Seeking money for a start-up from friends, family, angel investors, venture capitalists or lenders is an exercise fraught with pitfalls. Many first-time entrepreneurs approach it with great optimism and belief in their business idea, only to fall flat on their face.
Reasons vary, but often it’s just that the entrepreneur hasn’t taken the time to study up on how to approach investors, including what to do and what not to do. The Young Entrepreneurs Council (YEC) – an invitation-only group of top young entrepreneurs – recently asked some of its most successful members to name the dumbest mistake they could think of that entrepreneurs should avoid when pitching investors.
Here’s our take on the top 10 mistakes they came up with (in no particular order):
1) Making it all about the money: “When pitching an investor, you’re not just pitching your great idea. A relationship with an investor goes beyond the ROI and it’s important to focus on selling yourself as well as your business plan,” says Raul Pla, Founder & CEO of SimpleWifi.
2) Being unprepared: This is an unforgivable sin. The entrepreneur, of all people, must have the details completely buttoned down. “Even if you get an investor interested, nothing will bring the conversation to a screeching halt quite like not knowing how much you want to raise and what you’ll do with it,” says Jason Evanish, co-Founder of Greenhorn Connect. You must show you can lead a business.
3) Asking for an NDA (non-disclosure agreement): Only a rank amateur would do this. “Chances are, you’ll be laughed out of the meeting room if you ask investors to sign an NDA,” says Michael Tolkin, CEO of Merchant Exchange. “Ideas are cheap.”
4) Being overly pushy: Investors accepted the meeting because they saw something in you or your business. But if you push too hard, most investors will shut down. “Be cool and confident, but not like a used car salesman,” says Ashley Bodi, co-Founder of Business Beware.
5) Meeting your best prospects first: Keep this in mind, says Christopher Kelly, co-Founder of Convene: “Your pitch only gets better with time. You will achieve the best odds by saving the best for last.” Make a note of recurring questions and concerns after each pitch and revise your materials accordingly.
6) Promising too much: “Go in with what you know, not what you think you can do. Investors will lose faith in you – that is, if they don’t see through you immediately,” says Jordan Guernsey, CEO of Molding Box.
7) Rushing the pitch: “As nervous as you might be, try to calm down and speak from the heart,” says Logan Lenz, Founder of Endagon. “Speaking more slowly not only allows listeners to register what you’re saying, it also makes you sound more confident and knowledgeable.”
8) Failing to leave time for Q&A: This is the flip side to #7 above. You can’t take too much time and not allow questions at the end. “No matter how organized a pitch is, it will fail to answer questions your audience has,” says John Harthorne, Founder & CEO of MassChallenge.
9) Making all projections and no plans: “Don’t put a hockey-stick graph in the middle of the presentation and expect everyone in the room to swoon,” warns Brent Beshore, CEO of Adventur.es. “Projections are guesses that rarely come true. What’s more impressive is your plan to get there. Investors know a strategy means a lot more than pretty pictures.”
10) Coming off as desperate: “People like to invest in and be connected to winning projects,” says Raoul David, CEO of Ascendant Group. If you come across as if this investment is the only way your business can move forward, it seems too needy and will turn off many investors. This also sets you up to be taken advantage of. “You’ll end up giving away more equity than you should.”
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About the Author: Daniel Kehrer, Founder and Chief Content Officer of BizBest Media, is a senior-level leader in digital media, content development and online marketing with special expertise in startups, SMB, social media and generating traffic, engagement and leads. He holds an MBA from UCLA/Anderson and is a passionate entrepreneur (started 4 businesses), syndicated columnist, blogger, thought leader and author of 7 business and financial books.