How I Pitched My Startup to Russell Simmons

February 21, 2016, 6:00 PM UTC
Courtesy of Narrative

The Entrepreneur Insiders 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 Tricia Clarke-Stone, cofounder and CEO of Narrative.

I had worked with ad agencies for years—but never for one directly. From my outsider’s perspective, I saw that the rules of communication needed to change along with how problems were solved. Any good agency can help run a brand’s business, but I wanted to focus on helping to change a brand’s business. So I pitched the concept of Narrative as an innovation agency. It wasn’t just about leveraging bleeding-edge technology. It was about redefining the rules, playing, experimenting, inventing, and breaking things to find out what was possible when it came time to bring a brand’s story to life. Innovation wouldn’t be confined to a lab. It would permeate everything we do.

I wanted to discover the best way to create diverse and engaging story-led brand experiences that didn’t just communicate a tagline, but made people feel something. In short, it was clear to me that agencies needed a new narrative.

I saw my white space—and I went for it.

For my pitch to succeed, I needed to prove the viability of an agency that could focus on experience-driven stories rooted in culture, technology, and data while committing real resources toward intellectual property development by inventing, prototyping, and incubating ideas, products, and experiences.

See also: The One Thing You Should Never Discuss During a Pitch Meeting

To do this, I traded my white space with white coats, using a scientific approach that builds on the culture of ideas with hypotheses, experiments, and tangible innovations.

Here’s how I pitched my unique narrative:

Establish yourself and the opportunity

To get noticed by potential investors, tap into your network of mentors and advisors and get their take on your ideas. I spoke with numerous colleagues in and out of the ad world, gathering a consensus that my ideas were valid, and the problems I saw with the traditional, linear storytelling model were real. Sharing high-profile names of people who are willing to cosign your concept will lend credibility when investors are unfamiliar with your work.

Draw a connection

Even if you have zero experience in your targeted industry, draw parallels from your past career. I had never worked at an ad agency before, but I did have a proven track record of redefining the status quo within marketing, advertising, publishing, and product development. Highlight past successes, but also own your mistakes. No one expects you to be perfect, but an investor wants to see that you’re resilient and have learned from your failures.

Paint the full picture

When I presented my concept for Narrative, I shared the market size and potential for a new type of agency—including how many dollars are spent on advertising each year, how many agencies are vying for those dollars, what agency billings looked like, a potential exit strategy, and spinoff businesses. Against these hard facts was my hypothesis: that brands that embrace innovation, an ecosystem framework, and the new era of immersive storytelling will reach the modern consumer, and whether through digital, social, experiential, TV, or print, Narrative’s model would facilitate, streamline, and grow those connections.

My pitch clearly showed how we would own the white space by not only delivering groundbreaking brand campaigns, but by inventing and innovating products, experiences, and services, and by producing original work and IP in our studio.

Build your team

While you are your biggest cheerleader, you’re not going to do it on your own. Investors want to see your team—the talent that will make your vision a reality. Create an org chart populated with the archetypes of the people you want to see in those roles. Scour your connects and LinkedIn and assemble your dream team, giving life and vibrancy to the company, even if the positions have yet to be filled.

Be realistic and have a go-to market plan

I knew going in that we wouldn’t necessarily win a major corporate client on day one, but I did come prepared with a goto market plan, including a diverse prospect list and two potential clients that were ready to put us to work.

Don’t stop

Once you get into the day to day of running the business and activating against your vision, don’t stop being an innovator. Your vision is your capital. Keep refining and looking for that next white space.

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