Preparing to pitch to early-stage investors

Tips and tricks to remember when preparing to pitch to early-stage investors

lisa-enckell

Author

Lisa Enckell

Lisa coaches founders on go-to-market strategies, product development, fundraising and more. She's based in Singapore but work closely with Antler's portfolio companies and the team all over the world.

Previously, she was the VP of marketing at Wrapp, a social gifting startup based in San Francisco and Stockholm. Lisa is an active angel investor and is part of Antler's investment committee. She has invested in companies such as Sunrise, Clue, and Opbeat.

Get to know your market

Seasoned investors have been burned in the past. That's what makes an investor experienced. Think of it as scars. When founders pitch a model that's failed in the past, we immediately raise a warning flag. It's not impossible to enter an area where many investors have been burned, but it's wise to know what you're getting yourself into. There are a few things we suggest you do as you prepare your pitch.

Examine the internet's graveyard

When looking at the competitive landscape remember to also look back a few years. What can you learn from others who have entered this area in the past? It's very useful to have a look at the internet's graveyard to see what people have tried to build in the past and at companies that stalled at a certain point. Try to talk to the founders or early employees to understand what they should've done differently. Many times, teams are too early, other times the numbers simply didn't add up.

Think globally

When you do your research look everywhere. Don't just look at your home market. Go to Product Hunt, search on Crunchbase, look at AppAnnie, browse Twitter and more. It's totally fine if others are building similar things, but it's not alright to not be aware of them. While your immediate market is regional, you can always learn a lot from looking at other geographical markets.

Learn from other industries

Many startups have similar business models or go-to-market strategies even if they're in different industries. As an investor, we try to put your company in one of the many familiar buckets we already know about. When you pitch a SaaS business model or a marketplace, we immediately know what questions to ask if you didn't address them in the pitch. It's useful to look at the best in class in your business model, not just your industry. Study what made them successful and then try to learn as much as possible. There's a lot of great content from the companies themselves, from VCs and from the traditional media. While we typically don't suggest that teams spend even more time doing desktop research, it is very useful to dig into specific use cases and learn from them. If you're part of Antler, your coach will likely introduce you to one of our many advisors who've been building or investing in something similar in the past.

Image of Yaumi Fauziah presenting, founder from Singapore's second cohort
Yaumi Fauziah, founder from Singapore's second cohort

Talking and thinking about competition

Talking about the competition and how to position the new product in the market is often a challenge.

Competition is tricky because it's two-sided, it  both validates what you're doing, but it may also be your biggest threat. Don't compare yourself to your competitors by listing product features.

Graph illustrating a comparison of features inherent to or not present amongst different competitors
Do not do this example

A common slide in a pitch deck is this overview of all the features a company wants to build in a matrix with some of its competitors. You're the only one offering them all. This is a bad way of framing competition for a couple of reasons.

1. When you're just starting out, you don't want to focus on five different areas and try to beat the competition in all of them, you want to be laser-focused. Trying to do everything at once will distract you.

2. You don't compete with features; you compete by solving the problem in a better way. Focus on the problem you solving instead of what features you and others offer.

3. With a new product, your biggest threat is the status quo. It's hard to change people's behaviour, that's what you're up against. Investors want to be convinced that your way of solving a problem is so much better it will get people to change the way they are doing things. How you will go about that is much more interesting than comparing features against other products.

4. Customers buy the entire package. That includes the brand, distribution channels and who the people in the team are. If you're talking about competition, the list of interesting things to bring up before individual features is pretty long.

5. If you're really onto something with your unique combination of features, nothing stops others from building those features too.

Building a better product than your competitors is great, listing random product features is not.

It's ok to not have all the answers on the spot

During the pitch, it's easy to get defensive if you get a question, you can't really answer, and to try to make something up on the spot. Don't. It's better to stay honest and say that you haven't thought that through, that you don't know yet, or that you don't have all the data, but here's a plan for how to get it. See the questions as an opportunity to convince the ones that need convincing. Questions are sometimes asked because of a simple misunderstanding or because something wasn't clear. They are not asked to be evil or try to put founders on the spot.

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