Entrepreneurs who tell stories well can explain complex ideas, attract amazing talent, close customers, create partners, and raise financing with relative ease. Those that can’t struggle at every turn.
Sometimes, the story is just too hard to tell - it may indicate a bad opportunity, one that is inherently too complex. Usually though, I find entrepreneurs haven’t invested enough in their story and story-telling capability .
“The narrative” is two-fold: the form and the delivery. Nailing both is fundamental to your endeavor’s success.
Form & Minimally Viable Pitch
I’d like to present a “minimally viable pitch”, a skeleton-outline for young entrepreneurs, or those in need of a new perspective on the pitch:
Dear would-be Co-Founder, Investor, Partner, etc.,
- (The Stage) Here’s a giant market.
- (The Opportunity) If you could just solve pain-point X, there is massive value creation/shift.
- (The Reveal) Guess what? New tech/insight Y allows us do this.
- (The Plan) Here’s the plan, it’s defensible.
- (The Team) We’re the right team.
- (The Close) Let’s do this together.
- On-demand transportation (taxis, livery) is a big market ($10B+).
- It’s massively frustrating catching a cab & dealing with shenanigans around payment.
- Uniquely, the smartphone changes that - we match supply to demand, in real-time and location-aware, creating a complete (& amazing) end-to-end experience.
- We’re aggressively recruiting supply (drivers) & creating a modern transportation marketplace that is too robust to compete against.
- We’re Garret & Travis, and between StumbleUpon & Red Swoosh we’ve created $100M worth of shareholder value, so while we know what we’re doing… we’re shooting for something far, far bigger.
- Invest in us, or miss out on the biggest innovation in transportation since GPS and/or the combustion engine.
- This internet thing is massive and growing as online content continues to explode.
- Because of this, search engines will ultimately beat curated portals, and if you can ensure the highest quality search results, you own the starting point of the web.
- Turns out, humans have already encoded hints on quality into the web itself: if you weight a page by incoming links, you can understand what content is authoritative. This is a massively hard computational problem, but we’ve got a scalable algorithm that can do handle it.
- We combine these two insights, creating the best search engine, and building a defensible data advantage that grows over time.
- We’re from Stanford’s Computer Science program, and preternaturally smart.
- We need at least 100k!
Example, Kwicr (a Venrock investment):
- Large telecom & CDN companies exist to meet our growing internet-performance expectations.
- But mobile has radically transformed how & where we consume content: our existing infrastructure was built to achieve performance in a wired context. When data crosses the wireless “last-mile”, spotty connections and congested wireless networks destroy those performance gains, frustrating users.
- By using advanced network coding techniques coupled with a mobile-aware protocol, Kwicr can drastically improve the experience.
- Deployed as an MDN (Mobile Delivery Network) and accompanying drop-in SDK, we make it trivially easy for developers & publishers to integrate this advanced technology. It won’t be long until Kwicr performance is the new mobile standard.
- We are a startup & telecom veterans, as well as expert mathematicians - we were born to do this.
- Meet your users expectations & improve your product - install the Kwicr beta today!
Breaking it Down
The order of the pitch is up for grabs, so long as it flows properly. However, each piece of the venture narrative is critical, so let’s see what happens if you miss one:
The Stage - Many times, ‘the stage’ is implicit & understood. Do I need to explain how large and meaningful the market for mobile devices is? However, you can convince someone on every other point and fail to excite them.
“Your plan to disrupt the mouse-trap market is flawless.” (but do I really want to shed blood, sweat, tears, and megabucks, fighting for a chance at a slice of 100M market?)
Better to choose a bigger, bolder market if you want to grab the attention of talent (and even protect your downside to some extent - land on the clouds, and all that).
The Opportunity - Articulating opportunity is a two-fold test. First, it demonstrates you understand the mind of buyers, and second it shows you’ve found a chink in the collective armor of the current offerings/competition. If you can’t show there’s something you can differentiate on that buyers/users care about, you haven’t found value you can capture.
“Social networks are big business, we’re building one exactly like Facebook, fund us!” (uhhhh, I think not - I hear they did that already)
The Reveal - Skip the reveal, and while you may have identified something worth exploring, you’ve only managed to communicate a wistful hope for the future.
“People hate to diet & exercise; wouldn’t it be great if it were easier?” (I’m with you 100%, buddy)
The Reveal is the disruption - it’s the gun you’ve brought to an unsuspecting knife-fight. To be sure, you can build a solid business without a disruption - but the venture-backed startup ecosystem is tuned for rapidly growing, out-sized wins. Find your gun.
The Plan - You found a big market, you understand it, and you’ve brought a gun.. well done. Now, all you need to do is go and win - you do know how to win, right? At this point, you need to convince your listener that there is a plausible path to success: a path that others can’t follow once they catch on to what you’re doing, that now is the time to pursue it or it will pass by, and the listener is qualified to be a meaningful participant. It’s possible to identify a disruptive opportunity that is too risky, too capital intensive, poorly timed, or plain indefensible - all of which lower the expected value of your success and make your opportunity less interesting.
The Team - Are you the right team and can you really deliver on this? If so, make sure you’ve done yourself every favor communicating it. If there are talent gaps you need to fill, show your self-awareness and include closing key hires in the plan. Nothing makes the universe (or venture capitalists) cry like a wonderful plan coming from the wrong team. We can’t easily solve for that, and you’ll rarely hear that kind of feedback from all but the most abrasive individuals.
The Close - You’re a dreamer, a thinker, a strategist, and a doer. But can you close? Because, if you can’t, you won’t be able to recruit, you won’t be able to finance your venture, and you won’t be able to sell customers. When you pitch, you’re a presenter. When you close, you’re an entrepreneur.
A well-structured pitch can flop or soar on the strength of the presenter. Are you amiable? Do you speak clearly & confidently? Do you build dramatic tension? Do you exude credibility? Do you report your vision… or inspire? While there are entire books on the topic of delivery (and I’d certainly encourage the consumption of them), I’ve always enjoyed watching the presentations of powerful leaders. Practice crafting your pitch, and practice delivering it, and be prepared to iterate it ruthlessly.
More than Fundraising
Beyond financing, the story helps recruit employees, promoters, and customers - and if you invest in the story early and, just as importantly, maintain it as you learn & grow, you’ll have an effective call-to arms and roadmap to guide your venture.
Being successful is clearing a high-bar of skill, timing, and luck - but a well-crafted story is a foundation you can leverage.