Constructing a better startup pitch



When I'm thinking about investing in a startup, I first tell my wife about it and give her my version of their pitch. If we do invest, I often find myself doing the same type of pitch to other angel investors.

My pitch often feels very different than the company's pitch. In a previous post I encouraged people to distill their pitch down to a compelling story and get rid of everything else. That's what I do.

After another year and half of angel investing, I have a bit more clarity on how I think you should structure your story. You want to address the following questions in this order.

  1. Why you? I always find myself telling your personal story first. How did you end up doing this, that is, get into startups, this particular idea and with these particular people? Why is your team the right team for what you're doing?

    Of course, if you have any traction, it can go here too. Traction shows your team may already be a good fit.

    You don't have to have an amazing track record to have a good personal story. Passion and unique insight are powerful. Personally a major part of what is important to me in this section is that your team cares so much about solving this problem that you'll want to stick it out for at least five years.

  2. Why now? Jason Calacanis has a great Pandodaily post on this question.

    When Sequoia's partners ask startups this simple question, you see gears and wheels turning furiously behind the eye of these promising founders being sent into the arena. They start reflecting on perhaps one of the most important questions in the age of the insta-startup: What has changed that makes this the perfect time for this startup to exist?

    Every great startup has a "Why now?" when you think about.

    YouTube's "why now?" -- bandwidth costs plummeted, video cameras started recording to digital files, and these new smartphones were coming online with -- wait for it -- built-in cameras AND an Internet connection.

    Answering why now takes your investment opportunity from interesting to compelling. At it's best it shows you know a secret. It should at least mean you've really mapped your space. Why hasn't it been attempted yet? (It probably has many times.)

    This section essentially conveys somebody is going to do this soon. And if you answered the first section effectively that it is also clear your team is as likely as any to get it done.

  3. What is your path to victory? This is your execution plan. It shows you're not crazy or quixotic, or whatever you want to call it. You have a plan. It will change, of course, but given all the uncertainty here's what you're planning on today.

    The best paths come with numbers of some kind, e.g. a spreadsheet or some back of the envelope calculations. These are not made up financial projections, but a list of clear assumptions. Your plan is to de-risk these assumptions and reduce the error-bars on them.

    Essentially this section conveys how you think disruption will unfold in your space, and how you're going to be a part of it.

  4. Why me? The story ends with real, but intended flattery. Why are you coming to this particular investor at this particular time?  How do you imagine they will add value?

The traditional pitch advice tells you to address all the risks investors evaluate, usually with one or two slides each. Better advice tells you to try combine some of those into a six-slide progression, which is what I did when raising money.

The story pitch furthers that progression -- still only a few slides, but weaved together a bit more persuasively. It should create more of an emotional connection than just purely an intellectual one. The Why you piece helps people get to know you. The Why now section adds a bit of fear of missing out. And Why me is again personal.

If you try to use this format, I'd love to hear about it.


If you have comments, hit me up on Twitter.
I'm the Founder & CEO of DuckDuckGo, the search engine that doesn't track you. I'm also the co-author of Traction, the book that helps you get customer growth. More about me.