Wow! Investor Day at Le Camping

April 1, 2011

Yesterday was Investor Day for the first group of 12 start-ups at Le Camping, the Paris-based accelerator of which I am increasingly proud to be a mentor and pitch coach. And it went extremely well.

Now I’m rather biased since I coached all the speakers, so here are some comments from less biased people:

The @lecamping pitches were collectively the best I’ve seen out of an accelerator program in EU. Very slick and well prepared.

- Michael A. Jackson, experienced VC and number 3 in the Telegraph’s list of 100 most influential tech investors in Europe

We were half-expecting a poor crop of too-French startups: long-winded pitches, too much emphasis on making money and too little on product and vision, stunted ambitions, products for the French market only…

Instead what we had was the opposite: a crop of amazing startups that wouldn’t look out of place one bit in Y Combinator’s best crop or in any top VC’s portfolio.

- Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry writing in Business Insider

Very positive feedback from @lecamping Investor Day from my team. Congrats to the Campers!

- ISAI, one of France’s most important early-stage investors backed by PriceMinister founder Pierre Kosciusko-Morizet

Super Travail @lecamping by #siliconsentier ! Des tres bons Management & Pitchs ! #congrats de @jainacapital

(Translation: Great work @lecamping by #siliconsentier! Great management and pitches! #congrats from @jainacapital)

- Jaina Capital, another of France’s leading investment funds, backed by Meetic founder Marc Simoncini

Overall pitch quality is excellent #lecamping and these are not native speakers – very impressed!

- David Bizer of HackFwd Talent, a leading pre-seed investment fund

All the pitches went very well, some better than in rehearsals and some perhaps not quite as well but still good enough to rock. I was particularly pleased that everyone took on board my last few pieces of advice to take their pitches from good to great – here are a few examples:

1. Adapt your content to meet your audience’s objectives.

They all nailed this. The key investor questions were all answered in each of the 8-minute pitches:

- What do you do?

- What’s the problem you solve?

- Why do you solve it better than competitors?

- What’s your vision?

- Why are you the best people to make this work?

- What are your financial forecasts?

- How much money do you need?

- What are you going to do with it?

They all finally understood the importance of talking about their team members and explaining why they were worth investing in, and they all did it very well.

2. Vision.

They also understood the importance of thinking big and showing ambition, since investors usually look for big wins not small wins. Perhaps the best example of this was Grégory from PurchEase whose ambition attracted positive tweets – here’s what Business Insider had to say about his vision:

After giving projections 2 years out, the founders said: “I could give you bulls—t 5 year financial forecasts, but I’d rather give you my vision: in 10 years, there’s gonna be a billion dollar company handling millions of customers and their purchases—we want to be that company”

That’s what we’re talking about.

3. Passion.

Now this was an area where they all made significant improvements. When Cyril Dorsaz from Beansight said he was excited about working with a great team, he sounded like he really meant it. Every single presenter had improved within their own style to a point where they were credible as leaders and as entrepreneurs.

Even though there was a world of difference in styles between the fairly restrained but professional style of Sébastien Lefebvre from Mesagraph and Philippe Langlois from P1 Security on one hand, the smooth salesmanship of Bora Kizil from Zifiz on the other, or even the cool relaxed style of Benjamin Hardy from Kawet, each of them was perfectly suited to their company and their approach, authentic, and communicated clearly and powerfully.

As a coach, I certainly don’t try to make everyone pitch in the same way, with the same style or storyboard. I just try to make them pitch as best they can in their own style, and choose a storyboard which suits their key messages. It would have been very boring if we’d seen 12 almost-identical pitches.

4. A great conclusion.

Again, they all worked hard on the conclusion, and this was one of the real strong points – the call-to-action was hardly there at all a few weeks ago, but this time it was crystal-clear. As a fine example, Bora brought the 12 pitches to a close with a very strong conclusion aimed right at the investors:

So that’s Zifiz: we’ve got a huge market opportunity, a fantastic product and a great team. The only thing missing [short dramatic pause] is you. Thankyou.

