Three things NOT to do when you are pitching me

Today has been a busy day meeting companies.  2-3 a day is about average for me, but today I’ll hit double digits.

Several of the teams today exhibited red flag issues that most likely shot their chance for Foundry Group funding them.  And they were simple things that they should have gotten correct. 

1. Not having a clue who I am.  No, this isn’t an ego thing.  (Okay, maybe a little), but how do you show up and pitch me when you know NOTHING about me?  You should be tailoring your pitch to what you think you know about me.  For instance, you don’t need to tell me that the music industry is changing or that the future of BigLaw might be different than it is today.  We can certain debate what the specifics are (and I welcome the conversations), but not having a clue that you are deeply involved in some of my domains is off putting.  Besides, I’m really easy to find on the web and figure out mostly what I’m about;

2. Not doing a Google search for your competitors.  I met with a company today that claimed they had no competitors.  It was the classic 4 square chart where they were in the upper right quadrant and there were no other companies.  The problem is that there are two that I know of who have raised over $60m between them and this company had never heard of them.  When I asked them if they had done any research, the answer was “no”’; and

3. Not listening.  Entrepreneurs need conviction in order to be successful.  I get that.  But when you are pitching me, it might be a good idea to listen to my advice and not step all over me.  If you do, it makes me worry about what future board meetings might be like.  I always tell entrepreneurs that “I have no idea if I’m right, but here are my opinions.”  And if you don’t like my opinions, then I’m not a good funding partner for you.  No offense taken, either.  There were several folks today who “knew everything” and I found it quite difficult to imagine investing in them.

Ironically, my bet is that none of the companies who committed these infractions will see this blog, so this isn’t for them.  But if you are pitching a VC, don’t make it ever harder by screwing up the easy stuff. 

  • About your point #3, I believe in "strong convictions, weakly held", the notion that you speak as if you were right but you listen as if you were wrong. Being able to articulate why you think you're right is not in opposition to being open to the possiibility that you might be wrong…. is this something you would find worthy of respect as an investor?

    • Tons of respect. I like your style.

      Jason Mendelson

      Sent from my iPhone
      – please forgive iTypos.

  • Its amazing that Entrepreneurs still aren't learning this basic information (because the info is out there!) about the funding process before they pitch. I help and consult a lot of brethren Entrepreneurs and I find they get very defensive when you make comments like their business plan is too long. I love free advice, and I listen to it whenever I can, especially from luminaries. I don't have to follow it, but at least I should try and understand it!

  • Brett Commaille

    Well said Jason. Far too often we are told either no competitors or nobody doing it like us when 10 minutes on Google reveal several competitors who are either doing the same thing or getting the same result in a different way. Not recognising them as competitors demonstrates a level of naivety which is incredibly concerning. The folks who would rather argue than listen – a bigger turn-off than a bad idea. I agree with Sam, be passionate about making it work, but open to some entrepreneurial wisdom.

  • Karl Rossmann

    You know what else is offputting? Rich guys poo pooing entrepreneurs for not showing due deference. See a shrink and get over your daddy issues and try to be a helpful rich guy, not just a needy one.

    • See issue one – not knowing anything about me.  Clearly you haven’t done your diligence, either.

  • I agree with points 2 & 3 but I didn't find much on the web to suggest that you were an expert in any particular domain that would enable me to make assumptions about your specific knowledge prior to meeting you. In fact, I would probably start the meeting establishing certain assumptions about market, trends etc and gauge whether you were tracking and were in agreement prior to moving to the investment hypothesis.

    • Well in case you want to be very bored…  J

      Our piece on themes – what we invest in –… />
      My bio with list of companies that I’m on the board of… />
      And lastly my LawFirm 2.0 series –… />
      If you don’t fall asleep 20 seconds into it, I’m impressed. 

      But yes, good idea on setting expectations up front. 

      • I saw the links that you provided in your reply when I was looking you up. And I admittedly have no idea how amateurish (or aggravating) the teams that were presenting to you were, but I will provide you some more worthless perspective on point #1.

        While the Law2.0 stuff and experience at Cooley suggest that you are knowledgeable in the area of law, I would think that outside of a legal area neither the board seats or the investment themes provide the entrepreneur as much knowledge about you as you might think. Plus, legal is a friggin’ mess to build companies for and anyone who claims to know that business doesn’t know the business imo.

