Each month we see anywhere from 20 to over 100 impact startups from around the world pitching their growth plans in hopes of raising capital to take them to the next level. Yet, like most investors, we can only invest in a fraction of the companies we talk to.
As we reflect on the characteristics that make entrepreneurs and their companies stand out, the number one recommendation that we have for entrepreneurs to create a truly mic drop pitch is this: tell your story. Not just your company’s story. Not just the problem you’re trying to solve. Tell your personal story.
In the “fake it ‘till you make it” era of venture investing, we find that entrepreneurs often forget that in the early stages of your company, we are investing in you as a person and your vision (and often we have little else to reliably go upon). We’re investing in your ability to lead, your commitment to your idea, and your passion for creating a solution for the greater good.
So, when you’re pitching, in order to truly captivate your listener, start by telling them who you are, how you came to found your company, and what the road looked like that got you there.
Here’s an example. We spoke with an inspiring founding team recently who started the conversation with some context. The primary founder explained that he’d always wanted to work in the social impact space – he knew even in high school that he wanted to do something for the greater good. So, after college, he packed-up and moved to Africa to start working with communities in need. After a personal setback sent him home, he realized that in fact, with his skillset and education, he was better suited to coming up with solutions to poverty through systems change that could be rolled out to help many more than he could reach working in the field. So, he started working in finance in hopes of coming up with a way to move more capital into the areas that needed the capital and growth investment. And he did just that – his company is now a fast growing, tech-enabled financial services company that has created innovative and impressive ways to make impact investing more accessible and attractive to a broader audience.
Despite a long day of meetings and conferences, he had the room captivated after a five minute intro, and before we’d even gotten into what his company could do. And after going through the company, concept and plans in detail over the course of an hour, he was in the fortunate position of having our team ask him about how we could move forward and explore an investment, not vice versa. Now that’s a mic drop pitch…
Why does this matter? From a psychological perspective, we, as human beings, are always wondering, consciously or unconsciously, what motivates someone. As investors, we are trained to be a little skeptical and consider the worst case scenario. So, clearly stating your motivations avoids assumptions and guides your audience down the path of getting to know you, as you intended. And from a financial perspective, investing in a start-up is based largely on trust. As investors, we are trusting that you are committed, a hard worker, smart and passionate. The sooner that you tell us who you are, the sooner we can start developing that trust. And from an impact perspective we are truly investing in your values. We are trusting that you want to solve this problem and that you are going to try your hardest to do exactly that. There are a lot of smart people out there, but not all of them are committed to using their smarts for the greater good. The sooner we know what you stand for, the better we can assess your impact potential.
In almost every investment committee meeting that we have at the Sorenson Impact Foundation, someone will inevitably ask some version of “what do you think this entrepreneur is truly passionate about?” My advice to entrepreneurs is not to leave that question to assumption. Let us know what you stand for so we can start to picture what our partnership could look like and the impact we could create working together with you.