Pitches for riches

We love a good presentation at 42group, so when the chance to see how tech millionaires and billionaires pitched for funding, we couldn’t wait to analyse these pitches for riches.

If you’re in the middle of writing a pitch or a presentation, or just interested in how some of the world’s biggest businesses started then this one’s for you…

Before we begin let’s go back a little bit in time to 1 February 1962. The story goes that Brian Epstein and a little known group called the Beatles, fresh from a mammoth stint playing in the smoky clubs of Hamburg, made their way to London for an audition with Decca Records.

As the adrenaline was pumping, the nervous but excited group rattled through 15 songs in an hour. The set list was carefully chosen – some originals, some covers – and played with passion, all in the hope of convincing the assorted bigwigs to sign the soon-to-be mop tops to a record contract.

A week after the audition Epstein, the charismatic manager of the Beatles received a short, but unfailingly polite notice that the record company had decided to pass, claiming that, in their opinion: ‘guitar groups are on the way out’.

The rest is history.

In this one instance, Decca had the chance to sign up the four men who would go on to transform music – and they missed it. We may laugh as we imagine how that poor brown suited executive nursing a glass of whisky felt as the Beatles went on to conquer the world, but we’re judging him too harshly.

It’s tempting to think that we may have done something different, but presented with the evidence – for this Decca executive at least – the Beatles just weren’t good enough.

Silicon Valley start-ups (the successful ones, at least) regularly make the headlines for how innovative and exciting they are. But they needed to start somewhere, and that somewhere was usually presenting to VCs for funding.

They’re probably slightly better dressed than the Beatles, swapping leather jackets for suits (although not in all cases). But the parallels are the same. At that one point in time, they have all needed to make an impression. And they have had one chance to do it.

We don’t want to ask them how they did it, but attach.io have got their hands on pitch slide decks from some of the world’s biggest tech firms. These were the slide decks – the Powerpoint equivalent of Epstein’s crude acetate recording that finally got the Beatles a record deal with Parlaphone – that changed the lives of these individuals, and their businesses.

So what can we learn from them? The first thing is that it’s a lot of material to look through. To save you the time, we’ve done that – and here’s what we have found…

Powerpoint works

Rather ironically, these trail-blazing soon-to-be tech giants prefer to use the static, staid and slightly dull Powerpoint to help them get their message across. And for us, that’s absolutely fine.

Powerpoint is almost universally accepted and interoperable across Mac and PC. It’s simple to use; simple to edit; and simple for us to design you a custom theme.

We’re proud to say it: 42group loves Powerpoint.

And we know secretly that you do too.

Keep it brief…

Apple knows a teeny tiny bit about presentations, and they limit themselves to just 10 minutes for each presenter during their annual new product launches.

There’s no waffle, just an energetic 10 minutes of upbeat chat and shameless promotion. The increasingly popular TED talks shorten this, often delivering their messages in a few high-octane minutes of energetic enthusiastic entertainment.

It’s the same principal behind the hackneyed and over-used ‘elevator pitch’ approach. (A quick note on this: The first thing to say is that we don’t have elevators, we have lifts. It’s also pretty clear that ascending 48 floors in a US office block offers a greater opportunity to chat than a snatched few seconds as you climb to the slightly less lofty heights of the second floor.)

That aside, they keep it brief. In most cases to around 10 slides. And you should too.

But have the detail to hand

Every fact in a Powerpoint presentation needs to be substantiated. And you need to have these facts to hand. Now. Immediately. Oh no, your investment has just walked out of the room.

The worst part in Dragon’s Den isn’t the part when a group of millionaires mercilessly bully someone on national TV seemingly for their own amusement. It’s when someone can’t remember a simple fact about their own business.

Peter Jones: “What’s the total UK market for your invention that turns used cat litter into hair extensions?”

Presenter: “Err…”

Peter Jones: (Awkward shake of the head and a slow glance down all captured on camera to be endlessly replayed on Dave…)

At this point the energy drains from the pitch as quickly as cheap champagne at a Made in Chelsea after-party.

Don’t dwell on design

Through gritted teeth, we have to admit that what is quite striking is how a number of the pitches are so poorly designed. The formatting is pretty bad, the fonts uninspired, the slides unoriginal and the navigation clunky.

But (for now at least) they’re millionaires and billionaires and we aren’t.

What stands out isn’t necessarily the delivery mechanism, it’s the cogency and clarity of thought and the way an idea is conveyed. It’s about looking beyond the naivety of the design to focus on the outcome.

It’s about telling a story.

Success and failure is a matter of opinion

These slide decks weren’t universally successful. In fact, in many cases, they were presented to various VC firms who passed. At that time, for their business and for their investors, it wasn’t right.

Success rates for bids, presentations and tenders are low. If you’re winning 30% of them, you’re doing pretty well. In the competitive world of Silicon Valley, it’s likely to be a lot less.

What these slides, and the businesses themselves, illustrate is you need to have an unfailing belief in your business to make it work.

At 42group, we have that too. Not just in ourselves, but you too.

It’s our job to help businesses and organisations tell their story. We may have an impressive range of clients in health, science and technology – but we love to work with start-ups and small businesses, helping them to clarify their position, and grow as a result.

Whether you’re a multi-million pound start-up, or simply want some reliable and trustworthy advice about marketing and communications, contact us today.