You work for a startup. You e-mail countless investors, mentors, industry leaders, and contacts in the hopes of “picking their brains” or pitching to them. You’re hoping for their advice, their comments, their money, or just a few minutes of their time. What’s the best way to get a meeting with a very busy bee?
Steve Blank is a very busy man. In response to all the requests he gets for meetings?
“If I’d had infinite time I’d take every one of these “can I have coffee” meetings. But I don’t. So I now prioritize meetings with a new filter: Who is offering me something in return.
No, not offering me money. Not for stock. But who is offering to teach me something I don’t know. The meeting requests that now jump to the top of my list are the few, very smart entrepreneurs who say, “I’d like to have coffee to bounce an idea off of you and in exchange I’ll tell you all about what we learned about xx.”
Instead of it being a one-way street where you reap all the benefits, offering something in return for a meeting (more than just coffee and a business card) makes it much more appealing to the very important person you’re trying to meet. Get thinking about what it is you can offer your mentor, idol, or future investor in exchange for getting a cup of joe with you. The more value you bring to the table, the more likely it is that you’ll be sitting at more tables across from some pretty fantastic people.
Inspiration from FastCompany.
“Great stories happen to those who tell them” (Ira Glass). Tell your story (well), and watch your own stories unfold.
Pitching is a lot like storytelling, so we’ve borrowed these 10 storytelling tips from Susan Fisher to help you tell a more persuasive story. Whether you’re telling a story to your fellow co-founders or pitching to potential investors, these tips can take you a long way
1. Plan your story starting with the takeaway message. Think about what’s important to the audience. The ending is the most important point of the story. This is the message we want to deliver, and the one that will linger with the audience.
2. Keep your stories short for the workplace. Three to five minutes long is about what people can digest in today’s ADD world. (this goes the same for pitches)
3. Good stories are about challenge or conflict. Without these elements, stories aren’t very interesting. The compelling part of a story is how people deal with conflict–-so start with the people and the conflict.
4. Think about your story like a movie. Imagine you are screenwriter with a goal to get your message across. The story has to have a beginning, middle, and end.
5. Start with a person and his challenge, and intensify human interest by adding descriptions of time, place, and people with their emotions.
6. Be creative. Create a storyboard; draw it out, while listening to music or reading something for inspiration. A good story always has ups and downs, so “arc” the story. Pull people along, and introduce tension, just like in a fairy tale. (“From out of nowhere, the wolf jumps onto the path…”
7. Intensify the story with vivid language and intonation. Tap into people’s emotions with language. Use metaphors, idioms, and parables that have emotional associations. (Note: For more on this, see Leo Widrich’s article entitled, “Which Words Matter Most When You Talk” and studies on intonation performed by Ingrid Johnsrude at Cambridge University).
8. When using [slides], use appropriate graphics/pictures to convey your message. Stay away from text and complicated graphics. A single picture interlaced with emotional language will go a long way to convey your message.
9. Most of us have not told stories in front of an audience since English class in high school. So you will need to practice. Tell your story in front of a friendly audience and get feedback [like your co-founders]. Gauge your pace, and take note of the story’s length and your use of language. It will be a bit rusty at first, but underneath it all, we are all born storytellers.
10. The most important point is to make the switch within; because once you internalize that today’s “left-brain” communication style doesn’t work very well and you realize that stories are how people really communicate, you will find it a lot easier to proceed…because it’s authentic. And that is what really persuades.
If the answer is yes (and we suspect it is), you know how difficult it is to handle…
Early in the FounderFuel program, we organize an event called Mentor Day where over 100 FounderFuel Mentors come to Montreal to spend the day with the teams. For 12 hours straight, the founders will meet each of those Mentors to get feedback on their business. Each company has 10 sessions of 30 minutes to jam with a group of 10 Mentors (all of which are successful entrepreneurs and investors who think they have all the answers of course).
