Everything I Know About Pitching VCs I Learned From Monty Python (Part Two)
For part one of “Everything I Know About Pitching VCs I Learned From Monty Python,” click here.
With help from The Pythons, Matt Fates and I collaborated on some ideas to help turn your exceptional slide deck into an exceptional fundraising pitch.
5) Then, you must cut down the mightiest tree in the forest… with… a herring!
The other key to a great pitch is to highlight your magic, the thing that makes you stand-out from the dozens of other entrepreneurs the VC will see this year. Sometimes you really do have a better mousetrap and the idea can “sell itself.” But there are other kinds of magic: identifying a large and underserved market, having a killer go-to-market strategy, attracting a kick-ass technology, sales or executive team, or having traction with important marquee customers. If you can cut down a tree with a herring, say so. Whatever your particular magic, just make sure it’s not buried in your pitch.
6) Then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three.
This is going to sound silly, but if a VC asks a question like “How much is one plus two?” it’s OK to answer “three.” In other words, a direct question deserves and demands a direct answer. Elaboration afterwards is fine, but failing to answer the question directly is not. Responding to the question you want to answer instead of the question asked is not a good idea, nor is being so busy thinking about your next slide that you’ve stopped listening. You are pitching, true, but there’s a conversation going on and you need to be a part of it.
It’s amazing how many otherwise excellent pitches go sideways in Q&A because a smart entrepreneur uses a thousand words to answer the wrong question when active listening and a dozen direct words would have sufficed.
7) I don’t wanna talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough wiper! I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!
Sometimes it just goes that way. The VC is not interested. And sometimes—hopefully not often—it’s because the pitch didn’t go well. But other times rejection has less to do with the quality of your idea and more to do with factors beyond your control. Maybe the venture firm has decided their portfolio is already too weighted around your potential customers or industry segment. Maybe they’re preoccupied in raising their own next round. Maybe they’ve simply decided to wait a quarter before making their next investment. The point is, don’t burn any bridges. VCs are a very small club and they compare notes informally. Be polite. Be gracious. Assume you will be back in front of this group again one day.
An even better idea is to know your audience as well as you can ahead of time. Do your research and homework. There’s always the VC’s website, which describes not only their investment themes and “sweet spot,” but recent activity and a list of their investments. There’s nothing stopping you from networking your way into conversations with two or three of their portfolio executives. The point is, good selling is about good preparation—and it’s important to know that a VC hates elderberries before you arrive to pitch an elderberry idea.
8 ) It’s just a flesh wound.
Raising money is hard work. You’ll get nicked and bruised along the way, even if you are ultimately successful. You need persistence and optimism and energy. Just bear in mind Monty Python’s Black Knight, who, losing all four limbs to good King Arthur, continued to fight on. It may be long, arduous and sometimes painful, but it’s just a flesh wound.
By the way, as any admissions counselor can tell you after reading through thousands of essays from very serious high school seniors, that a little humor goes a long way. If you decide to write full-on comedy, you’d best be John Cleese. But having a sense of humor is powerful, and a good reminder that if this isn’t fun, you might, in the immortal words of Monty Python, try doing something completely different.
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.