In many ways, for pre-seed startup founders, the first meeting with an investor is like a first date. It may be just as nerve-wracking and it marks the start of your relationship. How it turns out is entirely up to you.
For investors, it’s all about getting to know you, your vision, and your product. And your mission as a founder is to make out if the investor has the traits of a great partner and advisor.
To make a great pitch, you need to really get to know your investor. Do your homework. Find out what makes the investor tick and use that during your first meeting to spark their interest.
But how do you make the meeting engaging and convince the investor your startup is not the ‘shiny Titanic’ with an inevitable fate that haunts 90% of businesses? Read on and discover some clever pointers shared by investors and founders with a powerful track record.
How to prepare for your first call with an investor
Having an incredible pitch deck is just the half of it. You have to present it and show confidence in your idea. Making an impressive pitch during your first meeting with an investor gives you a definite edge over others. So what can you do to prepare yourself?
1. Study your pitch deck and know it by heart
The first meeting never goes to plan. Investors can jump from one part of your pitch deck to another and ask questions you would never expect. So you should definitely know your stuff front to back and be ready to improvise.
2. Confirm the meeting with style: send your deck & share a recent win
According to Michael Cardamone, the CEO of Forum Ventures, there’s no quicker way to fail miserably at your first meeting with an investor than stick them with a 20-30 minute deck-read.
It’s not a book-reading event and you are no Stephen King, so avoid this death trap. Send your pitch deck ahead of the meeting and let the investor get up to speed on their own time. It’ll make room for discussion and make the meeting more productive.
To build up even more suspense, pair your deck with news of a recent win. Share how you’ve improved your sales funnel or cranked up your customer lifetime value. Announce that you’ve rolled out your product. Get the investor excited and eager to learn more.
3. Add a story element to make your pitch engaging
During a recent episode of the Founders Forward Podcast with Vsible.vc, Kristian Andersen of High Alpha venture studio shared that a great pitch is never a linear template found on the outskirts of the web.
Kristian encourages founders to think about crafting their pitch as building a story. Founders should depict their path to entrepreneurship by applying the fundamentals of great storytelling starting with the basics: What's the plot? Who is the protagonist? The struggle? The climax? etc.
Kristian emphasizes the importance of creating a compelling seductive story. To him, becoming a communicator is the most important trait of a successful businessman.
He mentions icons like Coco Chanel who invited customers into the story, Ralph Lauren who used storytelling to elevate his products to shape identity, and Teddy Roosevelt who was able to remake himself through powerful storytelling.
Brett Topche, Managing Director at Red & Blue Ventures, agrees with Kristian on this. He sees an ideal first meeting as more of a conversation and not a pitch, with the founder’s story at the helm of it.
Brett likes to get to know the person and their story, what led the founder to find their passion and unique market insight. He wants to hear the customer’s story as well: the problem they struggle with, why it’s still relevant, and how the founder’s solution is ‘not just different, but better.
4. Fight your inner fears
A first meeting with an investor may feel a bit intimidating. Read our quick guide on working with fear to understand the common reasons behind insecurities, discover a few helpful techniques to overcome your fears, or even use them to your advantage.
Main discussion points and what to focus on
Given you have your deck to fall back on, you don’t have to run through everything on your first call with an investor. The general advice here is to choose three key points you think will be compelling enough to land an investment. Here are some topics to choose from:
Alvin Dammann Leer an impact entrepreneur, investor, and founder of Pinecone Impact, puts vision at the top of the list of things to go over during your first meeting with an investor. Alvin advocates that sharing your vision is a great way to make the investor eager to learn more.
A sound vision means the founder is aware of their product’s strengths and weaknesses, sees an opportunity with a growing market, their unfair advantage over the competitors, and achievable milestones to launch the product, make revenue, gain profits, and scale their business.
Nikki Barua, a serial entrepreneur, the CEO & co-founder of Beyond Barriers, prompts that, for the most part, at the pre-seed stage, the investors are betting on the team.
So don’t leave your investors with doubts like “OK, these guys have a good idea but do they have it in them to make it happen?”
Founders can prove they are the best bet by demonstrating how their background and experience are the key ingredients for success. As an icing on the cake, let the investors know you are backed by a strong team with the right qualifications, skills, and roles.
Problem and target customer
Going back to how Kristian Andersen spoke about inviting customers into your story. Jayson Tischler, an investor who previously held the position of principal at Rittenhouse Ventures, mentions this as an important part of the pitch, saying:
“We prefer to learn the business fundamentals — sales cycle, pricing, implementation process, competition, etc. — through clear, concrete examples of their (entrepreneur’s) start-to-finish relationships with real target customers.”
The product is the heart of a startup, so you can’t avoid this topic. Describe how it works, preferably using visuals, demos, or testimonials.
Kieran Hill, an angel investor and seed partner at 20VC, highlights distribution as his favorite topic. Founders should demonstrate how they plan to acquire their first 10, then 100, then 1000, then 10,000 customers, etc. For example, you can show your strategy for using the flywheel effect to grow your business.
