5 common pitch mistakes and how to avoid

Ever wonder why some pitches can easily win over the attention of investors and judges? What are the not to do so that you can WoW the audience who will suddenly put away the cell phone and start promoting your product and service as this is the best thing they have seen in life?

The list of 5 common pitch mistakes is not apparent and not intuitive. Often first-time pitching entrepreneurs may likely underestimate the effort it takes to deliver a perfect pitch. It is critical to remember that pitching is not presenting. Instead, pitching is a performance with precision and clarity to capture the audience to join your movement.

The 5 common mistakes 

  1. To lose the attention of investors within the first 15 sec in a 2~3 minute pitch.

    • A+ team can articulate the following within 10 ~ 15 sec.
      1. Positioning of the company (e.g., Facebook is a social network company while Microsoft is a productivity company)
      2. Expected result or desired state the company aims to deliver (e.g., Facebook is a social network company. It brings people together while Microsoft is a productivity company, it helps people to achieve more)
      3. Clearly describe the problem or need and scenario in 2~3 sentences. For example
        • Product: You are selling a unique, robust phone case protector designed for outdoor as a product
        • Problem definition: The problem you are solving is that people are anxious and sad when unable to retrieve data and recover valuable life memory due to outdoor damages from extreme weather or the drop of the phone in a hazardous environment.  
        • The use case: The use case may be for people who enjoy outdoor and often have their phone exposed to extreme heat from the sun during winter or minus 40 degrees of coldness during winter) 
    • Often founders of startup companies neglect the importance of the first 10~15 sec. This section of the pitch for some investors is the decision point whether to invest the rest of the 1 1/2 minutes with 110% attention. Do spend over 50% of your preparation effort for the first-time presenter.
  2. Not able to be precise 

    • The common mistakes are to omit or not articulate the following section in the pitch:
      1. Over usage of uncertain words
        • Try not to have the entire pitch filled with words like “maybe”, “I don’t know”, “I think”, “not sure”. Try to use the actual number or % to illustrate revenue or traction. 
      2. Not clearly define the following section
        • Not able to describe correctly what the problem the company or project is solving.
        • The use case or scenario illustrating the problem contradicts with the statement of the problem definition or does not align 
        • Not able to articulate what is the solution to the problem or the need
        • Not pointing out why the current solution (product/service) can not solve this problem
        • Not presenting the traction or validation of sales with actual numbers (e.g., revenue, users numbers, period, % of growth, active usage rate). If the project has yet to be validated, please state possible causes. 
        • Not able to explain how the money or investment will be used or allocated with clearly 6 to 12 months milestones and expected result. 
  3. QA not well-prepared 

    • Top teams prepare answers to possible questions or have 10x more slides than the actual presentation to answer potential questions.
      1. A+ team is so well-prepared that the presenters welcome the questions and guide the audience to build trust and transparency with confidence. 
      2. A+ team can even identify which Q.A page numbers the questions of the audience. (Some teams can actually respond right away to the question from the audience that: “your question is XXXX, and we have the answers on page number xxx.)
    • Common mistakes are:
      1. Don’t have the well-thought-out and direct answers for the first few questions.
      2. Don’t think QA. is a critical component of a pitch. 
  4. To request a high company evaluation. 

    • A+ team who can illustrate solid the unfair advantage. According to top VC and accelerator Y Combinator, an unfair advantage consists of  
      1. A+ team with solid expertise and years of experience in researching the problem and validating the solution. 
      2. Focus on a market with over 30% yearly growth. 
      3. The problem requires a solution that has a repetitive purchase instead of one-time purchases. 
      4. The solution can be sold via word of mouth or natural growth without initial advertising or promotional expenses. 
    • common mistake
      1. Unless the team has proven to have the unfair advantage of solid sales/revenue records to demonstrate the potential of reaching the stage of product-market-fit, it is often a turn-off to state or asks for a high company evaluation. 
  5. Unclear ask

    • common mistakes
      1. Don’t have any explicit request for help in finding customers, finding investment, finding partners, and finding talents to advance the progress to align with the milestone. 
      2. Not tailor the ask to a different audience.

