Make a List, Check it Twice

Pitching, Business Plans, Recruiting & Raising Money

The Art of Pitching

  • Can you explain what your product or service does in 60 seconds? Buildings are getting taller, but elevators are getting faster. Most investors have a short attention span for elevator pitches, so the longer it takes to explain, the less likely your pitch will succeed.
  • Are you answering the little man? Imagine there's a little man sitting on your shoulder. Every time you say something in a pitch, he asks, "So what?" For example: You spew out a line about your "open-source, client-server, Java-based technology." You think you've shocked and awed, but your audience is wondering, "So what?"
  • Have you practiced so many times that you're not embarrassed to watch a video of yourself? You need to give a pitch approximately 25 times to get good at it. Don't think you'll "rise to the occasion" when you're in front of investors, because you won't.
  • When you're making a pitch, have you distilled your presentation to just 10 slides? Trust me: Your curve-jumping, paradigm-shifting, patent-pending way to sell dog food online doesn't merit 50 slides. The crucial topics are the problem you're solving, your solution, the business model, the underlying magic, marketing and sales, the competition, the management team, projections and key metrics, and current status.
  • Is the smallest font you use 30 points? Divide the age of the oldest person in the audience by two to get the optimal font size. The number you'll come up with is approximately 30 points. Can't fit everything on the slides in 30-point font? Then you're using too much text.

The Art of Writing a Business Plan

  • If you threw away page three and beyond of your business plan, would it still attract investors? The executive summary, which is the first two pages of your business plan, is the most important part of the document. If you do this well, investors will read the rest. If you don't, then nothing in the next 18 pages will pull them in.
  • Is your business plan longer than 20 pages? The optimal length of a business plan is 20 pages. You're mistaken if you think investors care that your 50-page financial model shows you'll spend $65.25 on pencils in the fifth month of the fourth year.
  • Do you provide key metrics as well as numbers? Let's face it: You picked revenue numbers out of the air. The key metrics of your business--for example, the number of customers, installations and locations--are just as important to investors. Hint: If you indicate that you're going to close 50 percent of the Fortune 500 companies as your customers in the first year, you're hallucinating.
  • Did you build your financial projections from the bottom up or the top down? Top-down projections are easy because 1 percent of a huge market is always an exciting number. But you're building a business from the bottom up, so forecast that way: How many sales reps will you have? How many sales calls can they make? What percentage will be successful?

The Art of Recruiting

  • Are the people you're hiring infected with a love of your product or service? I believe this is at least as important as a candidate's educational background and work experience. Heck, my work experience was counting diamonds for a jewelry manufacturer when I went to work for Apple Computer as its software evangelist. But I did love Macintosh.
  • Have you crossed the psychological barrier of hiring people who are better than yourself? A players hire A+ players. By contrast, B players hire C players. C players hire D players. Pretty soon, you're surrounded by Z players, and this is called "The Bozo Explosion." If candidates can't do their prospective jobs better than you can, don't hire them.
  • Does the candidate pass the "shopping-center test"? If you happened to see a job candidate at a shopping center, would you rush over and say hello? Or would you jump in your car and go to another shopping center to avoid him or her? In a startup, you're going to be working many long hours with employees, so you'd better enjoy their company.

The Art of Raising Capital

  • Are you building a real business? Call me a romantic, but businesses that fill needs get funded. Those that don't, don't. This goes back to the first question on this checklist: Are you making meaning? Because if all you're trying to do is make money, you'll probably fail to raise money, make money and make meaning.
  • Have you been introduced to the source of capital? The process of raising capital isn't a level playing field. You need to tilt the field in your direction--first of all, by getting an introduction to the firm by a trusted source. This is where your lawyer, accountant and vendors can earn their keep. No investor ever funds a plan with a cover letter that begins with "Dear Sir."
  • Is your act together? In times of irrational exuberance, investors look for reasons to do a deal. In times of irrational depression, investors look for reasons not to do a deal. This is a depressed time, so clean up your act. For example, if your employer thinks it owns the technology you invented in your garage, resolve this issue before looking for money.
  • Can you demonstrate revenue? These days, investors will tell you they're looking for proven teams, proven technology or proven markets. There's one factor, however, that cuts through the hype, and that's good, old-fashioned revenue. A company that has significant revenue is always interesting, so focus on finishing your product, and start selling. Maybe you won't have to raise capital.
  • Do you acknowledge your competition? "We have no competition" means you're either serving an unattractive market or you're clueless--and neither is conducive to raising money. A complete and insightful analysis of your competition builds credibility. The best way to present a competitive analysis is with a three-column chart listing your competitor's name, what you can do that it can't, and what it can do that you can't.

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Guy Kawasaki is chief evangelist at Canva. He is also the co-founder of Alltop, a managing director at VC firm Garage Technology Ventures, former chief evangelist for Apple Inc. and author of eight books -- including The Art of the Start. 

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This article was originally published in the February 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Make a List, Check it Twice.

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