XR Investment Pitch - Demos, Takeaways and Telling Stories
If you’re looking to raise funding for an XR project, you’ll be putting together a pitch.
As we explored in Parts One and Two of this series, there are lots of ways to rethink how you use your pitching tools and communication channels to make the maximum impact with your prospective investors. In this part, we take a look at the final three pieces of the Information Puzzle - the takeaway documentation you leave with your investors, the immersive product demo you might be readying to show to them, and the use of storytelling secrets to make sure your pitch resonates with them on both a financial and human level.
Photo : Realised Realities / Brandi Redd | Unsplash
4 | Takeaway documentation, links, materials
After your pitch, you can send a package of supplemental materials. Make sure you summarize the proposition you gave in your pitch. But just sending a PDF of your slide deck isn't making the most of this opportunity.
This is a good place to include team details and supporting depth in the form of tables, charts, data-points, and a clear summary of the project itself. View this as a background reading package as well as a ‘write up’ of what you spoke with them about in the pitch.
You want to give your potential partners a package of quick answers to all the questions they’re going to ask as they start drilling into your proposal, not a big bundle of required reading and homework, so it’s important to make sure it is all clear and summarized; don’t just send a page full of hyperlinks without context, which is something I’ve seen happen!
It’s important to cover the main takeaways of the challenge you’re solving or the need you’re addressing, as well as your overall business proposition. It should be front-and-center, and it’s not a bad idea to reiterate these key points in the email you send the package out in.
It’s also a good idea to make sure they won’t need to keep your entire email history to hand in order to make their assessment; if you sent a warm-up or ‘priming’ package of information ahead of the meeting, as previously recommended, then make sure any of the pertinent information therein - the stuff they may want to refer to when they’re noodling over your proposition – is included in the takeaway too. Think of it as a one-stop package that can replace the need for them to refer back to the priming materials.
Make sure you carry the visual style of your pitch presentation over to these materials as well. Keep them all clearly branded, and use a smart naming convention for the file names. Your objectives here are to reinforce your brand/business name, and to instantly remind them of the pitch meeting itself. Some investors will see lots of pitches every month, and it may be a while before they get round to reviewing your materials, so you want to ensure that instant recollection and connection as soon as they click on your mail or open any of your documents.
Finally, make sure the package is smartly arranged. You could just mirror the structure you used in the presentation, but that can feel like they’re wading through stuff you’ve already told them whereas, really, the main use case here will be looking through these materials to dig deeper.
Ultimately, they want to decide if they have confidence investing in you and your business, and much of that confidence can come through this messaging channel. Remember, as the takeaway, this is likely to be the most scrutinized part of your whole approach, so it’s job is to be clear, easy to use, and to address the investor’s questions and needs. It’s where they’ll be looking for more and deeper details than you told them in the pitch. It’s worth taking a look at existing investment brochures out there to see how the key messages and value propositions are repeated and reinforced through the document, and how the structure is clear and easy to follow. As a final note, your contents page should be hyperlinked to the relevant sections, and all your contact details and social links should be easy to find.
5 | A Strong immersive demo / visual demo
It’s usual for investors to want to see some kind of visual prototype or video so they can understand what you want them to invest their money in. If it’s an XR project, there’s a likelihood that you might want to bring a demo build or vertical slice to most effectively communicate the experience that you hope to create with the investor’s help.
How you manage that demo will vary with the number of people who you would like to put in the headset during that meeting.
If you’re meeting a small number of people from an investment team, you’ll want them all to experience it. But remember that while 1 user is in headset running through your demo, you have to engage with the others who have been through it already or are waiting to try. This requires some planning so you can keep the discussion flowing while putting each person in turn into the headset and getting them going. The more users, the more talking points you will need on hand to keep everyone engaged in your pitch. It can really help to have a second person on-hand to manage the demos and solve any operational hitches, keeping you free to give your full attention to those waiting with you in meat-space. With a helper, two headsets at once becomes more viable if you have access, speeding up the process. And it can help to make sure those who have experienced it don’t colour the experience for those waiting to try, especially if surprise and ‘wow’ are a factor you want to generate maximum impact.
If you’re presenting to a panel of investors, or you’re under strict time constraints, you’ll want to schedule appointment slots after your presentation and give them each a chance to try it out. This gives you 1:1 time with each potential investor and gives them chance to experience it without worrying they’re missing the pitch or important discussions happening back in the real world.
If all else fails a recorded video from the in-headset view can still work of course. Anyone can watch a video without suffering the anxiety of a first time XR virgin or (more often than you’d think) cause concerns about messing up makeup and ruffling hair. It’s worth having a recording as a backup in case of equipment failure on the day anyway. The deluxe variation of this approach is the live demo, streamed to a screen so your investors can see the user’s real life movements and the in-headset view and correlate the two in real-time. While you can do this solo and talk through your actions, you’ll be losing the face-to-face with your investor(s) while you’re driving the app, so it can often work better to have a team-up with a partner or helper for this approach.