Solution: How to avoid disaster or successfully capture your following significant opportunities?

Here are nine recommendations iiiNNO focuses on working with startup companies in our program. 

  1. Knowing the difference between being precise, be prepare and be correct

    • No one knows the exact correct ultimate business model or the exact steps in the sequence leading to financial sustainability. Therefore, there is no need to fight against the audience on what is right or not (correctness) or make a bold statement on an unknown matter to demonstrate your assumption or theory has the most merits.
    • Instead, spend your effort in making the precise statement and be 110% with Q.A with backup slides. 
  2. Practice and work with investors who have mentoring experience in early-stage investment. 

    • It is critical to understand how investors select teams to invest and conduct research on the industry and back-round checks. 
    • Excellent pitches may not need slides, although having PowerPoint slides during pitches helps both the presenter and audience. So it is about the content that WoW the investors and not about how pretty the presentation slides are. 
    • Attending a presentation workshop is a critical learning path, but the ultimate breakthrough is acquiring investor mindsets and knowing the criteria for early-stage investment. 
  3. Pushing the limits of your business model

    • Investors invest in a team that can build a scalable business model that has product-market-fit and financial sustainability. 
    • The team needs to demonstrate the strength in acquiring market insights (i.e., reason to buy and not buy) and the ability to pivot to increase margin and growth %. 
  4. Demonstrate your strength of execution and ability to deliver 

    • According to the famous business expert Simon Sinek, success comes with a team that can deliver consistently with momentum. Therefore, during the pitch and Q.A. session, show the examples and numbers that demonstrate your team can execute despite challenges. 
  5. Don’t argue and speak about unvalidated assumptions unless you have proven your credibility and trust. 

    • We understand that founders are so passionate about the startup program and will do anything to grow it or protect it. Often in a mix-of-emotion, especially in a high stake pitch environment, both the team and investors are discussing critical points, often investors ask hard questions to clarify what is validated and what has not yet been validated. 
    • The courage of confronting one’s not yet or vulnerability is actually a sign of positivity for some investors who are ready to work and invest in teams. To confront the investors or audience with untested assumptions or not-yet-proven facts may be a negative sign for some investors.
  6. Knows the exact reason why you are raising funds from particular investors and not borrowing money from the bank.

    • According to the famous business expert Simon Sinek, success comes with a team that can deliver consistently with momentum. Therefore, during the pitch and Q.A. session, show the examples and numbers that demonstrate your team can execute despite challenges. 
  7. Don’t over-focus on your evaluation and chase a higher evaluation.

    • Focus on building A+ team, producing results, and inviting the investors who can open networks and accelerate finding your true product-market-fit and building a financially sustainable business model.
  8. Appreciation and humility

    • Know that you can not do it alone and appreciate anyone who has to help you reach so far. The overconfident team that is not humble and appreciative may still succeed. However, an appreciative and trustworthy team will be favored and over-promoted. 
  9. Educate your investors

    • Do not assume
      1. Top teams will not assume that investors know the technicality or the market insight of the industry and the problem at hand. The presenter will have 1~2 slides or about 2~3 sentences layout the landscape of the problem, the definition of the jargon, clarification of common beliefs with facts and numbers.
    • Ability to articulate
      1. Investors love teams that can turn a complex or hard-to-understand topic or issue into simple words or easy-to-get examples.
    • Don’t make people feel stupid
      1. Most of the problems that startup teams words on may not yet have a solution or solid business model. Therefore please do share with clarify and humbleness.

Additional Reference

About iiiNNO

iiiNNO is an international startup launchpad that co-creates with founders to acquire 10X growth by accessing Asia markets such as Japan / Taiwan / Thailand and India with actual sales orders and a validated business model. We host fundraising and government resource application Bootcamp to accelerate the readiness of the startup teams in both fundraising and government subsidy application.

  • 90 days fundraising bootcamp
  • 45 days government application bootcamp

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