I’m a startup founder, I’m from the future and I’m here to help
At an accelerator demo day, nobody comes planning to invest in all the startups in the cohort. The goals are to sort the wheat from the chaff, and to consider whether to begin a dialogue with the best of the startups pitching. What if you don’t believe you’re the best in your cohort on the day you need to pitch?
That doesn’t matter, because you shouldn’t be pitching the here-and-now.
You should be pitching the future
Pitching the future is what all startup founders should be pitching, most of the time. A startup differs from a traditional business in many ways but a traditional business is valued mostly by its trading history, while a startup is valued mostly on its future potential. People don’t invest in a startup because of what it is now and who its founders are today. But they might invest in what your startup could become, and in your potential as a leader.
Should anybody invest a million dollars in your startup:
- Because it’s only six months old?
- Because you just graduated from an accelerator?
- Because you know the market and the problem you’re solving?
- Because you worked in the industry for a while?
- Because you’ve just converted your first five paid customers from their free trial?
- Because you just made a contract developer an offer of a full-time permanent role?
Of course not!
Or should somebody invest in your startup:
- Because although it’s only six months old, it’s bootstrapped an idea into a fully-functional MVP which already has paying customers which give it a >85% NPS?
- Because one day, some smart startup is going to disrupt a mature, inefficient market with fat, lazy incumbents which have under-invested in technology due to lack of real competition?
- Because you understand how that market works, have seen it work from the inside, and can mud-map a credible plan for how to disrupt it, making the market massively more efficient, expanding the market itself and capturing a huge slice of that value for your company and your future shareholders?
- Because you know how to attract and retain great technical talent and are making the first hires in what will be a world-class team?
See what I did there? I conveyed basically the same set of facts about the same startup, but in a very different way – a way that conveys confidence about the future. Your pitch should sound almost as if you’ve just returned from a time machine expedition to the year = ([current date] + 5 years) and you know how the next few years are going to unfold.
That doesn’t mean everything should be conveyed with absolute certainty. If you travelled back in time to 1985, are you certain you could explain to your past self the exact causes and timing of the US sub-prime mortgage crisis? Probably not. But you would be able to explain what you do know, and you would be able to confidently outline what you don’t know.
The same is true for your startup pitch – you gain the confidence of your audience when you say “these are our known unknowns” because it’s likely to distract them from trying to critique what you portray as your “known knowns”.