Market size, projections, and growth potential
Showing real metrics can be equally convincing. Highlight your market size, potential, and growth. Share your milestones and demonstrate traction. Provide actual evidence to back up your claims: customer feedback, sales, revenue, profit, partnerships, and awards.
Don’t be afraid to address the elephant in the room. Describing your needs is a vital part of the story. Go beyond just the amount of funding. Explain how you will use it to reach your milestones. Paint the image of your ideal partner and ask for advice, referrals, introductions, etc.
Meeting timeline & how to manage the meeting
An average meeting lasts something between 30-40 minutes, so you must be prepared to use the time wisely.
Have a script, but be prepared to improvise
Having prepared a script with your compelling story helps keep the meeting on track. However, Amit P., the CEO of GameStake, advises opening the meeting by asking the investor how they would prefer to go about it (for example, go through the deck, have an open discussion, or focus on something specific).
Best setup: short pitch + Q&A session
Cédric Waldburger, startup investor, founder of Tomahawk.VC and Code & State venture studio, suggests starting with a hook that grabs the investor’s attention summarizing your value proposition. After that, Cédric proposes to move on with an open conversation.
Kalev Kaarna, investor & startup coach at Superangel, is totally on board with this, going against the monologue format. Kalev proposes giving a 3-4 minute pitch and then opening up the meeting for questions & dialog.
So an ideal outline for a 30-minute meeting with an investor would be:
First 5 minutes: the elevator pitch
Next 15-20 minutes: investor Q&A session
The remainder of the meeting: founder Q&A session & wrap up.
The investors may be the ones asking the questions, but you are still the headliner of the show and should be able to lead them back into the story you wanted to tell. Allowing them to move back and forth and explore is just another perk in your storytelling arsenal.
To always keep the momentum going, answer an investor's question or describe whatever theme you are on for 2-3 minutes, then pause for a moment to see the investor’s reaction. Answer any additional questions, then propose to move on to a different topic or ask what the investors would like to hear. Repeat and apply this tactic for the rest of the meeting.
Carleen Haylett, the CEO & founder of EnrichedHQ, suggests adding a recap question to the formula: something like “Did you get all the understanding you need or did I miss something?”
Should you demo the product at the first meeting?
Elicia McDonald, the partner investor at AirTree Ventures, says that they love seeing product demos. She explains this by adding that investors can learn more from a 5-minute product demo than from a pitch deck of 50 slides.
Brian Ascher, partner at Venrock's early-stage tech investing fund, jumps on the same bandwagon, saying he finds product demos to be the highlight of pitch meetings.
There’s a caveat here, however: it’s wise not to dive into a full feature presentation. Try to focus on how you solve the target audience’s problem and let this guide the demo. Introduce the various customer profiles and their roles, then describe what they can do with the product.
It’s also smart to compare your product to the old ways or legacy products on the market. Use a lot of visuals and mock your competition if you get the chance. Take a page from the playbook and get inspired by the friendly jabs between Samsung and Apple.
Founder Q&A: questions to ask investors
The founder Q&A session is a great chance for founders to size up the investor and figure out if they are bound to be good business partners. Here’s a list of common questions a founder may ask to assess an investor:
What is the last company you backed, and why?
What is your average check size?
What Is your typical investment timeline?
What’s your due diligence process for making investments?
What are your success criteria for an exit?
What do you see as your post-investment role in the company?
What is your experience of investing in companies in our market?
Will you be able to contribute to our evolution by giving advisory assistance?
Can you introduce me to some of the CEOs of your portfolio companies?
What are your concerns about our business?
When will you be available for a follow-up meeting?
How to hold yourself during a first meeting with an investor
Investors value determination, perseverance, and a positive attitude. Founders should show great enthusiasm for their idea and confidence in their success.
General pointers here are to engage investors by maintaining eye contact. Smiling, speaking passionately yet clearly. Don’t box yourself in: try to enjoy the meeting and this will pass on to your audience as well.
Be confident speaking about your achievements, but with a touch of modesty, so you won’t come across as arrogant or cocky. Mention how your experience comes from the lessons learned from mistakes.
Emotional intelligence is important as well. Control your reactions, facial expressions, and body language. Be polite, respectful, and mindful of the investor's emotions, and know how to mitigate conflict situations.
The first meeting with an investor can go many ways. It's important for founders to study and remember their pitch, and always be able to think on their feet. Final few tips for an epilog:
Be just as good a listener as you are a great storyteller! Engage your investors!
Be ready to go back and forth in your pitch at any time. Think out-of-the-box!
Let the investors choose their format, but still, be sure to make your case!
Involve investors in your story and inspire them through your vision and narrative!
Founders need to understand that great pitching comes with practice. A good idea is to try it out during Go Global World's pitching events. You can also expand your network via AI matchmaking and get 10 times more meetings with potential investors by joining Go Global World’s relationship hub for startups and investors.