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7 Ways to Succeed When Virtually Pitching an Investor "If you can't nail a virtual call, I worry about your ability to solve other, more critical issues in your business."

By Chenoa Farnsworth

This story appears in the August 2020 issue of Start Up.

tomazl | Getty Images

As the managing partner of a global startup accelerator in Hawaii and an active angel investor, I have listened to hundreds of virtual pitches since the world changed in March — and have seen entrepreneurs make the same mistakes over and over again.

I understand that virtual calls can be stressful. You finally have the chance to talk to an investor, and you're doing your best to deliver a memorable pitch ... and then the screen freezes, or you are distracted by interruptions, or WiFi goes down. It must be truly exhausting.

But the truth is, entrepreneurship is all about solving problems. If you can't nail a virtual call, I worry about your ability to solve other, more critical issues in your business. Here are seven tips to get an investor's attention and hold it during a virtual pitch.

1. Get a warm introduction.

Crisis hasn't changed this old rule: No matter the situation, reaching out to investors cold almost never works. And I get hundreds of cold emails a day!

Just because your meeting is likely to be online doesn't mean your first interaction should be a cold email. There are many ways to get a warm introduction; it just takes a little more legwork. First, search your network to see if you have a direct connection to the partner you are targeting. If you strike out there, search the partner's portfolio companies and reach out to your fellow entrepreneurs. Your peers in the entrepreneurial trenches are often more willing to assist you with an introduction.

2. Make sure the investor is currently writing checks.

Not all investors are writing checks right now. Have that conversation upfront and ask if they are currently investing in new companies.

I was recently discussing this new reality with a fellow investor. Many investors are saying that it's business as usual — but in reality, they have to maintain capital for their existing portfolio and therefore will not be making new investments. Plus, new investment decisions are likely to take a lot longer. This investor told me that for his last investment, what would normally be a one-month due diligence process stretched out to two months or more.

3. Do your homework on the investor.

This one is universal, whether you're meeting in person or online. Research the person you are talking to. One small personal note can demonstrate that you're paying attention to the actual human on the other end of the line, and that goes a long way. Listen to interviews, look up profiles, familiarize yourself with the other companies in the portfolio, review the firms track record and more.

Personally, I love it when an entrepreneur mentions a portfolio company of ours that they really admire. Our portfolio companies are like our children; we are proud of them, so flattering them means flattering us. Plus, every investor likes to know you have taken the time to get to know something about their investment history.

4. Check your equipment and learn the meeting software.

This should go without saying, but it is shocking how many presenters will log on to Zoom for the first time to do a pitch without any familiarity with the platform. Spending precious minutes learning on the fly does not make a good first impression. At Blue Startups, we refer to this as the "technology IQ test." If an entrepreneur fails it, we usually pass on the opportunity.

For example, in a pitch meeting last week, a startup company did not know how to share his screen in Zoom. While this may seem like a small thing, it is inevitable that we extrapolate from that small thing into larger assumptions. Is this person technologically savvy? Do they pay attention to details? Do they take the time to prepare thoroughly?

5. Turn on your video.

In an environment where we can't meet face-to-face, the video experience is important. A huge part of communication is non-verbal, and we learn a lot about each other by having the video turned on. If this means you have to get up a little earlier to blow-dry your hair and put on a tie, so be it. At least you got to skip the commute to the office!

It is also important to make sure you look professional on these calls. We had an entrepreneur pitch us from inside his closet, with his clothes hanging behind him. We had a laugh about it, but the bottom line is we came away with the impression that this entrepreneur did not care enough about the presentation to find a more suitable environment.

6. Do everything live.

Do not pre-record your pitch. It just doesn't work to engage the audience, and it is fraught with complications. Likewise, skip embedded videos in your presentation; because the audio input is different on each meeting software, it has a high probability to fail.

In a virtual pitch competition I was judging last month, the entrepreneurs had three minutes to pitch. The clock started running as soon as they were on screen. Because of this, many of the participants came with pre-recorded pitches that fit the time limit. However, the recorded pitch requires a different audio input, so we couldn't hear it. In most cases the entrepreneur had to talk over the video, or stop it and start again, losing valuable time. Oftentimes, this left them with only a minute or so to pitch us. These teams were rated very poorly by the pitch judges.

7. Follow up, follow up, follow up.

Again, another universal, but even more important now. It is easier for your communication to get lost in the online morass, so be relentless in your follow-up to get to the next stage of communication.

I always give my entrepreneurs the same advice about the amount of follow-up to do: Follow up with investors until they tell you to stop. You cannot over-communicate. Do not take silence as a no, because most investors are simply too busy to pay attention to every communication or take the time to respond. Do not assume they are not interested; just keep trying. While it may seem obnoxious, I am always much more impressed with the entrepreneur who follows up too much than the one that gives up too easily. Persistence is a trait you need for success, and there's no better way to demonstrate it than with your enthusiastic and consistent follow up.

Our new reality makes it more important than ever to put your best foot forward in the highly competitive startup world. Online communication failures will not be tolerated, and second chances are not likely to be given. As investors tighten their belts around the world, you want to give yourself the best chance at success and give them no reasons to dismiss you or your company.

Chenoa Farnsworth

Managing Partner, Blue Startups

Chenoa Farnsworth is the managing partner of Blue Startups, a Hawaiian-based accelerator, and the managing director of Hawaii Angels, Hawaii's only angel capital investment network, located in Honolulu. Chenoa's mission is to strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Hawaii. She has a particular passion for scalable startups with an environmental or social mission.

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