Pitching Tips for Entrepreneurs (and Mistakes to Avoid)

If you’re an entrepreneur, your business is all-consuming. You work on it for days, months, even years on end. Doesn’t it seem odd, then, that you get only a few minutes to pitch it to investors? We thought so, too, so to help you nail your blink-and-you’ll-miss-it time in the spotlight, we rounded up tips from entrepreneurs and coaches. Then we tossed in a bunch of lessons learned, because reading about others’ mistakes can help you avoid them when it’s your turn.

“Be concise. Distill your core message down to its essence so it’s comprehensible and memorable. Not a single person we’ve talked to who has heard our pitch has any doubt about what we are selling.”
—Kyle Vaughan and Kenneth Wayman of Greatest Possible Good, creators of the Saqua bottle

“Day in and day out, I see founders who fail to think about how to get the investor to understand what the business looks like, how it will make money, and why it’s important to build in the first place. If the pain point is something that the investors are not likely to have experienced, many founders do a horrible job of creating empathy in the investors. If founders don’t make the problem compelling at the outset, everything after that is a waste of time.”
—Tony Clemendor, startup advisor; mentor; coach; pitch judge; active member of the selection committee, Harvard Business School Angels of Northern California; founder, Milestone Performance Coaching

“One of the secrets to pitching investors that most founders overlook is something I call trendspotting. Your pitch deck and verbal pitch should not only have a primary trend(s), but a secondary trend(s) as well. Primary trends are the obvious ones like ‘Our industry is growing year after year,’ but they don’t really impress and are [likely] to get a response of ‘Yeah, but—.’ Secondary trends are the ones that turn heads and refute that initial ‘Yeah, but—’ filter. They are the not-so-obvious stats that get the investor/audience to say, ‘You know, I never thought of it like that before.’ For example, one startup I coached, Citispoon, had obvious primary trends around the growth of the restaurant industry, but then impressed a judges’ panel at a recent pitch competition by sharing a secondary trend that highlighted how a recent study indicated the industry was about to enter a buying cycle, meaning the customer base was ready and the urgency to act was there. The judges mentioned in their feedback how this impressed them, and Citispoon ultimately took first place.”
—RajNATION, founder, Startup Hypeman

“As product/technical co-founders, early on when talking to investors we put too much focus on the quality of our product instead of the sophistication of our overall business operations. Investors want to know your CAC, CPA, LTV, and churn rates. They want to know how you intend to win more business and grow the company. With a technical co-founding team, they almost view the quality of the product as a given and a quick checkbox to tick—then they move on to the financials.”
—Andrew Garcia, co-founder, Goodshuffle Pro

“It’s not about you. New entrepreneurs tend to over-focus on themselves and their product right off the bat. I’m sure your business is brag-worthy, but unfortunately everyone’s favorite topic is themselves. A surefire way to earn investors’ interest is to dedicate a portion of your pitch to showing that you understand them and their pain points.”
—Maryna Shkvorets, public speaking expert, marynashkvorets.com

“The biggest mistake I’ve seen people making in pitches is using too many tech terms and numbers. They try to pack their pitches with loads of information. They think they can impress their audience by this overflow of data and by using buzzwords. Instead, it has the opposite effect. It makes their pitch complicated and boring. No one can make any emotional connection to such a pitch. Research shows that messages delivered as stories can be up to 22 times more memorable than just facts. Instead of being too formal, try to deliver your pitch in a way that leaves an impact on your audience.”
—Brett Helling, CEO, Ridester, Gigworker

“As a young entrepreneur who has participated in a variety of pitches in the recent past, I recommend one tip to anyone facing their first: It is better to simply communicate your message and not shoot for a hard sell, which can immediately turn off your audience. By ensuring that you communicate your pitch clearly and effectively, more often than not, you will receive a sympathetic [ear]. It is also important to have fun when delivering your message and to not think about it as a competition. The more relaxed you are, the more creative your pitch will be, which will increase your chances of nailing it.”
—Ollie Smith, CEO, ExpertSure

“A common pitching mistake is when startups make their pitch all about me! me! me! when the entire pitch should be focused on the value provided to others, including the potential growth and value that could be provided to investors.”
—Stacy Caprio, founder, Growth Marketing

“Instead of anticipating the hard questions, build them into your deck and address them as you pitch. For example, my company is in the self-care and mental wellness space. Our first product was a self-care monthly planner and journal subscription. When I initially began pitching, investors always rolled their eyes at the cost of the physical product. Knowing that this was a strategic decision, I began to build it into my pitch by saying, ‘I know what you’re thinking…why physical product? Why paper? Well, let me tell you….’ This eliminates the anxiety of whether or not they’ll grill you at the end and allows them to see that you’ve already predicted some of the questions they might have while listening to your pitch.
—Meha Agrawal, founder and CEO, SILK + SONDER

“I judge a lot of pitching competitions and founders. Here are the mistakes I see most often. (1) Too many slides. Use slides as an add-on to your story—not as the story itself. (2) Horrible design. You have a few slides and a few minutes to make an impact; those slides better look flawless. Don’t have typos. Do use charts and graphs that are readable and bold. Stay away from bullet points. (3) Why you? Most founders skip over their individual mix of background and skills [that make them] uniquely able to start this particular company. This is key to investors since they usually invest more into the founder and her/his team rather than the idea itself.”
—Fabian Geyrhalter, author, Bigger Than This; principal, FINIEN

“The worst mistake startups make: Not understanding their financials, their valuation, their budget, and their P&L. The best advice: Rehearse your pitch with a Q&A session so that you’re ready when investors ask tough questions.”
—Christine Caven, media advisor, PS27 Ventures

“Pitch mistakes startups often make include not knowing the audience well enough before crafting the pitch, using the same pitch for different audiences, and starting the pitch without any context—i.e., making it all about their product from the start. My best tip for nailing a pitch: Set up context before you start talking about your product. This means an initial focus on why your product (or company) exists in the first place. So many startups make the mistake of starting the pitch by talking all about their product. No one cares about your product…until they do. The best pitches set up this context in a few sentences…and get the audience ready to hear all about the product.”
—Zach Messler, messaging and marketing advisor, Zach Messler.com