Beyond these four points, there were other great improvements though. Fabienne Rousseau from Itipic blew me away with the clarity of her speech, which improved remarkably over the last month. Clément Cazalot from docTrackr integrated a striking but fun introduction which immediately showed the problem they solve. And Benjamin from Kawet showed the greatest improvement of the lot, integrated a brilliant video to advertise what their product does, and because he had worked very hard at his pitch, he was even able to improvise a few funny remarks which the audience loved. Proof that the more you prepare, the better you are able to improvise.

And lastly, the visuals were excellent: simple, with large font sizes, a minimum of text, striking images, good example videos, and plenty of black slides. I even have to praise PrepMyFuture, who produced the best slides I have ever seen which include a comic font – yes, I advised against using it, and still would prefer a different font, but it worked well enough and they used few enough words that it didn’t really matter. Great use of images.

I haven’t mentioned everyone but they all did so well and I am honoured to be a part of Le Camping. Alice, Aaron, Omar, Shawn and the whole team did a fine job making it all run so smoothly, finishing right on time (astounding for any event in Paris, let alone one like this), and giving an extremely professional impression.

Pierre Morsa and I received many compliments afterwards from entrepreneurs and investors alike about the value Ideas on Stage had added, and while of course that’s very welcome, the real praise should go to the entrepreneurs who put in the hard work and the people at Le Camping who made it all possible. They showed the power of a great pitch, and gave themselves a real chance to get funding. And if they raised the bar for all future pitch events, that can only be good news for us.


Perfecting Your Pitch

March 11, 2011

Most campers pitch tents. These pitch start-ups. They are the entrepreneurs at Le Camping, the latest start-up accelerator in Paris, and my role (together with Pierre Morsa) is to help them to make a fantastic pitch on Investor Day, when they will compete for attention from various investors, and hopefully attract funding to develop their businesses.

After our latest coaching session yesterday, I’m pleased to say they have made great strides in terms of using attractive, simple and relevant slides, with few words (in most cases) and some good use of graphics. They have also mostly worked on their introductions, although some can (and must) still make them more memorable and catchy.

Some are still looking back at their slides too often, and there are still plenty of ‘ums’ and ‘ers’ to iron out. That will improve with more practice.

Four things in particular are missing though from most of the pitches, and I’d encourage everyone to think about these points in terms of your own presentations (pitches or otherwise), because they are the difference between a good performance and a great one.

Four Steps From Good To Great

1. Adapt your content to meet your audience’s objectives. They are still spending too much time talking about their products or ideas. This isn’t a sales pitch. Investors want to know you have a product that can make money, of course, but it’s the money that’s the key point there, not the product. Your product is not your business plan – it is just a way of giving investors confidence that you can achieve your business plan.

While for you it might be your big idea, for an investor it is only your first idea – and hopefully not your last. It might turn out not to work, or a major competitor with a huge cashpile might choose to enter the same market and squash you. What investors need to know is that you are smart enough to come up with other ideas and make them work if the first one doesn’t. They are investing, above all, in a team, not in a product. Better a great team with an average idea than an average team with a great idea, as investors often say. So tell them why they should trust you with their cash.

2. Vision. If I’m investing in you and your company, I want to know it’s a good bet not just now, but for the future. I want to bet on someone who’s going to make it big, or who at least will give it a damn good try. If your vision is limited to “we’re going to launch this product”, that doesn’t give me much long-term confidence. Aim high. Investors don’t want small wins – their choices fail so often that it’s only big wins that make up for the losses. Better to have a 1% chance of being a $billion company than a 20% chance of being a $10million company.

So docTrackr, for example, should not just aim to sell a great document security solution. Yawn, so what? But if they stated a vision to be the world leader in document security within 3 years, and to be bought out by Microsoft, Adobe or Google within 5 years, then as an investor, that would make me sit up and take interest.

3. Passion. If you’re trying to make me enthusiastic about your investment opportunity, I need to know and feel that you are enthusiastic about it. If you present as if you either don’t believe in it, don’t care about it, or don’t want it, then I’m not going to want it either.

