Learn what advice one founder received on her pitch from investors and some of the tips she has on preparing to pitch over a computer screen.
By Stephanie Chen (Co-Founder, Dooozy)
My name is Stephanie, and I’ve never done a pitch before.
There, I said it!
My co-founder and I have been working on our web tool start-up, Redline, for almost two years. It’s bootstrapped and worked on at night alone at our computers. So when we came up with a new product, Dooozy – a platform for any parent to post and sign-up for kids activities, we realized that in order to develop it to its fullest potential, we would need more resources than what we’d been scraping by with. Thus, we confronted the ever-looming discussion of funding.
We started from ground level, but Googling how to deliver a startup pitch only gets you so far. So when I discovered that Women 2.0 provides an exclusive opportunity to pitch to two veteran investors and get direct feedback, I leaped at the chance to sign-up!
I was thrilled, but I was scared
Seven minutes to explain a convincing product idea and business model feels like a frighteningly short amount of time. And when I discovered that I wouldn’t be able to use slides, I literally gasped. Yes, throughout my decade-long career as a designer, I’ve presented work hundreds of times, oftentimes to a room full of Fortune 50 executives. But I could always lean back on the safety net of slides to keep me on track, prompt my next thought, or have the visuals do the explaining for me.
With the video pitch, you are all alone with your words, and each of those words has to be lean and powerful. I needed to refine each of my talking points into memorable sound bites, (an exercise which will continue to prove handy for all of those impromptu elevator pitches at dinner parties and networking events where I won’t have the benefit of visual aids).
And beneath it all, I wanted to sound confident, knowledgeable and composed, even if my nerves caused me to feel differently. I was going to perform a one-woman show and I needed all the preparation I could get.
Set the stage
I chose a room with lots of natural light from the side, which would keep my face and expressions well-exposed. In contrast, overhead fluorescent lighting from behind can create harsh shadows, especially in the low-resolution environment of streaming video. I also chose a room that could reflect my creative background – a wall of typographic posters and rows of books. I also took out any clutter that could be visually distracting (leading to side thoughts of “What is with that pile of papers behind her?”) My fiancé edits video testimonials for a living, so he helped me choose a shirt that would avoid distraction – no busy patterns or bright colors.
Recruit a practice partner
Talking in front of a mirror can’t simulate the adrenaline rush when someone’s sole attention is on you. A practice-partner can also time you. I found myself rushing the first few times, yet still running over my allotted time, so I edited my presentation to be more streamlined and felt much more relaxed going slower – it sounded better when I made fewer points that had a stronger impact. By the end, I knew my timing well enough that I could dramatically linger on our central idea that “Dooozy helps you share your passion with the next generation.”
In my first run-through, I suddenly felt self-conscious, and though I was sure that I knew all the talking points in my head, I found myself stumbling over even how to introduce myself. It got better, and easier, with each practice run.
I also recommend practicing with someone who is NOT your co-founder because they will lend a fresh pair of ears, and can tell immediately if your talk is not making sense. My practice partner (my fiancé again, what a rock star!) pointed out that he really liked the concrete examples and that I should include more. At the same time, he helped cut wording that felt distracting and unwieldy: Instead of a ‘Google engineer interested in teaching an android programming class,’ why don’t you just say ‘a web developer who wants to teaching a class in HTML’?
Lastly, I would definitely recommend to practice with your partner over Google Hangouts so that you’ll figure out where to look (at the camera, not down at the view of the other person) and feel comfortable talking through a computer.
I can’t emphasize enough how all of that anxiety about public-speaking begins to dissipate when you’ve put your body through the physical experience a dozen times.
I became familiar with the potential technical land mines of finding the right button to press and decided the fastest exit was to close the browser window. I worked on the transitions that I kept getting stuck on – like how do you elegantly move from talking about the aspirations of our product transforming the landscape of education, to the hard, cold facts about the business model?
Though the adrenaline rush still brought on a burst of anxiety, I discovered that I performed better than in rehearsal. And the wonderful Pearl Chan (Associate, Omidyar Network) and Angela Raitzin (Principal CWA) rewarded my hard work with generous feedback. Their seven minutes of insights certainly felt like a lot more – I literally had pages of notes to act on. They gave great ideas of potential partners to pursue and analogous products to study. They outlined tangible goals that we would need to achieve before an investor would have confidence in our revenue model.
I now feel so much stronger and confident not only about our pitch, but about our potential for success. With the help from Women 2.0’s Investor Hangout, we may well get an encore performance.
Sign up for the next Investor Hangouts session.
About the guest blogger: Stephanie Chen (@hidooozy) is an experience designer for clients such as Disney, GreatSchools and Food Network. The team she lead won a 2013 Webby award for Food Network’s On the Road iPhone/iPad app. Prior to Dooozy, she co-founded Redline.cc, a tool that helps web development teams communicate.