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September 29, 2009 / Danny Robinson

Angel’s guide to listening to pitches

I’m a small Angel investor, but I’m first an entrepreneur.  I’ve been the pitcher and the pitchee over 100 times.  Having this perspective has taught me something that I wish to share.  I offer this advice up in the best interest of both entrepreneurs who detest the experience of pitching to a group of angels, and Angels who are (hopefully) looking to find a great place to invest some of their money.

Becoming a good pitcher during your first few months on the job is not a prerequisite to building a billion dollar organization.  There, I said it.

Think about it. Most pitches are done by first time founders, who have never pitched before.  I remember back to the time I delivered my first pitch.  It was terrible, but I got better.  And by the time I finally convinced someone to take a chance on me, I was pretty good.  BUT, the company was exactly the same underneath.  The only difference between the first group of Angels who heard my terrible pitch and turned me down, and the later group who finally invested, is that the first group missed out purely because of a poorly delivered pitch.  Who gives a $%^&* how well the CEO delivered his pitch?  Instead, ask yourself “Do I want to know more about this business?”  By definition, you are a smart person; You should be able to fill in some of the gaps on your own, or at least form some intelligent questions to ask the CEO afterward.

A side note:  There is more often than not, at least one know-it-all, loud-mouthed, wannabe-almost-angel who takes pleasure in criticizing and humiliating the entrepreneur in front of a room full of strangers.  Please, do not listen to people who comment on the presentation.  Yes, there are actually people who do this, and it’s more common that you think.  To this (probably consultant) guy/gal, who seems to always sneak into the Angel Forums:  I ask you to please stop.  You’re not helping.  You’re there to learn about the business, not give a public lesson on pitching styles.  We don’t want to hear from you.

Just remember, that it takes two people to effectively communicate.



  1. @finstoryteller / Sep 29 2009 4:33 pm

    This is good, it gives a sharp piece of perspective. Although I agree with the side note I do think there is value in being able to pitch well. Part of the reason Angels will invest in an entrepreneur is that they believe the individual in front of them is capable of executing on the business. It's harder to see this if you are a bumbling buffoon when you pitch.

    So I would suggest that if your 'pitch' experience is limited then 1) at least make sure you are passionate about your business and 2) practice. practice. practice.

    • DannyRobinson / Sep 29 2009 5:54 pm

      I agree whole-heartily that the presenter needs to be passionate, and practice practice practice, but there is no excuse for anyone (angel or consultant) to comment on the presentation style, or what was not in the slides. The question is "DO YOU LIKE THE BUSINESS?" Even if they did a shitty job presenting it, you will at least understand the industry, and will have some good questions after the pitch (preferably in private). It's not anyone's "job" to give them pitch advice. The investor is there to decide if they're going to invest – and that's all.

  2. Stewart Marshall / Sep 29 2009 6:17 pm

    So, Angels should be able to see through a poor presentation and not place style ahead of substance? Agreed – it's in their interest after all. In reality I suspect each Angel has a different tolerance for this, if you spend all day seeing shitty presentations the tolerance is probably tested! There is probably also a range of shitty-ness as well!

    Wasting time and effort discussing it at the time or giving public lessons in pitching simply adds another shitty pitch to the day. One that is probably the worst received, ironically!

  3. Parveen Kaler / Sep 29 2009 8:41 pm

    I think there can be a few different reasons for a poor pitch:

    1) The pitcher is poor

    2) The pitcher hasn't thought through the idea well enough

    A great way to improve your pitching ability is to pitch to non-technical people. For example, this is how I pitch Twitter to my parents:

    Picture the tickers that you see on CNN, ESPN, the business channel, and The Weather Channel. Now imagine these tickers were on the web instead of TV. Now imagine anyone could post to these tickers and they could post about any topic from any device that you have handy.

    My parents instantly get the idea of how powerful the service could be.

    • DannyRobinson / Oct 1 2009 3:34 am

      Awesome way to describe twitter. I'm going to have to borrow that the next time I see my parents.

  4. Jim Derbyshire / Oct 1 2009 4:19 pm

    Interesting discussion especially having seen companies at New Ventures BC Competition improve their concept as well as pitch through feedback "behind closed doors" with mentors. I agree with Danny that when pitching in public forums, it is inappropriate for the audience to do anything but ask "do I want to know more" and follow up in private. A few points:

    a) The investor needs to know that the company can raise the required capital to succeed and therefore deliver a ROI. The nature and content of the pitch is part of the investor assessment of this aspect.

    b) It is essential to be able to understand the business from the pitch. If you can't answer "Do you like the business" as Danny put it because the business isn't clear, it is valid to comment in private on the pitch style and content.

    c) Some consultants and trainers tend to push a formula for a pitch and comment relative to their preference but as an entrepreneur, I know many styles work.

    d) Parveen's Twitter example is great. Elevator pitches and opening slides of a pitch need to quickly align all the audience, both knowledgeable and new to the area. However over the last year, I have sat through too many pitches which failed to move from this type of opening into sufficient detail in later slides to access the business opportunity. When this happens I feel my time is wasted and reject the opportunity long term.

    In summary, I believe it is essential to balance pitch flow with content and style with the presenter.

  5. pitching manual / Feb 17 2010 6:19 pm

    Haha, I've never heard advice like this before. Very interesting take on pitching. However, it's hard to become interested in a business if the pitcher is not a confident, passionate speaker. The last part is very true: it takes two to tango.

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