Now pause for a second. Imagine how hard it is to know what advice to take (and what to leave) when each of these Mentors are pulling you into different directions. There’s a serious case for Mentor Whiplash!
Now of course Mentor Day is somewhat of an exception. You don’t usually find yourself with as many influential people, at one given time, each giving you “the best” advice… but Mentor Whiplash happens all the time in the ~real world too.
1) Create a spreadsheet and list each meeting and the feedback you got in it. List who gave it to you and what they said. If you can categorize the feedback easily, do that. A column for each category of feedback might be good. Over time you should look at the totality of the feedback and see if there are things that a large percentage of people are giving you. If that is the case, you may want to pay more attention to that.
2) Apply the “investor discount” to feedback you get from investors. Advisors/mentors who have no agenda are a purer form of advice. Investors have their own agenda. They want to invest in “bigger ideas” and “larger outcomes”. When they tell you that your idea is too small, they may be talking to themselves, not you. Do not make their problems your problems. This is your business, not theirs.
3) Listen to customers, users, and the market. Advisors, mentors, and investors are not the market for your product. Get your product out into the market and get feedback from real users and customers who you will serve as you grow your business. If they like what you are doing and investors do not, do more of what you are doing. The investors will come around when you are scaling into your market.
Got tricks of your own?
Startups are popping up on the horizon at the rate that boy bands are making a comeback. Unfortunately, investments aren’t popping up at the same rate. The reality of the matter is, investors will say “no” more than they will say “yes” to companies looking to get funded. In his TechChrunch article on “The Anatomy Of A Pass, A Quantitative Analysis On Why A VC Passes,” Jay Jamison, a partner at Blue Run Ventures, looks at his experience and shares the numbers that he’s put together to explain why VCs pass on investments.
He looked at all companies he met for a pitch in person or over the phone for just over a year, over 200 companies, and rated them based on traction, market, team, product and term sheet. In a nutshell, this is what he found:
i. 2% of companies pitching me get an agreement for a term sheet for investment. Note that a term sheet does not always result in a closed investment from us. I don’t win them all, sadly.
ii. 50% of companies were pitching mobile-centric or mobile-first offerings, which maps to our core focus area as investors at BlueRun.
iii. 100% of companies pitching me that received an agreement for a term sheet for investment were pitching mobile-centric or mobile-first offerings.
Then he breaks down his criteria:
1. “Team and Market are by far the two most important factors in gaining a term sheet”
2. “Traction speaks louder than words”
3. “Investor fit matters a lot.”
One thing is for sure, even for this glass-half-full investor: fundraising is hard, and so is building a company.
Looking for a co-founder? You’re in luck! Check out CoFoundersLab, a startup dedicated to helping entrepreneurs like you find the right co-founder. Whether you’re looking to join a startup, seeking someone else to join your venture, or open to either, CoFoundersLab can help.
Create a FREE Basic entrepreneur profile, or opt for a paid Pro Membership profile for greater visibility and access to even more exclusive tools and features to help you find that perfect co-founder. You can even conduct an advanced search to find other members of FounderFuel who are looking for a co-founder. Make sure to add ‘FounderFuel’ on your profile so others can do the same and find you!
We all know that the best things come to those who ask, so Clarity is asking startup communities all over for their best piece of startup advice!
The top 100 submissions will be featured in their brand new guide, Get More Clarity: Straight Up Startup Advice from Experienced Entrepreneurs, alongside experts like Eric Ries, Dave McClure and Lewis Howes.
Want to submit your piece of startup advice? Get it in here. We’d also love it if you shared your advice in the comments too!
Here’s to a successful year to all startups out there.
Wishing y’all product-market fit, growth, virality, funding, partnerships or whatever else your priority is right now. Keep plugging away and remember to focus on what matters most for your business.
We’re expecting 2013 to be another great year for FounderFuel and look forward to working alongside as many of you as possible.
Get your application in by February 8 2013 for the Summer 2013 Cohort here.
Think your team has what it takes?Apply