By Kavita Rajagopalan
When you walk into a room to pitch your idea or enterprise to a room full of funders or investors, you’re expected to deliver a flawless performance. One that evokes a strong emotion, that makes the funder care about the problem you are trying to solve, and most importantly one that convinces them to write you a cheque.
If you’ve pitched before, you know that this performance is a nerve-wracking experience. You also know that flawless performances aren’t easy to deliver, and they require time and effort. So the next time you walk into a room to pitch to funders, remember these handy tips.
Start with the basics – introduce yourself
Often when entrepreneurs walk into a room, they are eager and anxious to showcase the solution/ business. But before you jump in, talk a bit about yourself — your background and journey, what brought you to this place and where you see yourself going from here. Let the funders know you a little, before they get to know your business.
YOU are key to the performance
That room full of people needs to like you and, more importantly, believe in you. If you’re lucky, they will care about the same causes you are passionate about, but that isn’t always the case. Most funders are likely to support people they like, people they think are skilled, trustworthy and committed to a cause. So give them reasons to trust you. Talk about your past experiences, and the skills you have developed that can make your enterprise successful. Be confident, you know your enterprise better than anyone else. Be open and honest – you’re not perfect and neither is your enterprise.
Be passionate about the problem, not the solution
You’ve probably spent a lot of time working on the product and service you have developed. Having spent every waking (and sometimes sleeping) minute worrying about this product or service, founders are often unable to step back and look at the bigger picture. Remember, you started down this path because you were passionate about solving a particular problem. Showcase this passion for the problem. While your solution might be one way to solve it, don’t be tied to it. Be open to ideas and suggestions from funders about how you can make your solution better. After all, with funding comes mentorship and business support and so funders want to know that you will be open to critical feedback and willing to make the changes necessary to make your enterprise successful.
Refine your pitch, practice your content
You’ve spent a lot of time and effort putting together a slide deck for the funders. Sometimes this pitch may have been created months before you even get to your foot in the funder’s door. Before every pitch, make sure you look through your deck, refining it as needed with any new information or feedback you think is pertinent. And don’t forget to practice your content. This is your enterprise, your pitch, so you should know it backwards and be able to deliver information impeccably.
Don’t be stumped by questions
I’ve never sat through a funding pitch that went uninterrupted from start to finish. If I were an entrepreneur walking into a meeting, I would assume that I will be asked questions, lots of them. So be as prepared as you can to answer questions – make sure that every statement in your slides can be backed up, that data is accurate and there aren’t any loopholes. But when questions do come your way, answer them as best you can. Sometimes, you are not going to have the answers, and that’s okay. Acknowledge that, let them know you will get back with a response or ask the funder for their opinion on what they would do. Remember, this is a dialogue, and you can engage with the funders openly.
Tell them why they’re the right funders for you
Every funder knows that they’re not the sole partner that you are talking to. They know you are approaching anyone who has even a remote chance of funding you. But, show them that you have put in the effort to learn more about the funder, that your business is aligned to their funding strategy and that if they back you with their money, you will do everything you can to treat that funding respectfully.
Kavita Rajagopalan has a decade of experience working in the education sector at organisations such as Teach for India, where she was part of the launch team, and Villgro, where she handled the education investment portfolio. She has a Masters in Education from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.