India, Startups, VC

The missing piece of the 30-second pitch

Pitches come in all forms. Good ones, bad ones, long ones, short ones, and everything in between. Many of them, like those I heard at last week’s Dasra Social Impact graduation, were carefully sculpted into 30-second pitches accompanied by a single powerpoint slide. If you’re an entrepreneur and you get this opportunity, what should you include?

Sentences 1-2: Name(s) and description

Successful people know that people drive success. They need to know your name in addition to your organization’s name. Don’t rush through it! Then slowly, and with more pauses than you think a sane person would tolerate, give a half-sentence description of what you do. Contrary to popular wisdom, this out-of-the-gate description shouldn’t be what you want to do. We’ll get to that in a minute. E.g.:

My name is Mark Hand, and I work with First Light Ventures. We provide $75-350K investment to entrepreneurs starting businesses with a social or environmental purpose.

Sentences 3-4: Opportunity and progress

If you’re speaking to an individual, pay attention to body language. If your two-sentence opener didn’t work, quit the pitch and ask them a question about something else. If you can’t demonstrate that you understand a sideways glance around the room to mean “this isn’t for me,” you’re sunk.

If you are giving a formal pitch, however, or you sense an opening with an individual, give the listener a sense of the opportunity and what you’ve done so far. Again, this is not what you want to do, but what you’ve done so far.

Three years ago, our founder saw that seed-stage entrepreneurs struggled to find that critical first funder. We’ve funded 25 companies, 9 of them here in India.

Sentence 5-6 (or 7?): Vision and need

If you’re pitching to an individual, stop here, leave space for questions, and shift into conversation-mode. If you’re giving a formal pitch, you’ve got two bits left. First, the vision: draw a compelling picture of a goal that is on the border of ambitious and crazy. The Dasra Social Impact entrepreneurs nailed this–at the end of the pitches, I saw a world in which India’s children learned in activity-based classrooms, wastepickers were organized into money-making unions, and rural households could access cheap, affordable energy on mobile-based phones.

Here is where many entrepreneurs miss an opportunity. Having given someone the one-two of what you’re doing, and convinced them that your company on the forward march to building a better world, you can now help them help you. So, ask for it. Are you looking to hire a COO? Trying to find off-take partners for your biodiesel? Confused about the difference between pre- and post-money valuations? Lay it out there–you never know what you might get back, especially in a roomful of people you haven’t yet had the chance to Google. This may sound a bit awkward at first, but I’m hoping it becomes a ubiquitous part of the standard 30-second pitch.

Our ultimate goal is to attract as much capital into seed-stage investing as possible. If you’re inclined to help, we have five entrepreneurs raising follow-on rounds of funding now in fields from education to microlaons; most of our portfolio is looking for working capital; and we would love to hear about any energy startups you’ve seen.

Happy pitching!

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