What I Learned During Pitch Day

Brian Slawin

If a Pitch Day is structured correctly, the companies seeking funding learn a great deal about how their vision is viewed by the world (or at least the corner that the Ben Franklin Technology Partners occupy).

As someone new to helping companies secure the funding needed to turn their ideas into companies, I’m learning a great deal as well.

Our organization invites entrepreneurs to pitch our entire group 2 or 3 times a month and yesterday was special because it was the last pitch day for Q1 funding (our fiscal year is July 1). So, it was gratifying to see the results of all the work companies have put into figuring out what they really do, how to communicate that and the thinking they put into the questions asked by our team.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Knowing your product/market fit matters…it really matters! As a matter of fact, it matters so much that it probably makes sense to call it ‘market/product’ fit. And, there’s really no secret to figuring that out; talk with your market, listen to your market and do what your market is telling you to do.

I get it, your idea is so obvious and so amazing and so earth-shattering that everyone will get it. Assuming that’s true, then talking with the market should be easy, yes? Just don’t assume that since it’s obvious to you, it’ll be obvious to me…we really do look for market validation.

So, go ahead and do that and what will really hold weight is if you have an organized and structured series of questions that you ask 10-100+ potential users of your company’s product or service. Call people you know, find people you don’t, talk with anyone and everyone that might even be part of your market and be sure you ask them these types of questions:
– If you had a product that did X, which features would matter to you most?
– Of these features, which would you be interested in least?/most?
– Would you be willing to do X, or Y in order to use this?
– How many times per day, week, month, year would you use this?
– How much would you pay?
– And on and on and on…not all of the above (except for the revenue question) is pertinent to your company, but there are probably 10-20 things that you need to discover before you start developing your idea.

If you can just remember that your idea is the first pixel of a company and you need to discover what the rest of the picture looks like…you’re off to a good start.

Bottom line, does the market want what you’re providing and will they pay for it?

2. Be able to answer the question, “Once you talked with your market, what about your original idea changed and how are you adjusting for that?”

3. Someone (or better, multiple someones) needs to wake up every day and work on the business. If you’ve gotten past the idea phase, validated the market, have gotten through the Friends & Family phase, maybe gained some traction and you’ve got a ‘day job’, with very rare exception, that’s going to need to end…and that’s just the reality you’re going to need to face.

If, in the case of my organization, you want money from the taxpayers of the State of Pennsylvania, we’ll entrust that to you when you make a full-time commitment to the business. Will that change the quality of your life? Probably. Will it be a challenge to figure that out?, likely. Will it put stress on your relationships?, no doubt. Are you ready?, if not, keep doing what you’re doing and maybe cash flow your way into making your idea a full-time job. Then, come for funding.

4. “But, I know this person who got funding and they only worked X hours per week on their idea…” OK, let’s, think about that for a second. Your competition is waking up every day and their sole focus is the business that you want to challenge. How are you going to compete against their 100% focus? Can you hire people to be your surrogates? Can you build something that grows on its own, manages itself and generates money without much of your effort? If so, CALL ME!

5. Did I mention, know your market and what it wants?

6. How are you going to make money? Laser clear, easy to explain, easy to understand and renewable…simple, right?

7. Speaking of which, financials matter…but not for the reason you think. The reality is, there’s no way you can accurately predict how much revenue you’re going to generate in 3 years much less 5. We know those numbers are wild SWAGs at best and at a minimum, they’re wrong (high or low, they’re wrong). So, why bother?

Simply, we want to see how you think about your business, how you can expand from the bootstrap revenue into sustainable and scalable revenues and how creative you can be about your product/service. How you think about getting to market and the types of things you think will impact your financial predictions are what we’re really looking at.

If you think you’re going to go to market and gain 5x in Y2…great, how? Are you going to hire a dozen sales people? Are you going to leverage social? Are you going to do those and 5 other things? Great…why? How will doing that impact your business in both positive and negative ways? Oh, have you ever done that before? If so, what did you learn, if not, why do you think you can do that now (and not in a ‘no you di-int’ kind of way…we really want to understand how you think)?

Ultimately, financials are not about how much you’re going to make, but how you’re going to make it. HOW are you going to grow 5x in Y2? If you think your topline is going to be $15M in Y3? HOW are you going to do that? And, what things are going to impact that? Financials are an exercise in HOW you’re thinking and what adjustments you’re making along the way…not about how rich you’re going to be.

Make sure you really understand what moves your business, what levers you can pull (or not) to drive up and to the right. Oh, and as long as you’re at it, think big!

8. I probably should have mentioned this earlier because of everything I’ve learned, the make up of the team is really the most important part. You’ve heard the saying “VCs invest in the jockey”…well, it’s true. And, here’s something that really surprised me more than it should have; domain experience matters.

Let’s say you’re a team of three, a brilliant CFO acting as CEO, a world-class CTO acting as a product manager and an award-winning CMO acting as CSO. You’d think that’s a rock star team, yes? Well…maybe. First, while you’re no doubt a bunch of smart people, do you have domain expertise in the thing you’re doing? If you do…great. Do you have the legal ability to do what you’re doing (for instance, can you work on your thing and not get entangled by your former employers “Invented Here” clause in your employment contract)?

What if you don’t have domain experience…how are you going to fill that gap? And, when? Knowing what you’re doing coming from a place of experience is way more powerful than figuring it out as you go. And, figuring it out as you go is way easier if you come from a place of ‘have done’ experience.

9. We got it, we don’t got it, we got it, we don’t got it??? It’s amazing the small things an entrepreneur can say that changes the climate of a pitch. It’s always little things that can lead us down a dark hallway. “I thought I got what you’re doing but since you’ve said that, I’m back to not knowing”.

Of course, all that points to planning, practice, preparation and knowing what you’re closing for (btw, in general, you’re NOT closing for a check, you’re typically closing for the next step in the process). In other words, think like someone who has no idea about your company and speak only those words that tell them the time, not how to build the watch.

I’ve learned more and no doubt there’s more to learn…I’d be curious to know what you’ve learned (either as an entrepreneur or as an investor) and of course, if you’ve got an idea that just has to be pitched, message me!

EQ Community Network articles are syndicated with permission from other publications and members of the local community.