Wednesday 19 December 2018

Startup diary: The joys of finally finishing a pitch deck and hitting the road

 

Know your audience: Sales pitches do not work at all for investors – it’s a very different audience. Stock image
Know your audience: Sales pitches do not work at all for investors – it’s a very different audience. Stock image

Richard Rodger, Voxgig founder

The voxgig pitch deck is done. You reach a point of diminishing marginal returns with anything, and you have to accept that some investors will never write a cheque no matter how gorgeous your slides, or convincing your numbers. At a certain point no further tweaks are going to convince somebody to invest. It's easy to forget you have a business to run when you're deep into fundraising, and keep trying to perfect your materials, but that is not an optimal use of a founder's time.

Speaking of time, it's currently very limited for the Voxgig management team as we have just started running three concurrent high intensity trials of our system.

That takes a lot of focus to get right, and the context switching can be very draining. It's much easier to sell your value proposition to people in your own industry - you have many shared concepts and speak the same language.

It's a mistake to assume that that understanding carries over to fundraising. What you'll find is that sales pitches do not work at all for investors - it's a very different audience.

Our investing collateral is now mostly complete. What do we have? A business model, which is a spreadsheet with a detailed breakdown of your expected revenues and costs, as accurately as you can manage; a one-pager business outline that lets potential investors quickly scan your proposal - this helps everyone save time as those who are not investing in your 'space' and quickly pass; and finally the pitch deck itself.

I have never found it possible to build these materials in isolation, and I've found it's more useful to draft them all up first and then iterate towards final versions.

You'll be road-testing these documents, first with close advisers, then with other startup founders, and finally with friendly investors.

It's also important to present to investors who may not be interested (they might be late-stage rather than seed, say), but who are willing to offer advice and feedback.

You need to assimilate of all this data and work it back into the deck.

Even when finally hit the road, you'll still be adjusting as you go. That said, the fundamental narrative and numbers need to be in place - it's a good sign if your business idea changes day by day based on the last meeting you had.

Either you can argue your competitive positioning works, your model is reasonable, and your team is strong, or you need to stop and build a better case for funding.

If you are a first-time entrepreneur you really do need to participate in an accelerator to develop and practice the skills needed to handle this investing process.

Getting into an accelerator is a lot easier than getting funding. The painful corollary to that fact is that if you can't get into an accelerator, your idea is probably very underdeveloped - and that's great to learn early before you burn too much personal time and capital.

What structure does the final voxgig pitch deck have? Let's walk through it.

1 Introduction: one slide with our logo and elevator pitch.

2 Problem definition: we need one slide to set the scene - we have to explain how events are used as a sales channel.

Then we talk about that classic problem "half of my advertising budget is wasted ... I just don't know which half" as it applies to events.

We end with some evidence of the problem - quotes from our customer discovery and industry sources.

3 Our solution: we're building a software-as-a-service platform to measure events, so that's the first slide here. The next slide explains how we capture valuable measurements by providing collaboration tools that are useful to all stakeholders. Finally we talk about how this data will make it easier to recommend the most suitable events and conferences to attend, etc.

4 Traction: you need to show you've done more than write business plans on the back of napkins. Our traction is the success of the speaker's newsletter, and the enthusiastic engagement that we've seen from trial clients.

5 Advantage: anybody can sell lemonade - what makes yours special? We focus on collaboration first, and help all stakeholders in the events industry work with each other. This creates a network effect that provides a defensible position to grow the user base.

6 Business Model: how do you make money? We have a slide on the pricing model, and then cover the expected customer lifecycle. We also show why we will have high retention - customers will keep using us because the keep running events.

7 The Market: is it big enough? We talk about the events market overall, and particularly the tech space, where we operate. We talk about the Total Addressable Market (remember all that work from a few columns back). We talk about how the market will evolve ...

8 Competition: ... which is a good segue into some slides covering our competitors and how we differentiate.

9 Team: you need slides for the management team, and for the advisers. We may move this much nearer the start of the deck if we know that the investor considers the team more important that the idea (and many do).

10 Financials: this is where you summarise all the work that went into Excel. If you can, get an actual accountant to look over it, and try not to be too hurt when they keep rolling their eyes.

11 Raise: and finally, the details of your fundraising. How much, and on what basic terms, and for what.

12 Appendix: and here you put all the detailed information slides that back up your main arguments.

This structure is relatively standard, and if you look online you'll see many examples and minor variants. Many successful startups also publish their original decks, and we will certainly be following in that tradition once the dust settles.

One final practical tip: use Google Slides to build the deck. This makes it much easier to collaborate with your advisers and keep everything consistent. If you're emailing files all over the place it's very easy to end up editing the wrong version, which is just a waste of time. Google Slides also exports very nicely to PDF format, which you'll need for sharing the deck.

(Newsletter update: 4,293 subscribers, and an open rate of 16pc. We are killing it on the open rate - the industry average is 10pc or less.)

Richard Rodger is the founder of voxgig. He is a former co-founder of Nearform, a technology consultancy firm based in Waterford

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