        In contrast, if I’m pitching Mitch Lasky at Benchmark, I’ll assume he knows a ton about the video game business. If I’m pitching Ray Lane, I’ll assume he knows a ton about enterprise software. But from my personal experience, I’ll assume that John Doerr (full respect) knows almost nothing about ecommerce despite his investments in Amazon and Google because he doesn’t live and breathe in those spaces.

        • That’s interesting to me.  Thanks for the comment.  I should hire you as a marketing consultant?

          But seriously, thanks.  I would have thought these links would have provided a better overview, but it’s all in the eyes of folks like you, so I will reevaluate.

          Thanks for taking the time.

          In general, each of us live and breathe in our all of our themes –it’s all that we invest in.  But point well taken.

  • Phli Sugar

    We've never met and I'm not a VC but I do help out at a couple of Universities in their mentorship programs. I have the same gripes. I can take ten minutes and figure out who you are and what you're about. You lay it all out very clearly.

    There is a disconnect where people think that everything is equal…..its not. If I ask you for a meeting I better be prepared, if you ask me for a meeting you better be prepared.

    Understand this has nothing to do with a "power trip" type of thing that you see exhibited by many people in powerful positions including some VC's (but certainly not the good one's)

    As somebody once pointed out it takes less than a minute to understand if you are talking to a partner in the entrepreneurial ecosystem or somebody that thinks money conveys a god like status.

    I think in order I'd sum up the rational for your points as follows:

    1. You spent the time getting a meeting with me, you must have thought it important or why bother? You don't have fifteen stinking minutes to learn about the person you (and remember that's YOU) asked to meet with so we spend time most productively?

    2. C'mon…we can all use Google. Again if you're working on an idea having competition is not bad its good, but you have to at least know who/what they're about. If you tell me you have none and I can figure out in five minutes you do then either: you know you have competition and think I'm really stupid, or you don't actually know and therefore you truly are really stupid.

    3. Objections or contrary opinions are not moles to be wacked down with a hammer as fast as you can. I like the attitude of the first poster…..two sales items here if you are trying to sell (i.e. get money from somebody) You never can win an argument with somebody you are trying to sell. A yes is great, a no is fine, maybe's suck.

  • You are a good mentor.  This is a great way of rephrasing and also a good point.  I don’t walk into a meeting not knowing about who I speaking with regardless if I asked for the meeting or they did.

  • Only if there was a prominently placed link on your website where someone could learn about you. It would have to be near the top and easy to find. Oh wait…

  • It would have to be near the top and easy to find. Oh wait…

  • Spencer

    "No, this isn’t an ego thing. (Okay, maybe a little)…"

    Now THAT is funny! It's all ego, otherwise you would have NEVER written it. How completely unaware! Part of the problem with most (ALL) VC's is their hyper inflated personal value metric. It appears this curve is still trending positive.

    "Listen" Opps…there it is again! LMBFAO…

    #2 – Duhhh.

    The bottom line for 98.483428% of VC's?
    They are not particularly smart.
    They are not entrepreneurs or they would be….entrepreneurs.
    They are particularly insecure about themselves and have a high need for recognition to compensate.
    They are 'clubby'…? do the letters HBS mean anything?
    They follow the herd.
    They are not business builders or …they would be building business!
    They are money handlers looking to place a bet and create an exit. They are not altruistic so exiting is the only objective…as it's the ONLY way THEY will get paid.

    Their success rate is not much better than throwing darts. At least that is the analysis of every data wonk who's broken the performance numbers down in a statistical analysis.

    for the balance of VC's, that miniscule 1.51.6572%, they provide value beyond entrepreneur funding and startup working capital.


    • Perhaps you should read the comment section where I address your ego concerns.  As far as 98% of VCs being like this, I’d say I’d agree with you that there are a lot of folks out there like this, but I’d like to think that my firm and myself don’t act like that and certainly I have no clue what HBS stands for.  I’m a public school rat and wouldn’t last a week in bschool. 

    • Brett Commaille

      The funny thing is Spencer, many of us in VC are in this because we love helping and watching businesses grow. A VC is a business where you raise funds, invest in a product and build it for a return. A business just like any other, requiring entrepreneurship just like any other business.
      You clearly seem to have had an experience with VC which left you less than charmed with the industry, but not all lawyers are evil, not all plumbers show their cracks and not all VC are here to rip hour heart out and drink your blood.
      Some of us actually have a great relationship with the investee companies and they actually get value from their VC.
      Of course, if it doesn't work for you, then don't bother with VC funding.

  • Thanks for share.

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