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Investors are busy people, and many have seen thousands of pitch decks in their careers. They ultimately choose to invest in very few, however, regardless of how interesting some might seem to the average person. The truth is that a good idea isn’t enough; it’s only part of the equation. It’s necessary to convince an investor that you have the right idea, that you’re the right person and that this is the right time.
That last factor is vital: Venture capitalists won’t invest in something which seems to have little urgent need in the world, and wouldn’t have gotten to where they are if they made a habit of doing so. Over more than a decade of looking at pitch decks, I’m convinced this is the silver bullet to success.
Most founders fail to make investors believe there is a consumer base out there that’s longing for their product at that moment; when I’ve seen startup founders nail that “urgency effect,” however, the atmosphere of the room completely shifts. If you can find it — this silver bullet that cuts through all the noise — then your pitch will level up.
I have identified three ways of producing this urgency effect.
Attitudes and tastes across the world are constantly shifting, which is a nightmare for established companies but a gift for startups. Whenever behavior changes happen en masse, some doors shut but others open…a time when you can truly seize opportunity.
Taking a wide scan of behavioral changes happening right now, there are a few standouts: Covid-19 has obviously been a massive driver, especially in pushing people to adopt ecommerce at a faster rate than expected; supply chain issues are driving the need to maximize material sourcing and find more local manufacturing options here in the U.S.; and climate change and sustainability are top-of-mind issues, especially among millennials and Gen-Z.
That last change includes the shift of younger people’s consumer patterns away from the excesses of older generations and toward environmentally-responsible products, including meat alternatives, since consumers are increasingly aware of the impact the meat industry has on carbon emissions.
This is merely a partial list to drive home a point: Find the behavioral change, shift or pattern that is happening in your industry and see if your product or service responds to it.
If you can back up the perceived change in behavior with hard numbers in a pitch, expect investors to sit up in their seats and pay close attention to whatever you say for the rest of the presentation. For example, armed with fact that a third of millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable products (according to the Global Sustainability Study 2021 by Simon-Kucher & Partners), investors will want to see how they can benefit from this trend.
Behavioral change usually doesn’t happen overnight, but regulatory moves can force change whether we like it or not. There have been many instances when governments have changed the rules by which the private sector plays, and so produced winners and losers. You just have to convince potential investors that you’ll be one of the winners.
The web at the moment is a particular magnet for regulators as they try to play catch-up with the rapid rate of innovation. Accessibility requirements and the potential for litigation led to the rise of companies that aimed to solve various problems for companies, including proving compliance with such requirements (or risking consequential fines). To investors, it might not have been obvious that the world was in dire need of such companies, until the regulation said so.
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) are major laws that have been enacted over the last few years. These have spawned many startups aimed at helping organizations make sure they don’t fall foul of their stipulations. Demand for such services was both immediate and overwhelming, meaning the potential for growth was incredible.
If you believe a regulatory change is your silver bullet, then you need to act fast. If you’ve spotted an opportunity, it’s a safe bet that others have, too, so have a pitch deck prepared and ready so you can meet investors before the issue is already front-page news.
This last pathway to urgency is perhaps the cheekiest, but also the most effective. To make use of it, you’ve got to be obsessed with your market and know everything that’s happening with the companies sharing your space. If you can show an investor that the sector is heating up, then you can touch on their FOMO receptors if they don’t invest in you.
Stories to look out for include competitors who have large funding rounds, major acquisitions and big IPOs. These all show that money is pouring into the industry and that other investors are confident in future prospects (and the result can often be bidding wars).
It doesn’t matter if a competitor is doing well when the market is in its infancy. As history has taught us many times, the first mover often isn’t the one who sees long-term success. (Just ask Myspace or Bebo.) What heat does is present a strong signal to an investor that your company fixes a problem that needs fixing, and that through you they can gain exposure to market growth as a whole. This creates urgency, because if they keep talking to different companies for too long, the fear is that they might be late in capitalizing on early stages of growth. When they know their competitors are making big bets, they don’t want to be the odd one out and lose money through indecisiveness.
When Airbnb IPO’d last year, its CEO, Brian Chesky, reshared a wonderful blog post simply titled “7 Rejections,” one that included seven turn-down emails received when the company was trying to raise $150,000 at a $1.5 million valuation. When they finally IPO’d, the company’s valuation was $47 billion. Imagine what the writers of those rejections feel?
Bessemer Ventures, meanwhile, takes its losses with a bit of humor, displaying an “Anti-Portfolio” that honors the companies they missed. (Yes, you guessed it, Airbnb is there too.) But what if the they could see into the future and have a company excite them enough to show that brand of potential? That’s where this silver bullet comes in.
Obviously, you can’t just sell the market: you have to sell your business, too, but the aim of selling the market to investors is to highlight the opportunity they potentially have on their hands.
If you want to convince investors that they should invest in you, then you need to set about finding your silver bullet as soon as you can. Each time you go into a pitch without it, you’re not making the most of an opportunity. Once you have created a sense of urgency for your startup’s product, don’t be surprised if you find yourself picking up the phone and it’s an enthusiastic investor on the other end.