Try to steer clear of any content or complex operations in the app that are going to have them calling out for help or guidance. Depending on what you’re showing, either aim for something totally intuitive and simple, or make sure there’s clear messaging and instructions inside the app itself that will guide them through. Automate as much of the experience as possible to remove risk. And think about your running time - don’t expect to run a 10 minute demo for everyone if you’re meeting a team of 4 for half an hour. So keep it on-point and succinct, and remember that you’re trying to message specific aspects and qualities through the demo, not showcase all the work you’ve done.
Make sure you think about, and plan for, any software, hardware or security limitations you will be constrained by on the day.
Will you need to bring any hardware (VR/AR headsets, phones, tablets or other devices) to show your demo? or other devices to show your demo? Or will they prefer to run it on their own devices, if applicable?
If it’s an organised meet, or a private firm that you’re visiting, will they want to run it on their machine from a USB stick, either to get it on their boardroom screen rather than gathering around your laptop, or simply to manage security from their end? Varying policies mean it pays to check in advance and come prepared.
For any demo using wearable tech, always ask the two most essential questions - How many people need to go in it? How long will it take to get that many people through the demo?
Think about Hygiene considerations. When we used to demo PSVR, we learned a great tip from our Japanese colleagues to make a display of cleaning and refreshing the hardware thoroughly for each new user. Doing it in front of the user while talking them through it, wiping down the facial interface (or swapping for a fresh disposable covering) and cleaning the lenses is not only reassuring, but gives you chance for a little 1:1 time before they enter the reality you’ve created, which can be a real trust builder, especially if they have questions or concerns going in. If you have two headsets, you can be talking to the waiting and finished users and cleaning one while the other is in use, increasing your user throughput.
Your immersive demo needs to do a lot of things. Ideally, you want to try and communicate all of the following as favorably as you can –
The essential appeal of your project
Whether you’re pitching a straight utility solution, an emotive, immersive narrative experience or your cool proposal for an engaging, interactive game, you need to immediately show why your idea is going to appeal to your market. If your value proposition is that you’re doing something better than anyone else, the demo needs to showcase exactly what will be better and how.
The capabilities of your team and tech
An investor is going to assume a lot about the quality and capabilities of your team, and their mastery of the tech, from what they see in an immersive demo. They’re only expecting to see a slice of the final magic, so don’t expect them to be impressed that you’ve built a huge underlying framework if there’s no way to demonstrate it. It’s rare to find an investor that appreciates that early R&D is expected to be sketchy and buggy - it might be only a tiny nugget that you can show them, but you should spend as much time and effort as possible making that nugget shine.
Your understanding and mastery of the medium
If you’re making rookie mistakes in your prototype or it feels clunky to use, it can cast doubts on your ability to deliver. If you’re pitching to sector experts, this is even more important. Don’t rely on the novelty of the immersive experience to excite investors, demonstrate why their investment will be in good, reliable hands.
An idea of quality
It’s always a good idea to stress they’re seeing a prototype – both quality and implementation are not final, but that’s more impressive to hear if it already feels better than a prototype.
Why it needs to be in XR
This is a question anyone investing in an XR project should want to know the answer to. There should be a good reason evidenced why this project is taking on the extra risk and user burdens of XR. Smart investors will want to understand the reason you're not targeting other, more matured and sizeable markets instead. Your demo should absolutely answer this question. You need to be confident that the XR advantage speaks for itself when investors try your build.
Your audience profile
I think that within 30 seconds any immersive experience demo should give your investor a good idea of the potential market appeal of your project. If I’m past that point and I still don’t know what the project is about, I take that as a bad sign. The visual style and presentation should make it clear who this is for and what it’s about as quickly as possible. If there’s any conflict there - If you’re proposing cartoon avatar graphics for a serious B2B application, for example - your build needs to help them see past their preconceptions and understand the experiential value of your project as completely and succinctly as possible. If you need to show them the utility of your app, start there. If it’s an interactive experience don’t make them wait long before they get to interact. And cut out any setup tedium - put points in the flow where you can do any prep setup (e.g. entering names, setting up guardian boundaries or establishing tracking surfaces) and then put them straight into the experience at the best possible point. There’s danger in only showing them what you would show the customer. That’s not necessarily what you should be exhibiting when you’re trying to appeal to your investors. They want and need to understand the instant appeal of what you’re making, why it’s special, not the slow-burn allure you may have planned to appeal to customers, so get them straight to the good stuff as quickly as you can. The mystery box approach works great for storytelling, much less so for making financial decisions. Aim to lower your risk profile with investors by being absolutely clear and up-front about what you’re making and who your addressable market will be.
6 | Tell a Good Story
Stories are important in how we communicate as humans. We respond better to a well told story than pages of graphs, financials and bullet points. And you’ve no doubt heard many times that your presentation should tell a compelling story, but how many people confidently know what that means, and know how to construct their pitch that way? Speaking to startups, it can seem like one complication too many when you’re pulling the elements of your pitch together.
