THE ART OF STORYTELLING IN A STARTUP PITCH
There is a fairytale notion that some startup ideas are so brilliant that both customers and investors will come knocking at your door automatically.
That is wishful thinking. And for founders, it’s also dangerous thinking.
The reality is that no matter how great your product or service’s potential may be, the world won’t notice it unless you really nail your story. For your concept to really resonate with anybody, you’ve got to master the art of storytelling.
Whether you’re pitching on a stage or submitting a pitch deck, the challenge is the same. You’ll execute things a little differently depending on the specifics, but your fundamental storyline is the foundation for any medium, audience or type of presentation. You should be clear on this before you go anywhere near PowerPoint slides. And in turn, it’s usually better to get those right before you experiment with live pitch concepts.
Boil It Down to Its Essence
Investors see a lot of pitches in their working lives. Leading Business Angels, for example, receive around 500 pitch decks every year. They don’t have time to go looking for the core of your story. You’ve got to give them it in as few words or slides as possible.
The essence of that storyline is your ‘problem and solution’ statement. If you get that right, you can build your entire pitch on top of that.
You’ve got to really boil this down to its essence as much as you can. Make it human, make it real and make it concrete. Give your audience a simple story they can relate to. When you consider this, remember that investors want to know what your startup does, not what it is. They want to understand why people will pay for a product or service, and why yours in particular.
Unless you’re very lucky or gifted, expect this part to be the longest and toughest. Although the end result should ideally be short and sweet, it’s normal for founders to work on it for weeks, with multiple rounds of drafts and feedback. Be ready to throw out concepts and go back to the drawing board.
But there will come a moment when you’ve got it. When you just know it’s right.
A Real-life Example
One of the most commonly cited examples is Airbnb’s earliest pitch deck back in 2008. The very first page simply reads ‘Book rooms with locals, rather than hotels’. This was a really clever way of bundling up the problem (hotels) as part of a punchy, positive and imperative solution statement. Instead of a slide with a problem, then a slide with a solution, they nailed it in one sentence beneath their logo.
That’s a great goal to have. It’s more difficult for B2B or highly technical startups, sure, but make it your aim!
Remember that although you might be pitching to a specialist investor who knows the space and understands exactly why your B2B cloud software solution is as significant as Airbnb, they can still be very cynical and hard to engage. They might be biased because they know of stronger competitors. They might have heard similar pitches and believe the space is crowded. Or they may simply feel the timing isn’t right. It’s extremely hard to catch their attention and stay in their memory.
A Good Story Gets Attention — and a Great Story Gets Remembered
One of the most memorable we’ve seen was when a website security software startup told of its problem-solving prowess using the metaphor of a medieval knight’s adventures. They took a technical topic and reframed it in terms of a classic tale anyone can relate to. We’ve never forgotten this particular pitch, even after seeing thousands since then. Now that’s the right kind of fairytale to get behind!
If you can hook your reader or listener in this way, they’ll be interested enough to take in more detail. But keep it punchy. And relate this detail to your story foundation as much as you can.
Remember, your number one job is to grab their interest with a strong fundamental story. Get this right and investors will be more than happy to hear about all the rest: your business model, competitor analysis, team and the level of funding you’re looking for.
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