Two-tenths of a second.
That’s how much time baseball players have, on average, to decide if they should swing at a pitch. On top of that insanely short window of time, “the human eye really is not fast enough to follow a 95-mile-per-hour fastball from the pitcher’s hand all the way to the plate.” In other words, it should be almost impossible for batters to connect with the ball.
But despite the huge challenge, pitchers keep pitching, hitters keep swinging, and most teams get eight to nine hits per game. Somehow, some way, the game of baseball works, even though it seems like it shouldn’t.
You’ll experience something similar when you pitch your business. You’ll have what feels like a super-short amount of time to convince a potential investor why they should trust you and your idea.
This advice will sound obvious, but your pitch needs to be clear and concise. How does your solution solve a particular problem, and why, in a sea of potential investment opportunities, should this investor’s dollars come to you?
It’s damn hard … kind of like trying to a high-speed fastball with a skinny stick.
First, how do you get your point across fast enough to engage someone? I see two big time wasters that tend to come with inexperienced pitchers:
- Too much personal history. Sleepless nights. Check. Spent all your savings. Check. Walked away from other opportunities. Check. Look, almost every entrepreneur has made sacrifices of some sort. The art of the perfect pitch means you make it as easy as possible for potential investors to understand the value of what you’re doing. Recounting your “tortured” past only gets in the way of your brilliant idea.
- Too many details. At this point in the pitch, the investor doesn’t need to know the operating system you’ll use in the office. Avoid the details that don’t add depth to your pitch, and focus on things that will affect your long-term success, like the business model you plan to adopt.
Second, what should a pitch look like? In The Startup Equation, we discuss why Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule makes perfect sense for your pitch. It’s a prime example of how less is more when it comes to pitching. The rule is simple: 10 slides, 20 minutes, and font no smaller than 30 points.
Where did the rule come from? Guy has listened to hundreds of companies pitch, and as he notes, “Most of these pitches are crap: sixty slides about a ‘patent pending,’ ‘first mover advantage,’ ‘all we have to do is get 1% of the people in China to buy our product’ startup.”
You don’t want your pitch to be crap, so here’s an outline that will help you stick with the 10-slide, 20-minute, and 30-font-size rule.
- Define the problem: Hit them with the challenge out of the gate.
- Solve the problem: How does your product/service solve the problem?
- Pick the business model: How will you make money and scale?
- Define the competition: How big is the market, who else is doing it, and how will you do it better?
- Name the team: These are the members of your “A-Team.”
- Outline the financials: When will you be profitable? How will you spend the investment you’re requesting?
- Explain the milestones: What will the funding help you do? This is also a place to describe successes to build momentum and discuss prior examples of exits for companies like yours.
- Issue the call to action: Quickly summarize the one-minute pitch and tell them what they can do to invest and get in on the opportunity now.
Finally, practice, practice, practice. And make sure you do it in front of people a few times. Ideally, your audience will include people who’ve heard or given successful pitches. You want constructive feedback to help you improve, and realistically, the more comfortable you become with the pitch, the better you can think on your feet during the meeting.
The art of the pitch comes down to some basics that often get overlooked by people thinking they need to dazzle investors to get the “yes.” You don’t need buzzwords or silly business models. You need a solid explanation for what it will take to get your business to the next step and why that success can benefit investors. Again, it may sound simple, but a lot of things do — until you try them in real life.
This column originally appeared on LinkedIn on April 5, 2016. To learn more about pitching and everything else that goes along with building a startup, check out The Startup Equation by Steve Fisher & Ja-Nae Duane.