Behind Closed Doors Of A VC Pitch: Here’s What Investors Are REALLY Thinking

red door

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Yesterday, a bunch of NYC startups visited General Catalyst Partners for 15 minutes to pitch their businesses.We sat in on a few of the meetings and observed.  Some pitches were better than others, some ideas were more developed too.

It was hard to read Nitesh Banta of GCP while the pitches were going on.

But after a few, we could tell when an idea piqued his interest and when one was a dud.  In the better presentations, his questions were more product-specific. He wanted to see demos, learn about adoption, and hear about the trials and tribulations of the technologies presented.

Entrepreneurs that were more impressive came prepared with one-sheets, PowerPoints and demonstrations. When the founders attended Ivy-Leagues, had strong backgrounds in their businesses, or had been early employees at successful startups, those meetings were instantly more interesting too.

Naturally, the least captivating presentations involved unoriginal ideas. And when you’re pitched to constantly like Banta is, you see a lot of companies with similar concepts.  Entrepreneurs that came in with Groupon-like startups, for example, weren’t as captivating because the daily-deals sector is competitive, and it’s nearly been won.

“With Groupon being a billion-dollar valuation and LivingSocial raising $400 million, an entrepreneur would need to raise $100 million just to to compete against them,” Banta told us.

Banta favours ideas with a unique spin on current trends, especially when they can be easily monetized.  One woman presented a technology that matched the colour in people’s pictures with suggested makeup, like foundation or eyeshadow. An idea like that, which puts an interesting twist on social picture sharing, could do well once it has been perfected.

Banta told us that typical VC pitches are longer that what we saw, and that yesterday’s pitches were more about getting advice than raising money.

Still, Banta gave us his honest opinion on the startups, and offered advice for how the entrepreneurs could have improved their pitches.

Some of his advice might surprise you:

  • In any given week, a VC firm will see around 100 pitches.  Banta finds startups to meet with through trusted referrers. He also looks for ones that are theme-specific to his firm’s typical investments. Blind email pitches don’t tend to get on his radar.
  • When meeting a VC for the first time, talk about yourself first and your product second.  Banta says he likes to know people’s backgrounds; it helps him figure out what drives each founder and makes them tick, which is often more important than the idea they’re pitching.
  • Entrepreneurs should be like game show hosts, says Banta.  “They should be able to rile up the crowd and get them excited about the idea.”
  • When VCs are investing in technology companies, the technology needs to be flawless for them to write a check.  Banta says he looks for an entrepreneur to be completely confident that the technology will work at least 980 out of 1,000 times, and certainly in a meeting with him, error free.
  • VCs don’t get as hung up on resume bullet points as you’d think.  “If we just focused on people that had previously worked at Facebook or Google, we’d miss out on a ton of great companies,” says Banta.
  • An entrepreneur’s school doesn’t trump his or her work experience.  “If I read that someone went to Harvard, that means something different than if I read someone was the third employee at a startup,” says Banta.  “If they went to Harvard, they were probably taught a lot of great fundamentals and, if you look at the alumni, many of them have gone on to create successful companies.  If someone was an early employee at a startup, that tells me they’re good at spotting trends and they have a deep level of understanding about the way startups work.”
  • If a VC rejects your idea, it could be their mistake, not yours.  “The hardest thing is we never really know which companies will be the next Twitter or Facebook,” says Banta.  “Any one of the companies that walked in today could be that company; it’s just very hard to predict.”