If you’re looking to raise funding for an XR project, you’ll be putting together a pitch. But how should you approach it, and what should you include? Here are some of our tips, tricks, approaches, and habits that can get you thinking in the right space and make your pitch more successful.
Having worked with and mentored many clients working on pitch presentations for Immersive projects, I've seen many of the same issues pop up time and time again. The road to getting investment can take many unexpected twists and turns, but a lot of these can be alleviated with a little bit of extra planning at the start of your journey. There are plenty of additional preparatory steps you can take to help you gain confidence in your presentation and deliver a successful pitch. While some of these apply in general to anyone pitching their business idea to investors, there are some considerations that are specifically useful for pitching an immersive XR project.
Approach each investor meeting from first principles
It’s important to remember that not all pitch meetings are the same, and every investor is different. If you’re planning on taking the same pitch deck into every pitch meeting, you may be guilty of two very common mistakes that I see with many startup pitches; the presenter flying breathlessly through their standard 25 minute presentation, trying to squeeze the whole delivery into the 10 or 15 minutes they have for this pitch meeting, or the only-slightly-more-considered approach of squeezing the data from 20 slides onto two dozen super-cramped slides because they're using an internet template.
Success isn't determined by you ticking all the right boxes by just filling out a single pitch deck template and learning one set of lines. It's dangerous to think that just following the same plan and ringing the same notes at every pitch meeting is all you need to be doing. Instead, it's important to see each pitch meeting for what it is - a unique opportunity, that can benefit from a suitably tailored approach.
While your project isn't going to change every time, who you're meeting with, what they know and what they're looking for will be different on every occasion. So you can give yourself a big advantage if you remember investors are individuals with different wants and needs. Start from first principles each time, and ask yourself what the purpose of this particular pitch meeting is, both from your perspective, and from the perspective of the potential partner and stakeholder(s) that you’ll be meeting with. Then tailor your plan of attack to target your delivery on aspects that will strike strongest with that individual.
Spend time sharpening all of your tools
By the time your project is developed enough to go to pitch, you’ve likely already put a huge amount of work into maturing your ideas and plans to bring it to this point. You’ve probably got loads of assets and materials ready to go. It feels like you’re nearly ready, just a few more steps away. It can be tempting to jump straight into building a pitch deck without delay. After all, there are plenty of free templates online and walk-through guides that tell us step-by-step how to hit the essential data points, communicate our proposal, and make the perfect pitch presentation. And I absolutely do recommend you use these resources.
But don’t lose sight of the fact that these pre-structured, ‘guaranteed’ pitch decks are tools to help you with your pitch; they’re not a silver-bullet that will work in every unique setting, and they’re not the totality of the presentation you will be giving. As the pirates like to say, they're not so much a rule, more of a guideline. And the deck is but one tool in your arsenal of several that you will be using: your verbal presentation; the written materials you will supply to support your pitch; your pre- and post-pitch communications with your potential investors; and with XR pitches there's very often some kind of an immersive or interactive demonstration of your software or hardware proposal. Each of these aspects represents a unique channel you can communicate to your investor through, and each is a tool with different strengths and weaknesses.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” | Abraham Lincoln
Of course, at this point it’s already a busy time. It may seem counter-intuitive to spend time you could be building the ‘one deck to rule them all’ from your template, and instead pause that forward momentum while you sit down to do more research and digging for your pitch. But the information you’ll gather and prep, the questions you’ll confront, and the thinking you’ll pour into both of those can prove fruitful many times over.
There’s an age-old truth in Mr Lincoln's words; in the long run you can waste much more time hacking away at pitch meeting after pitch meeting, hoping to make a mark with a generic set of tools that aren’t necessarily ideal for any one job. Spend time beforehand sharpening all of your delivery tools before each pitch, so you can strike cleanly, efficiently, and confidently every time, whatever the format of the pitch meeting itself.
What do you know about who is going to be in the Room?
What kind of a pitch meeting is it? Do you know who is going to be in the room? Are you pitching to a panel, a team, or an individual? Each type of pitch demands a different approach.
Usually, when raising a seed round, your pitch process with a VC firm starts with a small number of meetings with just one or two team members — or else you’re pitching to angel investors individually. In those contexts, one-to-one human interaction is going to be your key delivery channel. It’s a lot less likely that you’ll want to stand up and “pitch” a deck; it's easy for that to feel ill-fitting and awkward in the moment. Instead, it's much more natural to introduce yourself, talk a little about your project and why you started your company, and you start digging into the details in a conversational way. Talk around your pitch deck as a conversation, rather than presenting a lecture to a crowd of one or two.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin
Of course depending on the format, there might be plenty of others present, many of whom could be people you do want to network with, and potentially impress. Big events and Dragon’s Den style pitch meets can be brutal, but the rewards can be plentiful if you make a good impression. Sure there might be a range of investors present who you want to attract, but there’s also a lot of other potential clients and connections present, looking for someone to meet their business needs and wants.
