I was judging a pitch competition for a neighboring university. The event was meant to be an informal “practice” session to help the students prepare for pitching venture capitalists. As a result, the person who’d invited me wanted me to give feedback on the pitches rather than the companies.
In other words, I was supposed to critique the structure of the presentations as opposed to any specific content. She wanted me to point out any issues in the pitch decks that might “annoy investors.”
Normally, at these kinds of things, I’m expected to give feedback on the startups themselves, so I appreciated an opportunity to focus only on the structure of the pitches and the slides.
I spent the next two hours listening to 15 pitches. A lot of the feedback I gave was specific to each pitch, but some of the problems seemed more common than others and spanned multiple decks. I’ve done my best to remember what they were, and I’ve shared a few of the bigger issues here in case they’re useful to all of you.
1. Starting with a question
If you’ve seen more than a dozen startup pitches, you’ve almost certainly seen an entrepreneur begin a pitch by asking some sort of broad, open-ended question. It goes something like this:
“How many of you have ever struggled to find the perfect podcast?”
“Who here has ever needed help finding a good vet for your beloved dog?”
“Raise your hand if you’ve ever been frustrated that you couldn’t make a dinner reservation at your favorite restaurant”
This is a terrible way to begin a pitch because one of two things are going to happen. Either the question is so broad that it’s not going to represent a genuine business opportunity, or it’s so narrow that nobody in the audience can relate. In either case, rather than exciting investors, starting a pitch with a question is an easy way to annoy investors before the second slide.