Stop Pitching, Start Storytelling
Alongside water, oxygen, food, and shelter, human beings need stories.
Stories that guide us and guard us, move us and motivate us.
As author Jonathan Gottschall wrote:
Story — sacred and profane — is perhaps the main cohering force in human life. A society is composed of fractious people with different personalities, goals, and agendas. What connects us beyond our kinship ties? Story…Story is the counterforce to social disorder, the tendency of things to fall apart. Story is the center without which the rest cannot hold.
Though often relegated to the realm of fiction, stories make the world of commerce and capitalism go round.
Don’t take my word for it, read those of investor and writer Morgan Housel:
How many great ideas have already been discovered but could grow 100x or more if someone just explained them better?
How many products have only found a fraction of their potential market because the company is so bad at describing them to customers?
Per the above, stories are vital to startup success.
Without stories, fundraising falls flat and when that happens…it’s the beginning of The End.
Sunflower Fund invests capital, storytelling, and design expertise in Pre-Seed and Seed private technology companies that have the potential to significantly improve and advance industries through exceptional product design, storytelling, and brand.
Over to Sydney!
Contrary to popular opinion, pitch decks don’t raise money.
That said, pitch decks provide the opportunity for founders to articulate their story clearly and concisely — inviting teams to take everything they know about the problem they’re solving and relay that information into a sharp and compelling story.
When done well, a story will not only capture an investor’s attention but also pique his/her interest for a follow-up meeting—or even better, elicit a coveted “yes!”. Though seemingly simple, this far from easy, especially when founders are so close to what they’re working on day in and day out.
Founders often feel that it is vital to share everything with investors. When pitching, less is often much, much more.
Most of what I do when working with founders is cutting back information — distilling what they know and want to share (not to mention what an investor needs to know and ought to hear) down to the most important message per slide.
At the earliest stages of company building, storytelling is much more art than science; it articulates the overarching vision and ethos. Because of this, a founder’s story is vital to get right due to the dearth of data and traction at early stage companies.
Story helps fill in this gap; it connects what a company is with what it could be.
When it comes to storytelling to investors, three components are crucial to get right:
- The Process
- The Content
- The Story, itself
The below tips and tricks will help you nail all three.
1. Start Your Story in a Blank Google Doc
Regarding the process — when I work with founders, it’s important that we start with the actual story — or what I call the “voice-over” — of the script. It’s so much easier to start with the story in a Google Doc than to begin right away working in a daunting blank Google Slides presentation. This simple difference in format changes everything. Though this phase tends to feel like a mess after you brain dump all over the page, it’s helpful to start laying out the critical information that investors need in order to make an informed investment decision.
2. Begin Distilling Your Brain Dump Into Your Pitch Deck
After your brain dump, distilling comes next. During this process, founders must note the content that absolutely must to be included in the deck and work backwards to understand figuring out how their story fits into the outline below.
For example, every investor will need to understand the following after your pitch (not necessarily in this order):
- Problem: What problem are you solving for?
- Why Now: Why is it important to solve this problem now?
- Solution: What is your solution to this problem?
- Team: Who are the people solving this problem, and why are they the best team to solve this?
- Competition: How is your solution or product different from what currently exists in the market?
- GTM: What’s your plan to acquire customers?
- Milestones: Do you have any traction or metrics to date?
Here’s a good example from Heyday’s Seed deck showing these core components.
I call the above information part of the “core” pitch. Some other content you may want to include in the core pitch or move to the Appendix include:
- Technology: What’s the technology behind your solution?
- How It Works: How does your solution work?
- Roadmap: What will you be working on for the next 12–18 months?
- The Ask: How much are you raising and how will you allocate those funds?
- Vision: What’s your vision for this company? How will the world be better?
3. Pair Your Deck With Your Story
After you’ve built out your slides and included their corresponding content, begin refining your voice-over and script. Integrate your deck’s design with your story’s cadence. Write out what you’re going to say on each slide, and a big tip: don’t read verbatim what’s on your slide. That’s boring.
Better yet — don’t read off of your deck at all. Keep your deck high-level and visual because it’s cognitively difficult to read a deck and listen to someone pitch simultaneously.
Key Storytelling Tips and Tricks
Note that the story will build and evolve — it’s never “finished.” Prepare to iterate early and often and take note of the frequently asked questions from investors. Take those FAQs and determine whether anything in your story is generally unclear to most people or if these were one-off questions.
Below are a few tips when it comes to storytelling to investors specifically:
- Nothing kills a good story like too much data. Data is important to include in your pitch, but don’t relay statistic after statistic after statistic. Investors won’t be able to retain all of the information, will be pulled from their emotional state into their analytical state — thus laying out an easier path for them to say “no.”
- Say way, way less than you think you need to. Again, people have a very short attention span. Especially investors — they’re seeing and reviewing decks all day and the more you say, the more opportunity you give them to say “no.” Trade engagement for information. For example, before your very first conversation with an investor, I don’t recommend sending them your core deck + Appendix before your meeting. Instead, cover your core high-level pitch, and if they’re interested, then share more about the technology or launch strategy. Don’t share everything about your company upfront.
- Lose the jargon and buzzwords. Founders are often two things: smart and very close to what they’re working on, meaning that what’s familiar to them is not familiar to everyone. A huge mistake I see is companies assuming their audience knows what various jargon and acronyms mean. Tell your story as you would to mom. Better yet, your grandmother! If she doesn’t understand what you do, perhaps some investors with the team you’re pitching to won’t either. If it’s necessary to introduce new vocabulary, define it upfront.
- Paint a picture of how the world looks today (without your solution). When mapping out the story for investors, it’s helpful to paint a vivid picture of how the world looks today. This helps not only set the context for why you’re solving for this problem but also teleports investors into the headspace of your universe and brings forth empathy or understanding that wasn’t previously there.
- Describe how the world would look if this problem was solved. This tactic makes investors excited about the opportunity because humans innately desire to solve problems. After you’ve painted a vivid picture of the problem, elaborate on what the world would look like if the problem was solved. This helps set the stage for you to introduce your solution.
- Share what it will take to solve this problem. Now that you have the investors hooked on the problem as it exists in this current world, the promise of improvement in the world if this problem was solved, and your role as the one tackling it, share what it will take to solve it: the people, technology, and resources that will be needed in order for this vision to work and win.
When it comes to storytelling, you have to fully believe in what you’re saying about yourself, your company, and your opportunity.
Additional chapters will come in the form of your co-founder/first few hires, your customers, and your investors, however, your story starts and ends with you.