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Everything I Know About Pitching VCs I Learned From Monty Python (Part One)

Everything I Know About Pitching VCs I Learned From Monty Python (Part One)

Most VCs number the annual business plans they see in a year in the thousands, but the implication is the same: There has to be more to distinguish your fundraising pitch than ten or 15 slides in 30-point font.

That’s where Monty Python comes in. John Cleese, Eric Idle and their associates were a VC’s dream, launching a comedy program on television that was so innovative and so influential that it changed the future of their business. And then, after four years, they decided they’d run out of really good ideas and got tired of TV and left for their next big adventure: movies. They had extraordinary, focused success with game-changing ideas and a clean exit at the top of their game.

Wouldn’t it be great if they could write that about each of us one day?

So, with help from The Pythons, Matt Fates and I collaborated on these eight ideas to help turn your exceptional slide deck into an exceptional fundraising pitch.

1) “Of course, it’s a bit of a jump, isn’t it? I mean, er… chartered accountancy to lion taming in one go… You don’t think it might be better if you worked your way towards lion taming, say via banking?”

As an entrepreneur, you spend day and night working at, thinking about and living a particular idea. Your pitch deck is almost entirely about that idea and how it can be successful. But VCs invest in more than ideas. In fact, most VCs will tell you that a good entrepreneur and a good team trump a good idea every time. They want to invest in you. So, be prepared to talk about yourself. What are some of the relevant experiences that brought you to your idea? How will those experiences help you to be successful? And, if your idea is to tame lions, and you really are a chartered accountant, you might consider bringing a lion tamer onto your team.

2) Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

If the VC is not engaged, you’ll walk through your pitch and be gone. But if there is an interest in your idea and team, there will be questions. Sometimes they will be difficult and unexpected. Rehearsing your presentation a few times in front of the smartest associates you can find is a really good idea, just so you can surface the unexpected. However, if you are caught off-guard during a pitch it’s OK to think out loud, and it’s OK to say you don’t know but will find out. It’s not OK to make something up. It’s not OK to fib, thinking you’ll work it out later. And it’s really not OK to lose your cool, because any pushback you get during a pitch will pale to what you have to put up with after a launch. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, but in the VC world, it might be a sign of real engagement.

3) “Know what I mean? Know what I mean? Nudge nudge. Nudge nudge! Know what I mean? Say no more. . .Know what I mean?”

One of the trickiest parts in pitching is to know how to balance between your “big vision” and keeping things real. There’s no getting around the first part; you have to be able to articulate a vision that is grand and compelling and worthy of investment. But it also has to be grounded, and an effective way to do that is to offer one or two actual customer use cases. These can also clarify any fuzziness in the business model—the important “how do we make money at this?” The logic of your narrative then becomes: Here’s the big idea, here’s how it works in practice, and here’s what happens when we scale it. Voila! Success, funding, a big exit and a happy life. Know what I mean?

4) “Apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans ever done for us?”

One of the keys to a great pitch is leaving your audience wanting more. Your deck should tell a compelling story, but at a high enough level that the basic narrative sings. Detail — all the other good stuff that you know and are just dying to talk about – can come later in the form of due diligence and detailed business modeling. For the first round, leaving your audience with an uncluttered narrative, and the promise that there’s lots of good hard thinking to back things up, is not a bad way to close.

Next week we’ll unveil four more Python-inspired ideas for your VC pitch – stay tuned.

Eric B. Schultz is a former CEO of Sensitech and Venture Partner at Ascent. Read more of his work at his blog, The Occasional CEO.

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