So here’s a story structure that can work for any pitch scenario. And good news! It fits exactly to what we’ve laid out in the points above.
The Setup | First we need to provide the audience with the context that sets the scene. They need to understand the current status quo, the situation as it exists today. Think of this as the necessary backstory. In your pitch, this equates to establishing and describing the wants and needs of your customers.
The Struggle | Next, we need the key to any good story: conflict. Conflict is a major literary element of any narrative or dramatic structure, and can take many forms, not just physical or verbal battling. In story terms, its anything that creates challenge in a story by adding uncertainty as to whether the goal will ever be achieved. So think of conflict as the challenge the main characters need to solve to achieve their goals. And the resolution of conflict is what usually gives us the happy ending – it creates fulfilment or closure at the story’s end. In pitch terms, we are talking about the challenges around answering those wants and needs. We’re describing the struggle that’s been faced in the market, hitting the major points, and illustrating why a solution is needed.
The Solution | This is where we’re heading with all this of course. The Solution is the purpose of your project. This is where your idea or product helps the characters overcome the struggle. The story is what’s driven your pitch to this point; reaching that solution is the reason why you’re looking for investment. This is your chance to showcase your business idea within a context and framework that you’ve constructed and detailed for your audience.
The resolution | This is the happy ending at the end of the story. Of course, we don’t know how our project’s story is actually going to work out – the future is not yet written – but that doesn’t mean we don’t have an idea of what ‘success’ should look like, and what we’re hoping for. Rebellions and great change are built on hope, after all.
“Stories are how we remember; we tend to forget lists and bullet points.” | Robert McKee
So you can see that the messaging we need to deliver already fits to the structure. But that doesn’t mean we sit and explicitly tell a gripping yarn as part of our presentation. The story structure is hidden in our pitch presentation already, we just need to recognise it’s shape there and we can lean into storytelling techniques to take the benefits from it as we’re giving our pitch.
There’s a bunch of ways to do that. One way is to think about characters. A story can’t exist without characters who are caught in the conflict. So who is the character in your story? It could be you and your team, and this could be the story of how you encountered, recognised, and drew plans to resolve the conflict, to address the challenge. Or it could be the story of someone at ground zero who is affected by the struggle you have outlined, and the story of how they’ve tried to find a solution, tried to help themselves, but cannot. In fact, it’s not unusual for both the ground-zero struggle and the pitching team’s struggle to co-exist in the narrative.
Another story trick is understanding that the struggle is the interesting part to us as humans. If we can understand the struggle, we can empathize with the people facing it. For investors, this means they can have a better understanding of that core value proposition. However, in a lot of pitches, the focus is all about the details of the solution. That makes for a weak story.
It sometimes takes time and perspective for an audience to be able to fully comprehend the stakes, and so without that, the impact of the solution you are pitching is reduced, and the details of the proposal can fail to resonate. Just remember that it's about building understanding and empathy; the more the investor empathizes with the challenge, and it's accordant struggles, the more value and importance they are going to assign to something that can solve that struggle. A strong story that connects with them can raise the potential value they see in your pitch. Ker-Ching!
This means that it’s important to spend time establishing that struggle. In terms of engaging with the investor, this doesn’t mean dedicating many more slides to it in your pitch deck, but it does mean that you should make sure you fully put the investor into the mindset and understanding of your target audience before you start enthusing about your solution. The more importance they can apply to solving the struggle you’ve laid out, the more vital your solution is going to feel.
And don’t forget the resolution – once you’ve framed your characters, the situation they’re in, the challenge they face and their struggles they’ve had to overcome it, you’re perfectly set up to circle back at the end of your pitch and pick up the story; Here’s what we’re hoping for as the outcome. Here’s where we want to make the story go. Here’s how these characters you now know will be affected if we’re successful. It’s the natural denouement to finish on, topping off your story at the end of your pitch, tying the business opportunity together into a humanized whole, and reminding them of that core value proposition that they have an opportunity to invest in.
“The ability to articulate your story or that of your company is crucial ... an effective CEO uses an emotional narrative about the company’s mission to attract investors and partners, to set lofty goals, and to inspire employees. Sometimes a well-crafted story can even transform a seemingly hopeless situation into an unexpected triumph.” | Peter Guber
A full story structure doesn’t fit in every instance, but if you can follow the structure loosely during your pitch presentation by humanizing the struggle where possible, our inherent affinity to information delivered as a story means there’s a high chance to engage the investors and pull them more completely into the world of your project than if you go with hard data and a more neutral, analytical presentation. 'Numbers could go up' is the outcome they're always hoping for from their financial investments, so it's a promise every pitch makes. But your story, about your project, your brand, your goal, and the challenges your characters face on the way to achieving it, will always be unique.