- I’ve worked in tech for 10 years, and I’ve seen countless CEOs and entrepreneurs pitch their companies at tech conferences.
- Most of these presentations are utterly forgettable, but every now and then, it’s obvious that the CEOs presenting are going to succeed.
- That’s because they display five key behaviours, like a willingness to accept feedback and give credit to their team members.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
I’ve worked in the tech world for 10 years, most recently as chief communications officer of Cellink, a publicly-traded biotech company.
In that time, I’ve attended and moderated tons of tech conferences – the kind where CEOs share their thoughts in panel discussions, or budding entrepreneurs give presentations and pitches about their companies in “Shark Tank”-like competitions.
After witnessing enough of these presentations, most of them tend to blur together. The only people that ever really stick out to me are the CEOs who have that “wow” factor or the ones who give extremely poor presentations – rarely do I remember anything in between.
The sad reality is that most of these startups are going to fail – according to a Harvard Business School study, first-time entrepreneurs have a success rate of just 18%. Even founders who have a successful startup under their belts succeed just 30% of the time, the study found.
But every now and then, I’ll witness a presentation that will leave me convinced the startup is going to beat the odds. Usually, it’s because the entrepreneurs giving the pitch will do a few key things that anyone looking to make it in business should keep in mind.
Read on for five key indicators that tell me if a startup CEO is going to be a success.
The most successful pitches are ones where the CEO’s genuine passion shines through.
When you’re giving a pitch, there’s a difference between putting on a show versus being genuinely passionate about your product.
I recently met investor and entrepreneur Geraldine Le Meur, who put my thoughts into words perfectly.
“Successful companies are led by cofounders who have strong connections to the problem they address. I look for passionate people who have energy that glows when they pitch,” Le Meur said. “They pitch convictions, they share a candid story, not a perfectly put together packaged deck.”
As someone who has seen their fair share of pitches, I can usually discern who has the passion to take their business to the next level from someone who is excited, yet short-sighted.
If you want to prove to your audience you’re serious about your business, don’t be afraid to show your feelings. Heartfelt presentations go a long way. When I first met the CEO of the biotech company I work with, I was captivated by his sincere passion to change several industries through a technology he had been curious about since childhood.
I could tell this was a dream he had had for years, and here he was working 24/7 to make it happen. Sharing his personal reasons for wanting to work in his field and bring change made it obvious he had a burning passion to succeed.
Successful entrepreneurs are open to feedback.
The ability to accept and apply feedback is crucial to success.
You would be surprised how many CEOs I have seen take feedback without gratitude. Instead of letting negative comments get under your skin, look at them as learning opportunities to grow from. If someone takes the time to give you feedback to improve your business, be thankful and seek out mentors to help you along the way. Successful CEOs are curious, hungry, and always looking to learn.
I was recently on a panel where I provided feedback to several CEOs pitching their story to the media. Only one CEO out of five came up to the panel to further explore our feedback. This spoke volumes. His desire to improve and understand our comments really stuck out.
And they don’t overcomplicate their presentation.
Keep it simple.
Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of using overly complex words and mixing in a variety of metrics that will be hard for the general public to understand.
Know your audience and tailor your presentation accordingly. The best CEOs can convey their message in a short and concise manner. People have short attention spans, so use your time wisely to captivate your audience and educate them on your product.
Marvin Liao, a partner at 500 Startups, said he has seen hundreds of presentations during his five years as an investor at the globally known VC seed fund.
“Be crystal clear when it comes to explaining what you’re working on and what problem you are trying to solve,” Liao told Business Insider. “Keep it simple. Easily convey how your product will help your target customer.”
Successful CEOs also give credit to their teams.
Part of being a good leader is giving credit when it’s deserved. Unless you’re running a one-person show, don’t give yourself all the credit.
Successful businesses stem from good teamwork. Investors look for teams that work well together to build a strong business. As the CEO, showing that you recognise your team’s contribution and pointing out specific skills that set your team apart from others is very important.
When I hear a CEO present and proudly share what their team has done, it gives me confidence that they value their employees and the company culture.
If a CEO is self-absorbed, this quickly diminishes hope that they can succeed as a team player.
And lastly, successful CEOs do what they say.
In my experience, a lot of CEOs tend to over-promise and under-deliver. The CEOs who establish trust are those who do their best to keep their promises.
“The key to a successful pitch is to be clear, compelling, and credible,” Bill Reichert, partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Pegasus Tech Ventures, told Business Insider. “Investors are looking for entrepreneurs who are savvy, persistent, and resilient. Savvy is more important than smart. Smart means knowing the right answer – savvy means being able to figure out how to get it done.”
As soon as I hear big promises, but nothing to show for it, the credibility of that CEO and their company fades away. It’s important to have a vision, but you must also provide clear steps outlining how you will accomplish that vision to build trust.
I once saw execs from an AI company promise certain capabilities with their technology that they were unable to demonstrate, and they didn’t have any data backing their claims. They had a visually appealing presentation and the CEO was a powerful speaker, but the information lacked substance.
It appeared as if they were trying to distract the audience and avoid having to show proof of concept. When asked how they were planning to achieve their goals, the CEO gave vague answers and would automatically switch to a different topic.
If you’re looking to start your own company, take the time to watch successful CEOs present. Whether it’s in person or on YouTube, you’ll likely be able to spot that “wow” factor that so often predicts success.
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