You've rehearsed your pitch within an inch of your life. Your slides are well designed, hit all the relevant points and your timing was spot on at three minutes.
The applause from the audience gave your ego a big boost and it’s now down to the judges to ask their questions and to decide whether you win.
The odds are that eight times out of 10, you will fail. The problem is that simply knowing your slides isn’t enough; you must learn and be able to answer the questions that judges most often ask.
Knowing the questions isn’t a matter of guessing because they’re actually often the same. Yes, ‘expert judges’ are often lemmings repeating the same list of questions (in their defence, they can’t be expected to know everything about everything - that’s what you’re there for). I should know, I've sat on the judging panel of dozens of pitch events, watching startups who clearly knew their business but failed to impress, unprepared for the questions that followed.
Determined to change all that, I launched The Fundraising Bootcamp, a four-day, action-packed programme with the aim of helping a cohort of startups from around Europe and make them knowledgeable, pitch-perfect and ready to raise follow-on investment (to simplify, from £400k - £5m).
If you’re wondering how to game the judges, here are my top five recommendations:
1. Your answers must be short, simply worded, jargon-free and always contain a number (yes, always). Remember that 80% of the investor decision is made based on you: how you speak, interact, engage with them; so be somebody they like to spend time with, take the joke, roll with the punches, ignore the idiots, and be brutally honest. “We don’t have that number nailed down yet, but it’s between X and Y so far”, “we’re sorely missing that key hire in the team, and that’s the first job I have post-funding”, “I don’t know yet, but I can get back to you with it tomorrow” etc are all valid replies and make you trustworthy.
2. Watch Demo Day videos to find the questions you’re most likely to be asked and learn how to answer them. Listen to them, write down how they are delivered and, just like your main pitch, rehearse them, verbally. Find some examples here.
3. Assume that the judges weren’t listening. Your three-minute pitch has all the answers they’re going to ask you. Don’t change a thing, just repeat what you said during your pitch. This happens far more often than you would believe (which just goes to demonstrate that when it comes to finding good judges, it’s not easy).
4. Most commonly asked questions? How do you/will you actually make money? Have you met and pitched customers/prospects? Who, name three. Who are your competitors and what makes your a defensible business? Any IP, protection, patents?
5. Have a clear ask. Too many just come, pitch without a clear why, how much, who from or how. "I just need money, all else will be fine" is one sure-fire way to get you nowhere. Be clear (detailed, with numbers) about your burn, how much you need and how you plan to spend it; disclose any contingency (in the EU nothing above 20%, in the US it's a free for all) and what milestones you’ll have reached by the time that funding runs out.
The number one piece of advice I wish I had received: you only get one chance. Top investors demand that you’re on top of your game, your company and your industry. They invest only in the best, not the second-best. They demand to be impressed, and there is no second chance. So prepare, and again, and don’t come crying: you don’t deserve to get funding, you make yourself fundable.
Your single objective for a pitch: get a meeting. That’s it, nothing else. So build up a “hook” into your storyline, something that intrigues, that they’ll question, something they want to learn more about; that’s how you get that meeting.
Good luck. It’s (also) often all about luck, so we all need some.
TMRW's Founder Francois Mazoudier wrote this piece for Startups Magazine.