Don’t be quiet. Don’t be monotonous. Don’t be boring. Enthusiasm is contagious, so if you present like you really believe this is an exciting investment opportunity and you have a fantastic team, your audience might start to believe it too. Boredom, on the other hand, is even more contagious. So if you sound flat and boring, the audience will just use your talk as an opportunity to check their email.

Be passionate. Don’t be afraid to show that you care and that you believe.

4. A great conclusion. Too many of the pitches are currently just dying, as if the speaker has run out of things to say, or run out of time. Yet the conclusion will determine whether people remember something, or nothing. So it absolutely has to be brilliant.

“OK, so that’s it. Er, any questions?”

“And that was my last slide.”

These do not make good conclusions.

“That was our introduction to Perspecteev. We make money by helping people take care of their money. Now we’d like to take care of yours. Thankyou.”

This was one of the better conclusions. It was a clear end-point, it reminded the audience of the company name and its tag-line, and it used a neat play on words to remind investors that they’re looking for funding (which was explained earlier in the pitch).

The conclusion is an opportunity to remind people of your key points. In an investor pitch, particularly in a context where there are 11 other pitches happening in the same session, your key points are:

  • who you are
  • what you do
  • what you need
  • why they should give it to you

If any of those questions remains unanswered at the end, or the audience forgets the answers, you have failed. Your conclusion should remind people of these points. Remember Lewis Carroll: “What I say three times is the truth.” Say something three times, and you significantly increase the chances of it being remembered. Say something once, however, and expect it to be forgotten. So use the conclusion to state your key points for the third time – or at least for the second time.

Think of your talk as a matchstick. When you light a match, it sparks brightly, and then starts burning slowly along the stick. That’s your high-impact introduction and the middle part of your talk. But a typical match will then just burn out. So your talk has to be like a double-headed match, with a bright, high-impact conclusion to match the introduction.

Lastly, in a context like this where the pitches will happen in front of a large audience, with no Q&A session, the intention is not to finish presenting and start discussing: each presenter should aim to leave the stage to a large round of applause. I’d therefore point you to this article where I talk about the importance of applause and how to make sure you get the audience to clap.

Adapting to your audience’s objectives, communicating vision, presenting with passion, and nailing a great conclusion: if the Campers can get these four points right in the next few weeks, they’ll be ready for Investor Day. If you can get them right for your next talk – whatever it is – you’ll turn a good presentation into a great one.


The Investor Pitch: Set the right objectives

September 16, 2010

Picture this: you have managed to get a ten-minute slot with a potential investor in your start-up. So far, so good. But what are you going to say in that time?

First, here are some things you are NOT trying to do in your ten-minute pitch.

WRONG OBJECTIVE #1: Convince the investor to invest

Er – what? Surely that’s exactly what you should be aiming to do? Well, no. Any investor who makes a decision to invest a large sum of money in someone they have only known for ten minutes is not a smart investor, or they have enough money that they can afford to take a wild risk. Unless you know your investor is either dumb or rich and crazy, you should not expect them to be ready to sign a cheque (US: check) within ten minutes. It takes longer to get a “yes”. Equally, you can get a straight “no” in much less time than that…

WRONG OBJECTIVE #2: Tell them everything about your company/product/service

You have ten minutes (in this example). Remember that – ten minutes. Six hundred seconds. That time goes very quickly, especially if you don’t start on time, which you almost certainly won’t. If you can tell everything there is to tell about your company in ten minutes, it’s not worth hearing. Don’t try to cover everything lightly, saying too little about too many things. Choose the few messages you need to get across, and get them across well.

WRONG OBJECTIVE #3: Make them want to buy your product/service

You’re not making a sales pitch. An investor expects something different. He or she will want to be sure that people will buy what you’re offering, but you won’t convince your investor to part with his or her cash purely by convincing him or her that they would want to buy your products. Victor Kiam liked Remington shavers so much, he bought the company. That was such an amazing story because it was so exceptional. Your investor doesn’t need to want to buy your products. Don’t explain why they should buy them – explain why you are sure other people will buy them. Remember, you are selling an investment opportunity here, not a product or service.

