Martin Soorjoo is the founder of Investor Pitch Clinic, a Silicon Valley-based firm who coach entrepreneurs in the techniques necessary to present a successful pitch in order to secure funding from investors. A former London barrister with fifteen years’ practice under his belt, and a background in coaching. the move into the world of startups and investment pitches came by accident. “Like all good things, it wasn’t planned”, recalls Martin.
“I got asked by a group of investment bankers and a couple of angels and VC’s to set up a project which involved bringing in other investors. I thought to myself, “Oh I’ll do this for three months or for six months, and then I’ll go back to being a lawyer”, and in the end I loved what I was doing so much.
“I think about three or four years ago I thought, “OK, this is quite interesting because I have to chance to mix the skills I developed as a lawyer, where I was obviously a professional speaker, and the coaching that I’ve done pretty much since I qualified, with my knowledge of working in startup and working with investors all the time.”
Surprisingly, a problem Martin frequently encounters at the Investor Pitch Clinic is a total lack of awareness amongst would-be entrepreneurs about the work entailed in getting funding from Angel Investors or Venture Capitalists.
“I think many are so focused on getting their startup launched, and it’s a 24/7 thing, you live and breathe it and you’re wearing ten different hats, and I think people often don’t realise until they’re in the room with an investor and they’re getting hammered and torn to shreds, how how much practice and preparation is required.
“That’s the thing they miss. They think, “well I know it’s a great idea, so I’m sure I’ll be able to persuade the investors that it is”, whereas in fact the investors are being pitched left, right and centre every day of the week. You have to really work on how you make your pitch stand out, how you make sure that within the first fifteen seconds you’ve got them listening to you.
“The key to any pitch, whether you’re pitching them in an email, at an executive summary or pitch deck, over the phone, or in person; you’ve got to grab their attention. Otherwise they’ll switch off, they’ll bin your documents, or they’ll be on their Blackberrys or iPhones or whatever else.”
Even if an idea is strong enough to shine through a poor pitch, warns Martin, investors may still be reluctant to buy into the idea.
“Investors are typically pretty smart people, and if they can see that you have something pretty special, then the fact that you’ve made a bad pitch isn’t fatal. It depends on who else you’ve got on your team. If your business is going to depend a lot on sales and marketing, and you can’t pitch, then that’s a bit of a problem.
“A lot of the time people don’t understand why it’s important to be able to pitch well. The reality is that you need to be able to pitch to customers, whether they be companies or individuals. If you can’t pitch to an investor, they will be worried that you won’t be able to bring anyone else on board.”
“A thing we say to all of our clients is practice, practice, practice, and I don’t mean once or twice. Some of the greatest speakers of our time, whether it be Clinton, Obama, or Reagan in the eighties, and you see it with a lot of actors, they practice their speech.
“One of the biggest mistakes is relying too much on the presentation, relying on the documents to do the speaking, and using the presentation as a crutch. The point of presentations is that they’re meant to support you. What people sometimes do is stand there and repeat the text that’s on the screen, because that’s easier to do, but in fact you’re not going to sell anything to anybody that way.
“Linked to that is really not appreciating that what you’re trying to do in that fifteen, twenty minutes, is trying to establish some kind of connection or rapport with the investors. At the end of the day, yes, investors make decisions based on the money, and an analysis of your business model and all those other factors, but they’re still human, and you need to make sure that they think “that’s a nice guy, that’s somebody I could work with, that’s somebody I could trust”.
Not every technologist is a salesman, however. Nonetheless, Martin believes that even the most retiring, daylight-shy programmer can engage with a potential investor.
“One of the things we teach people is to learn how to bring their real selves into the room. Pick a situation from your life when you’re confident and engaging and maybe you’re funny and your energy’s high, and that’s the guy you bring into the room, because that’s the guy that wins people over.
“Even with the geek or the coder who is locked up in the room, everybody pretty much has a situation where they are able to engage and be a bit upbeat and make people like them and want to talk to them.”
Investor Pitch Clinic has just launched Startup Caffeine, a series of, “content rich videos that have really valuable stuff in”, which are free to download for a limited period.
“There are a lot of people who just can’t afford our services. We make our rates as affordable as we possibly can, otherwise we wouldn’t have any clients, we recognise things are difficult. At the same time, there are a lot of entrepreneurs who just don’t have a dollar, who are just really, really struggling.”
The aim of these videos is to give fast-paced and pertinent advice to entrepreneurs who are short on time and resources.
“It is really pooling all of our knowledge and techniques and looking at what works and what doesn’t, and I would like to think that these videos will have more useful information in them, more practical information, than any other resource on the planet.”