Great communication can be extremely powerful for swaying investors, bringing in talent, and coordinating teams. It’s one ability that is really worth investing time and energy in because of its strong upside when done well.
We talked to many founders over the last few years and I wanted to share here a few thoughts about common mistakes founders make and what to improve when talking to a less-technical audience and when connecting with prospective investors.
One very frequent issue with presentations is that they are often too crowded, too long, and too text-heavy which makes it very difficult for the reader to stay engaged and get excited about what you are working on. Most venture funds are looking through hundreds of slide decks per week and they will often only spend a short amount of time on yours.
It’s important to think of an intro deck as a short teaser, that grabs attention quickly, gets the main points across, and creates an appetite for a follow-up conversation. A good rule of thumb is to aim for not more than 10 slides and cover what problem you are solving, why a solution is a big deal and why it will make money, how you are doing it, what’s unique about your approach, why you are the best team for this, why you are raising and what will be able to do with the funding. Ideally without much text and complex or difficult-to-understand graphics.
A common mistake many founders make is that they tend to overexplain what makes it unnecessarily technical for this stage. In most cases, you will still have the opportunity to go into the technical weeds later either by going through a more technical slide deck or preparing a data room interested parties can access. If you absolutely have to explain technical details make sure to do this in layman’s terms and don’t go overboard with scientific terminology.
To make it a bit easier, we’ve put together a very short template slide deck you can use as a reference to structure yours. A strategy we like is creating a narrative with the slide headers alone – this way you are guiding the reader through the presentation and have a clear message for each slide with supporting information below.
Link to our Template Slide deck.
In many cases, investors will not want you to go through your pitch deck again during a call or in-person meeting but will want to have a conversation with you to ask specific questions and see how you and your team respond. One common mistake we see is that many technical founders start to become very verbose when explaining what they are working on. Even if the technology is very complex and you are excited about your research try to stay concise and answer in short but very informative sentences. This will keep your listeners engaged and will create a rapid back-and-forth and momentum. If you don’t have all the answers that’s fine too. It’s often better to make a note and follow up later to a very difficult question you cannot answer instead of trying to come up with a long-winded hand-wavy answer on the spot.
Make sure that your co-founders have the chance to speak too. These initial calls are not only to understand the technology better but also to see how you function as a team and to collect data points about the dynamics between you and your teammates. Talking over each other or having different opinions can be a very big red flag because it indicates that dynamics are off and that you are not really aligned.
Show your progress and explain why you are a great team without being arrogant or overinflating yourselves and your results. When talking about challenges you will be facing it is often much better to show humility and to be aware of the difficulties you will be facing. It’s better to acknowledge bottlenecks and have plans in place to make things work than to come across as overconfident assuming that everything will turn out great. Having a smart founder in front that is aware of the challenges can give investors a piece of mind, especially at a very early stage when very little data is available. If you oversell yourself and your partners figure out later that many things were stretched too far they might not help you if you start struggling, but they might keep supporting you if you were honest about challenges early on.
On the flip side, try not to be too modest. Another pain point we see often is that technical founders have a hard time selling their technology and the impact it could potentially have. When speaking to a less technical audience it’s really important to help them understand the significance of your work and why this is a big deal for the problem you are solving and how this could translate into a multi-billion dollar company.
When talking about the growth potential of your company try to stay realistic but also don’t undersell yourself. For many investors that target early-stage companies, it is important that there is ample growth potential and ideas or opportunities beyond your initial goal.
If your personal goal is to dedicate the next 10 years to creating a super impactful company make sure you’ll make this very very clear!
Thanks to Matt Krisiloff, and Bianka Seres for working with me on this post and for reading the drafts, and for improving it.