How to deliver a great pitch to angel investors

So last night,* Nick and I pitched our start-up, lifetise.com, to a group of angel investors.

Cue the montage

For those who last tuned in when we were working on Be Neighbourly, I feel that we need a montage to explain what’s happened in the past year. So here goes…

Being neighbourly didn’t work. People in London want to be neighbourly only conceptually. Not in real life. Not if that means talking to strangers. Especially strangers who know where you live.

Flash forward.

One idea to create an app for us normal people who don’t have assets, to help us figure out how to afford our lives. A retro eureka moment when we remembered the Game of Life (“be a winner with the game of life”). A decision to create a Sims-style game for your real life, that shows you how to manage your money and plan for the future.

Flash forward.

Find a games studio to build the game. Get excited that people are interested, then sad that we don’t have the cash to build. Apply for government funding (free money). Miss out by a score 2% lower than the qualifying standard. Re-apply with confidence, having totally nailed the responses to their feedback. Get rejected again because the government thinks it’s fine to get a whole different bunch of people to review the application, who give totally different scores. Fuckers. Lose the games studio to other, paying projects.

Flash forward.

Find another games studio. Try to pitch the concept to investors. Working on the assumption that raising £250k shouldn’t be too hard in London. Get investor interest but no moolah (no MVP no money).

Flash forward.

Find games industry legend who wants in and has a development partner who can build an MVP for £35k. Freak out about spending life savings on a punt. Do it anyway. Interview loads of 20 – 30 somethings about how shit their lives are. Hustle the hell out of anyone who’ll listen (and plenty who don’t) about how amazing our product is. Get on the radar of some angel investing groups. Go to more FinTech events than any one person should have to and network like a duracell bunny.

Flash forward.

Read too many blog posts on how to create the perfect pitch deck. Lose all cognitive function. Create pitch deck (many, many versions), business plan (many, many versions), grapple with a growth model and revenue forecasts, P&L and cash-flow projections for a business that does not exist and has no revenue. Do pop-quiz-style valuation calculations. Google everything to find somebody smarter who’s already thought these things through. Do that.

Flash forward.

Apply for angel pitch events. Create endless, awful, poorly-lit grainy videos introducing ourselves to the selection panel. Do 83 retakes before saying fuck-it, you can only see half my face, but that will have to do. Get through the selection process for FinTech Circle. Do celebratory chest bump. Then remember that we still don’t have a product to show on the night.

Flash forward.

Scream at developer team to please, please, please have something vaguely approaching a demo ready for the pitch event in 3 weeks’ time. Inwardly weep at the likelihood that they won’t. And you’ll be all fur-coat-no-knickers in the dragons’ den. Design a really bright pop-up banner and snazzy business cards to detract from the fact that you don’t have a demo.

Flash forward.

Finalise your pitch deck. Do a practice run to the FinTech Circle team. Get told you stand weirdly, so you need to sort that out. Practise ‘relaxed confidence boss-woman’ poses in the mirror.

…And finally, it’s pitch day. Nerves, adrenaline, focus, meditation, fixed smiles, power pose in the ladies loo. It all comes together.

So what did we learn about how to pitch to angels:

Go early in the billing:

We went first. Which we thought was brave / foolhardy of the organisers. Putting the “computer game to fix your finances” first on the bill in a room full of serious money people. I worried that we’d look lightweight compared to the blockchain and moneytransfer companies. I worried that the room was only half full so the angels who turned up late would miss our pitch. I worried about many things.

Turns out it’s better to open or go early in the list. You have people’s full attention. It was a hot room and people started to doze off in the second half. By the end I couldn’t remember half the pitches, so you have more chance of being remembered if you’re up early.

Prepare like a MoFo:

It goes without saying, but if you’re someone who’d sooner down a pint of fire ants with a chaser of rat poison than present to a room full of people, then (1) for gawd’s sake find someone else who can pitch for you, or if that’s not an option ‘cos you’ve got no friends, then (2) put in enough practice that you can forget about what you’re saying and just concentrate on not fainting.

I’m a confident little stand-up (some would replace ‘confident’ with ‘arrogant’ or ‘cocky’), but my legs still evaporate and my mouth freeze-dries when it comes to pitching. I got over it with a small glass of wine before we started and deep breathing from my belly (don’t do this if you’re holding a mic – you’ll sound like you’re giving birth).

Expect difficult AND stupid questions:

Just because you know your business inside out (you do, don’t you?), don’t expect anyone else in the room to have understood a single word of it. So when they ask questions that indicate they haven’t listened or haven’t understood, don’t look surprised. Just be grateful that it’s something you can answer.

Use it as an opportunity to add some interesting detail to particular points. We had a ‘hidden’ stack of 10 additional slides on our deck, just waiting for people to ask us the right question. It feels awesome to be able to point to stats to back up your answer. Especially if you can work the slide clicker.

Accept that there’ll always be at least one person in the room who feels it is their duty to ask a dickish question or to try to catch you out in some way. To those people, I say “thank you”. Because we’re ready for you and we’re going to use the tried and tested politician swerve.

So when the hand goes up from the twitchy-looking guy at the back who doesn’t appear to own any eyes, make sure you’re primed. Whatever he asks, you are going to answer the question you wish he’d asked. You’re going to take his mealy-mounthed question and you’re going to turn it into an answer about something you’re desperate to show-off. The positive energy from everyone else in the room will carry you through.

Hustle the hell out of it:

We missed most of the second half pitches. We were stood outside the auditorium talking to some angels. Remember why you’re there. Only one goal. Convince those with money to invest in your startup. This goes back to point 1. If you’re early in the billing, then people know who you are early. You can have many more focused conversations with investors than if they haven’t yet seen you pitch and they’re just making small-talk.

Out of all the angels in the room, we got interest from around 70%. We made sure we got their business cards, so we could make the next move. And we followed up with them the next day to set up meetings.

Giving your pitch is just the beginning. You have to be willing to network with everyone in the room. Don’t expect people to come to you. Get around everyone and find out who they are and why they’re there. We found that even those who weren’t interested in investing in Lifetise were happy to introduce us to someone who might be a better fit.

And finally, treat every pitch likes it’s THE pitch. Keep your energy and enthusiasm high – it’s the thing that investors have remarked on with our team – we are experienced (read: old) and incredibly enthusiastic. Investors want to work with people who are passionate about their business.

*Um, two months ago. I started this post the day after the pitch, but then got a bit busy with investor meetings. Sorry.

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