When entrepreneurs e-mail me requesting that we have a call to see what “synergies” there may be, or to find out whether I’d be interested in getting involved in a project or invest in an idea (usually in a long-form essay of about six paragraphs), I almost always respond the same thing:
Send me a link to your product.
After which they do one of two things: either don’t respond anymore, or they reply something along the lines of: “Well, that’s why I want to talk to you, I need money to build it,” or, “I’m looking for someone that can help me code it, know anyone?”
They then send me a presentation or another long essay talking about how big the opportunity is, saying that their solution is going to be amazing – if only they could build it.
There’s no way around it. You either learn how to code and build a prototype, or you do a very manual proof of concept. And if you can’t persuade a technical entrepreneur to believe in your idea, why should anyone else?
Having a product is really the first step, even if it’s just a prototype, and even if it’s very limited. If you don’t have any money, simplify it to something you can build in week or less, just as a proof of concept. Instead of looking to build a solution that you come up with to a problem that is hazy, opt to define and pinpoint the problem very well, almost independent of the very clever software product you’ve dreamt up, and do a very primitive version of it.
I’ve seen apps that have just one input field, sending an e-mail to all of the founders for them to then do the work. Those are great. I once called the founder of FlightCar directly to rent a car. Everything else was done through e-mail. They were able to prove that there were people who wanted their product.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a working product with traction is worth a million bucks.
When we were doing the seed round for Onswipe, we noticed an inverse correlation between the amount of time we talked before showing the product and our success at closing an investor. The faster we got to the product, the easier it was to get investors on board. We refined our pitch to have almost no slides and, in turn, be all product. With the product came what mattered: evidence of growth for something people wanted.
With even the most rudimentary (but not necessarily crappy) product, you can start building a story that can evidence traction. The times when you could raise money with just a PowerPoint are long gone.
Raising money is not about needing money to exist. It’s about needing money to grow even faster. And in order to get that growth, you need a product.
What Your Pitch Should Really Look Like
There is no magic formula, but this is what I always recommend:
– Your name and name of your company
– The very big problem you are solving
– What you have accomplished with your product
– Your product itself
As to all of the projections pulled out of thin air, the size of mega billion dollar market, how you beat every competitor out there, and why Google or Facebook will buy your company one day. Meh, whatever.