to depreciation rate
Positioning the business for the future – plausible exit strategies
Once the offering has been successfully launched and repaired for a new launch etc. how will the venture sustain itself while broadening its competitive advantage? This section should be short but a compelling vision of what the team sees in 1-3 years.
The team needs to have passion for building the venture vs. cashing out. Investors don’t want a successful team to leave too early and put their investment at risk.
· What are and who owns the patent(s), know-how, trade secrets?
· What licensing arrangements have been made between you and the patenting company, third parties, suppliers, universities, government entities etc.?
· Does anyone else have licensing arrangement? If so, how does this impact your company? What exclusivity is available or granted to others?
· What is the current research and development strategy?
· What is the annual expenditure on R&D in dollars and % of revenues?
· What is the industry standard for investment in R&D?
· What percentage of revenues is derived from products introduced in the last 5 years?
· How does R&D impact future sales and profit?
· Where are your R&D facilities located?
· What are the demographics of your technical community (e.g., age, degrees, industry/company experience)?
Summary – repeat main messages
The old adage of “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you told them” is very important. A strong close which summarizes the entire story without introducing and new material is essential to leaving the investor with a feeling of comfort to begin due diligence. This section should be a re-casting of the “main messages” you began the entire conversation with but presented with a flare in your voice. The beginning “main message” section should be shared in a more matter of fact manner but the close should be more theatrical.
Executive team and specific/relevant background information
The last slide should have a brief biographical description of the leadership/executive team outlining the relevant skills each brings to the venture and the voice over of the slide telling the investor a little about why they’ve joined the team. The best message is the team is uniquely qualified, have joined to build something that makes a difference in the world and has made some personal and financial sacrifice to participate. The team may be motivated by equity and wealth but this is not what the investor wants to learn directly. This is a given.
· What type of business experience does the management team have?
· Do the key leaders have proven achievements with relevant examples?
· What motivates each team member: Money, status, power, results etc.?
· Can the team accomplish the job outlined in the business plan? Why?
· Style analysis of the key player’s skills and growth opportunities.
If you really want to be successful in doing business development or growing an existing business, you have to be able to answers these grueling business questions clearly and with hard quantitative data. Being prepared is your best defense, so study the following 84 questions and be prepared to answer all with insight. Armed with information, as your defense, you're bound to be more successful more often.
1. What type of business experience does the management team have?
2. Do the key leaders have proven achievements with relevant examples?
3. What motivates each team member: Money, status, power, results etc.?
4. Can the team accomplish the job outlined in the business plan? Why?
5. Style analysis of the key player’s skills and growth opportunities.
6. How does your company and product fit into the industry?
7. What are the keys to success in your industry?
8. What are the current market trends?
9. How did you determine total sales of the industry and its growth rate?
10. Where do you make money? How much?
11. What industry changes most affect your company's profits?
12. What are the seasonal effects in your industry?
13. What makes your business model distinctive? What are your core competencies?
14. Why does this business have high growth potential?
15. What makes this business situation/model special?
16. Why will this business succeed?
17. When will you break even incrementally and on a total cash basis?
18. Why is this product or service useful?
19. What will the product do for the user?
20. What is the expected life cycle of the product?
21. How do advances in technology affect your product and business?
22. What is the product liability?
23. What makes this business and product unique?
24. Does the product meet a specific need or perceived need of the customer?
25. Does the product have brand-name recognition?
26. Are there repeat uses for the product?
27. Is this a high quality or low-quality product?
28. Who is the end user of the product?
29. Does this product have mass appeal or single large buyers?
29. Who is your competition and where do they operate?
30. What advantages does your competition have over you?
31. What advantages do you have over your competition?
32. Compared to your competition, how do you compete in terms of price, performance, service, competencies and warranties?
33. Are there any substitutes for your product?
34. How do you expect the competition to react to your company?
35. If you plan to take market share, how will you do it?
36. What are the critical elements of your marketing plan and business model?
37. Is this primarily a retail or industrial marketing strategy?
38. How important is advertising in your marketing plan?
39. How sensitive are sales to your advertising plan?
40. How will your marketing strategy change as the product/or industry matures?
41. How many are direct vs. indirect sales? Is distribution a key to success?
42. How large is the customer base?
43. What is the typical demographic of your customer base?
44. What is the lag time between initial buyer contact and the actual sale?
45. What are your sales per employee, sales rep.?
46. How concentrated is your sales base (e.g., number of customers to 10% revenues)?
47. How much of your revenue and profit is transactional versus relationship based?
48. What role does exclusivity play in your revenue/profit base?
45. What is the capacity and capacity utilization of your facilities?
46. Where do you see bottlenecks developing?
47. How important is quality control?
48. What is the current backlog?
49. Is the product assembly line based or individually customized?
50. What are the health and safety concerns in producing this product?
51. Who are your suppliers and how long have they been in business?
52. How many sources of suppliers are there?
53. Currently, are there any shortages in components?
54. How much production is third party produced versus owned?
55. How much production is chemical vs. non-chemical?
56. How many employees do you have?
57. What is the anticipated need in the immediate future?
58. Where does the labor supply come from?
59. What is the employee break down, i.e. full time, part time, managerial staff, support staff, production/service?
60. What is the cost of training?
61. Is the labor force primarily skilled or unskilled workers?
62. Is there a union and what is the company's relationship
Cash / Capex
63. How old is your company's equipment?
64. What are the yearly maintenance costs?
65. What are your capital requirements over the next five years?
66. Do your competitors have an advantage due to equipment?
67. Do you lease or own the property/facilities?
68. What are the terms of your lease?
69. How much do you owe on the mortgage?
70. Are the facilities adequate for future expansion based on your business plan?
71. Will the expansion require relocation?
72. What is your Capx to depreciation ratio?
73. What are and who owns the patent(s), know-how, trade secrets?
74. What licensing arrangements have been made between you and the patenting company, third parties, suppliers, universities, government entities etc.?
75. Does anyone else have licensing arrangement? If so, how does this impact your company? What exclusivity is available or granted to others?
Research and Development
76. What is the current research and development strategy?
77. What is the annual expenditure on R&D in dollars and % of revenues?
78. What is the industry standard for investment in R&D?
79. What percentage of revenues is derived from products introduced in the last 5 years?
80. How does R&D impact future sales and profit?
81. Where are your R&D facilities located?
82. What are the demographics of your technical community (e.g., age, degrees, industry/company experiences?
83. What are your standard financial ratios as compared to your competition and industry norms (e.g., COGS, GP, Operating Income, EBIT, EBITDA, interest expense, debt and kinds of debt, net profit etc.)?
84. Where does the revenue and profits come from by market, sector product, geography, offering etc.?