Know your audience.

We, Indian entrepreneurs, can think big, can write code, can build a sustainable business, can raise money and we might as well make a successful exit but we still face challenges in making a 2 minutes presentation that would that would at least make the listeners curious about our startup.

I happen to attend an event recently wherein around 8 established and mostly funded startups presented to a billion $ US based company looking to partner/ acquire startups in India. Out of these, four startups kept on rambling about what they do, team, achievements, product details, technologies, etc. Two of them could not even explain their idea properly and the stakeholders were clueless even after 2 minutes talking by the founders. There was only one startup which did a decent job in explaining what they do and how they could help the targeting company. At every such event I have attended, the story is pretty much same – only 10%-20% of the entrepreneurs are able to make their case properly in a 2 minutes pitch. However crude that may sound, but we still haven’t learnt the art of selling.

The repercussions are actually much larger than we think. India’s VC/M&A ecosystem is still quite novice. We have handful of VC firms making a handful of deals every year. The number of successful exits through acquisition is much lesser and IPO happens once in a bluemoon. The onus is on every stakeholder of this ecosystem to help the ecosystem grow, both in size and maturity. So when some firangi folks from US come down to India hearing amazing stories about India, the first expression they get becomes really critical. Our product/ service may not be totally relevant to their business but our pitch should be kickass, so that when they go back, they should be thinking about how to leverage India more and invest more in India rather than having doubts about quality of startups and entrepreneurs here. In short, when we screw up the pitch, we screw up brand India.

And what’s more ironical is that, pitching should be one of the simpler tasks for an entrepreneur. The hard part is analysing the market opportunity, creating the product and making money, all of which we do pretty well. An entrepreneur should never underestimate the cruciality of a meeting, even if he is sure that nothing will come out of it. Some basic research and due diligence about the audience, putting oneself in their shoes, creating a customized presentation rather than an off-the-shelf investor deck, timing the deck and practicing it couple of times, etc. – these things should never be ignored. Basic Google search would give many good ppt templates that can be played with. Personally, I find the ones on 500startups website quite helpful. The story should be something like this:

–          Slide 1: What your company does. <Should be 1-2 lines – catchy and crispy clear>

–          Slide 2: How will partnering/ acquiring you help the company. <Very critical slide. Should be driven by various use-case scenarios and business impact creation>

–          Slide 3: Any case study (if available) about a similar partnership with another company

–          Slide 4/5: How have your operations grown since inceptions. Some data around founders, investors,  user-base, key clients, etc. and future roadmap <Ideally no technical stuff >

One can always keep more detailed slides about technology, architecture, etc. in the appendix and can share if the need be. An average of 30 seconds per slide would still consume around 2.5 minutes. So make sure you literally cram it by heart so that no time is wasted in reading through the slides while presenting. Even after this entire, an entrepreneur feels that he won’t be able to pull off the pitch, there is nothing wrong in handing the dais to a more capable candidate, even if he does not belong to VC/M&A ecosystem team.

There is a bigger picture here. All this is applicable is almost every walk of life. Be it job interview or a b-school interview or just a casual chat with some investor or probable client, we always tend to underestimate the importance of beforehand preparation and proactive viewpoint. Before stepping into any meeting, we should have a hypothesis and point of view based on it. Getting it wrong is better than not having it at all.