That’s enough wrong objectives for now. Yet how often do investors complain about entrepreneurs who make those basic mistakes? All the time.

Here are some key objectives you should have for your investment pitch.

GOOD OBJECTIVE #1: Be memorable

So you have ten minutes on this investor’s agenda. How many other pitches will he or she have to sit through? Often a dozen or more in a day. One of those pitches is going to be memorable, and that’s the one they will consider calling back. Make sure it’s yours.

If you give a fine performance and the investor seems happy, but they can’t remember you or your pitch the following morning, you’ve failed. If you had to choose between being convincing and being memorable, you should choose memorable every time. That way you’ll at least have a chance of being called back for a second, probably longer presentation.

GOOD OBJECTIVE #2: Be professional

An investor judges the team as much as, if not more than, the idea or project itself. A great team with an average idea will be more attractive than a poor team with a great idea. It’s important therefore that you look and sound professional. Look and speak as if you already are a successful CEO, because investors will be sizing you up and seeing whether they can imagine you as one. Looking and sounding professional means many things, and it will be the subject of another post, but it runs from mastering whatever technology you are using through mastering and preparing your subject, all the way to the way you stand, the clothes you wear and the way you speak.

GOOD OBJECTIVE #3: Answer the key questions

An investor does not need to know everything about you and your idea in the first ten minutes. However, there are some key questions that you will need to answer – otherwise, either the investor will ask (and resent the fact you didn’t communicate better), or, worse, they won’t ask because they have given up caring.

The first thing to remember is the number one question asked by investors AFTER a pitch: “So what do you do exactly?” If you’ve gone through a detailed study of your market, the competitors and the opportunity, but you’ve failed to explain what you are actually planning to do, then you’ve failed – big-time. Here are some of the key questions you need to answer:

  • What do you do?
  • Who are you (and why should I trust you)?
  • How will you make money (and how much)?
  • How long will it take?
  • What are the risks (and how do you plan to address them)?
  • How much cash do you need (and what will you spend it on)?
  • Do I have a good feeling about you?

How to answer these questions would be the subject of another post (and also form a key part of the Ideas on Stage course “Winning Pitch”), but you can probably work out why each of those is important, and what you can do to weave the answers into your pitch. The last one is not so easy, however. At the end of the day, investors are individuals, and they make decisions which are neither 100% objective nor 100% rational, just like you and me. You could have the greatest credentials and a rock-solid business plan, but if the investor doesn’t feel like they want to do business with you long-term, the answer will be no.

All I would say about this is: research your investor, be professional, try to make a connection, have a great answer ready to the question “why do you want me as an investor?” (other than “well, you’re the only one who returned my call…”), and do your best to get along with the investor, but if you don’t hit it off, walk away and find another one. You don’t want to be stuck doing business for years with someone with whom you have a tenuous relationship, any more than the investor does. Some personality types just don’t get on well with each other. Better that you find that out now.

GOOD OBJECTIVE #4: Make them want to know more

Here’s the final objective. In ten minutes, you only just have time to answer the key questions above, ideally in a particularly memorable and professional way. You have learned not to expect a decision there and then. Your ultimate aim is to be called back for a longer chance to discuss your business opportunity. Therefore you need to make sure they are interested enough in three things to want to know more about them:

  1. The team
  2. The business plan
  3. The chances of a good return on investment (RoI)

If they are interested in the business plan but not you, they won’t call you back. If they are interested in you and the business plan, that’s fine – but if you can show them a chance of a good RoI, and make them feel there’s a chance this could be a very good deal for them as well as building a business, then they will at least want to know more about it. Just make sure your financials are based on clear and reasonable assumptions which don’t fall apart when the investor asks the tough questions.

RECAP

Don’t expect to raise cash in ten minutes. The best you can hope for is to get a call back. The way to do this is to be professional, make your pitch memorable so it is the one they remember the following morning, answer the investor’s key questions, and make them want to learn more about how this could be a good business, and more importantly, a great investment opportunity.


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