The Entrepreneur Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What’s the best way to pitch a startup idea to investors?” is written by Andrew Ackerman, managing director of Dreamit New York.
Investors are a pretty heterogeneous bunch. There is no single "best way" to pitch every investor. Some angel investors are gut investors and make quick decisions based on their understanding of the industry, the strength of the idea, and their impression of the founders. Some VC funds (and even a few angels) have due diligence processes that take months to complete. Top accelerator programs like Dreamit tend to frontload the process with a fairly detailed questionnaire, but if you make that cut (admittedly a very big if), you may only need one interview to get a quick yes or no decision.
So while there's no single approach that will work for all investors, there are a few guidelines that will serve you well no matter what kind of investor you approach:
Understand who the right investors for you are
Many of us are on AngelList or have websites and/or blogs from which you can get a fairly good sense of what we are likely to invest in. If you can't form a sentence that starts something like, " I see that you invested in startup X, Y, and Z, so you'll probably like my startup because...", you're probably not talking to the right investor.
Get a warm introduction
Both VCs and angels are swamped with startups seeking funding. This is especially true of angel investors, many of whom are doing this part time and have full-time day jobs, sometimes at their own startups. In both cases, investors use their networks to decide which startups to spend their very limited time considering. If you come from someone who they respect, they will take the time to think through whether they want to invest in your startup. If you come in cold, they are less likely to make that time.
For what it's worth, at least half of the interview slots Dreamit offers go to startups that were referred to us by our alumni, investors, and other trusted members of the startup ecosystem. To be brutally honest, we are among the most networked people on the face of the earth. If you can't get a warm introduction to us, it raises a yellow flag about your ability to network effectively, which will lead us to wonder about your ability to get customers and strategic partners.
Your initial email—which you should have a mutual connection forward to us per point No. 2 above—should be three to four sentences long, possibly with a one-pager attached. We should be able to make up our minds based on those three or four sentences whether or not your business is something that’s in our strike zone and what we want to learn more about.
Note: When I say to write a one-pager, I mean literally one page, ideally with plenty of white space. Remember: The one-pager does not need to answer every question or go into every nuance. All it needs to do is convince us that there's something special there. It just needs to get you a meeting. Your ability to cut out all of the unnecessary details and jump straight to the heart of the matter is a strong signal to us that you know how to communicate, something which will carry over into selling and surfacing partnership opportunities.
We will figure it out—always. For instance, if you brag about 200% month-over-month growth, we’ll ask what the absolute numbers are. And when you tell us that you went from 10 users to 30 users, we will not be impressed.
None of these tips are rocket science, but following them will put you ahead of well over half of the startups I typically see.
Andrew is a recovering consultant-turned serial entrepreneur, startup mentor, and angel investor. He has founded two companies and has a keen appreciation for how hard it is to build a successful startup, even under the best of circumstances. Andrew is currently the managing director for Dreamit’s New York accelerator program.