Wednesday, April 9, 2014

VC Advice on How to Build a Pitch Deck

Compressing your business into a handful of PowerPoint slides and then pitching it to a person who is conditioned to say no 99% of the time is a herculean challenge.  

To help entrepreneurs build this skill set Orrick brought together three great VCs in their Total Access Series to give us the inside scoop on just what VCs are looking for.  It was very clear that from viewing so many pitches (Noah in particular mentioned seeing over 1000 every year) - there are some clear signals they look for.  

The name of the game is to check all the right boxes (got a great team, traction and market) without tripping a sore spot (overcrowded market, entrenched competition, low defensibility). What follows are some quick notes from each of the partner presentations:

Noah Lichtentstein - Cowboy Ventures

  • Noah started by talking about Cowboy’s focus on Life 2.0 – the ways in which technology will change the way we work and live. This underlined the firms strong focus on user facing technologies (know their focus before pitching!) 
  • Company Value Proposition - What benefit, for who, and how will you do it uniquely well (quoted from Michael Skok of NorthBridge).  Will you win by being better, cheaper, or entirely new?
  • Investor Value Proposition - How are you going to build a billion dollar business in less than 10 years?

Steph Palmeri - SoftTech VC

  • Market sizing - shoot for a $1 Billion Market. The math here is that you can probably capture 10% of that market – making you a $1B company.  It’s really hard to get 50%+ of a market.
  • Know your market
    • Existing – need to be better faster cheaper (ie google)
    • Re-segmented – fundamental shifts, niche (ie Salesforce)
    • New Market – something completely new (ie twitter)
  • Compare Top Down (industry reports) and Bottom Up market sizing (# customers * Lifetime Value) to make sure they are similar in size.  If they aren't you've missed something.
  • Make sure everyone in the scope of your market sizing can actually become a buyer. Example: If you're selling children's clothes your market sizing cannot include adult clothing purchases.
  • Investors will have their own ideas and do their own research.  It’s your job to give them a credible jumpstart.
  • This is just as much about the data as an evaluation of your thought process as an entrepreneur.
  • Qualify size with competition, montetization potential, market growth, market share, timing
  • Competition is similar to comparables.  A great market will uses have strong competitors.  They simultaneously validate your choice of market while making it less attractive..
  • If your market is crowded/complex/scary to investors (has dead bodies) consider making an ecosystem slide.  Tell them why the market is different than hey think.
  • Who will you compete with today/tomorrow? Will you be able to raise your next round? 

Niko Bonatsos General Catalyst Partners

  • Be clear about your unique advantages – technology, insights, timing, growth models?
  • Growth tips
    • Press – (ie techcrunch)
    • FB Mobile Ads.  New channels are cheaper and have better ROI
    • Never pay for users/customers early on.  Focus on improving your product.
    • reinvest in growth. don’t worry about breakeven – get to that critical mass and then think about.
You can find all the slides here:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Cold Calling and Email Scripts for Startups

Sales4Startups has long been the best sales event in the Bay Area.  Even as a guy who’s been selling for years now I learn more about the unique art of selling at a startup at every event.  The highlight of this evening was hearing from Steli Efti of  Stei is a sales pro who’s been hustling since his days at YC.

How to Use Cold Calling To Sell (yes with a phone!) 

This has long been something I’m skeptical of, but Steli did a great job of framing when it was useful.  Since it takes time from a real person and has a very low hit rate (single digit %), it needs to be for larger accounts and use as a way to reach decision makers (in his case founders/CEOs).  His process was as follows:
  1. Reach people – shoot for 10-15% reach rate (ie valid numbers) or you need to fix your prospecting source.
  2. Sound good – sound excited.  You don’t have body language  - you just have voice. 
  3. Ask questions – qualify them. Figure out if your solution is for them.
  4. Manage objections – prepare!  You’ll get the same question many times.  Don’t ramble.  Answer in a concise way – 1-2 sentences
  5. Close- have a call to action.

The original prospecting list for Elastic Sales came from CrunchBase (go to where your customers are) and qualified as B2B startups who have raised a series A (aka have money and are scaling).  Then they’d jump online to find a number to call. 

Cold Calling Script

Steli was also kind enough to share his script (commentary added in brackets):

Hi my name is I’m calling some startups in the area to find out if they are a good fit for you beta program [qualifying industry lingo]

What do we do in a sentence [relax I’m not going to talk for an hour] we provide companies with a sales team on demand [MVP pitch]

Does this sound generally interesting to you [doesn’t matter what they say now – they were thinking something – but they don’t have enough data to say yes or no]

[let them verbalize it]
[is there potential or isn’t there potential]
[now start qualifying]

What is your current sales process?
Who are your customers how do you get leads?
What’s the customer’s lifetime value?

[test close - try and set the parameters for the deal and the next steps for closing]
We want to start in 3 weeks does this work for you
The beta program is heavily discounted it’s going to be $x per day per sales person
We can only offer you 1 salesperson to begin with  (that’s going to be me)
What is the decision making process in your company? [what are all the steps it takes for us to get this done?  This is the most important question]
How quickly can we make a decision

>>Schedule closing call.

Q & A from the Audience on Cold Calling

Q: Should I leave voicemails?
A: If you cold call people multiple times then don’t leave a VM – it can take away your permission to keep calling.  Just keep calling.  If you’re not calling back it won’t hurt. 

Q: What if they say it's a bad time?
A: Say: Is this a bad time?  Can I get your email? This often lowers the guard of a prospect so you can continue the conversation (ask about the process at their company).  Let them continue talking as long as they want (do not keep them on the phone by talking yourself).

Q: What if someone is not at all engaging with you? 
A: Establishing trust – call out the elephant in the room.  Look man – I know you don’t know me, but here’s who I am and what I want to do.  Let’s see if I can build some credibility.

How to Use Emails to Sell

The big point Steli hammered home on email sales was to focus on making them sound personal.  Just like we say at Contastic - people are sick of spam - email needs to be personal and relevant.  Here's his process:
  1. Open – 80% on subject line 20% on the body.  Make it look like it was sent by a person.  More like "Hey - here's a product I thought you should see" and less like "Ten tips to better sales".
  2. Read – every sentence is a pitch to read on.  Here’s’ who I am, here’s what I do.  Add credibility (customers, investors, press, background).   What’s the next step/call to action? ONE call to action. 
  3. Respond - This is a good time to set up a call/initial meeting.
  4. Follow up - Stay in touch.  People often forget emails and you should never be the one to let a thread die. 

Q & A from the Audience on Email Sales

Q: Is Text better than HTML?
A: Text is always better than HTML.  You want this to look personal - like it was sent between family or friends.  No humans send HTML formatted emails with logos to each other.  That's a signal it's a sales email.