If it’s an organized initiative then the organizers might be on the lookout for candidates for other programs, talks or grants, and you could catch their eye. There’s probably several potential business Mentors who might benefit from helping you succeed. There may be business advisors, investment advisors, journalists, and all sorts of other interested parties, so don’t forget the potential that your pitch might unlock for interviews and peripheral business opportunities, and how it might position your project as a good case-study candidate for funding programs. So it doesn't hurt to try and impress the hell out of everyone. You can feel it in the room when this is happening in a pitch; you feel a swell of support and positivity and it turns into a wave you ride for the rest of the meeting. That comes from the delivery as much as the idea being pitched. Everyone wants to support and bet on success.
So its important to know not only who you are talking to, but who else is listening, and what you and your project might represent to them. Armed with insight into your audience, you next need to consider how much time you’ll get for your pitch. Build a list of what they’ll want to see and what you want them to know in the time you have.
Who do you want to impress?
Ideally, of course, everyone. Certainly you need to primarily appeal to whoever holds the key to your funding or project approval. Do some background reading and find out more about them and what they’re looking for. There’s been a snowballing of investment in the XR space over the last few years, so while that means there’s a lot of prospectors out there panning for gold in the new promised land, there’s also a now good number of veteran pioneers out there who have existing investments in the space, who know the landscape well and might have some expertise on the technical challenges your project would face on its way to market. Some may have specific expertise in your specialized area – these are the hardest investors to impress but can potentially become your greatest believers and supporters.
Sometimes you’ll have plenty of time with an Investor to get to know each other well, other times you might only have a number of minutes to give your pitch and then a quick Q&A before they move on to the next candidate or meeting.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for every situation, so plan to always tailor your delivery according to the meeting format and the investor. It’s important to decide what’s most important to get across in each case. Jot down a rough plan to guide how much of the allotted time you’re going to spend communicating each point, what level detail you’re going to cover it in, and what channel(s) you’re going to use to do it. Once you've done a number of pitches, you'll have several flavours of your deck you can start from for different time-spans and meeting types.
Understand their Needful Things
You want some funding to realise your business idea. So think about what this particular investor’s goal is; what they’re looking for when they spend their time to meet with you? They’re looking to satisfy either a want or a need. It might be as simple as a good return rate, but it’s rarely that straightforward.
Sometimes with Investors who don’t know your space well, you will need to have an additional step as part of the pitch. A lot of the time you need to make them understand the problem your product or project tackles, the significance of the problem (the need/want aspect), and the value unlocked by your solution to that problem.
But generally, assume all investors are looking for the following, at a bare minimum:
An industry they are familiar with, or excited/seduced by
A management team they feel they can have faith in
An idea they believe can have a competitive advantage and a large addressable market
A business that they believe can gain and maintain momentum and traction
An idea that will generate cash flow
More than anything, they want and need to get the most accurate picture of how successful the investment will be for them specifically.
It’s also worth paying attention if the investment originates from or is supported by grants and funding that have their own special qualification requirements. Make sure you address those needs through at least one of your presentation channels. If it ticks all their boxes it might raise your profile and pique their interest more.
Be Honest and Realistic
Assume that your investors want to make sensible decisions about how they invest their money. You’re both looking to find a good partner. Trust and faith will be essential parts of that relationship moving forward, so it’s important to start out on the right foot with believable forecasts. I commonly have to help start-ups reign in the language they use; it's natural for it to become inflated and hyped because of your passion and faith in your project. Promising the moon, even if you hope and believe in it, can be inspiring and show your grand aspirations. But bigger numbers and steeper lines on the graph does not always encourage bigger investment, but it can raise the perceived risk profile and thus will trigger greater scrutiny from the investors. Not being able to back it up with realistic projections will drain any confidence that you can turn the dream into reality.
Essentially, investors want to know how good the investment will be for them, and how safe their investment will be in your hands. So demonstrate realistic revenue growth, and make sure to show not just the best case, but also the worst case. Don’t just pick the median between those two as your expected revenue, because if the high or the low look inaccurate to the investor, that middle line is similarly going to be skewed meaning all your numbers look sketchy and financial viability becomes a major question.
Make sure you can clearly explain the assumptions you’ve made and that you include the evidence for your projections with up-to-date market data and competitor analysis. And do your due diligence to understand your addressable market and to explore if anyone else has already tried and failed bring a similar project to fruition, because you can be sure any serious investor will be doing so once they're interested in your proposition. If they realise they found more knowledge about your competitors than you did when they follow up with you, their trust and faith can quickly fall away. I've seen entire pitches collapse from an investor question that points out an obvious comparative product that's been missed or that belies the truths the team had put forward in their competitor analysis. Be thorough, and be honest with yourself. Not every neat idea or market opportunity is going to be world-changing, so don't pitch the high-end dream, pitch the real world reality that investors can conservatively believe.
Remember, it's not just about winning that investment on the day, you'll need to be confident you can keep your investor happy and their confidence high from that point on. Investors are (happily!) more resilient to 'fake it until you make it' promises in 2022.
Prepare for the expected and the unexpected
You don’t know what might happen on the day, but that doesn't mean you can’t go in as prepared as possible. Plan your expected questions, have your answers ready. Not only can you anticipate what potential partners and stakeholders will probably ask and prepare your answers in advance, you can also prepare additional defensive slides for any complex questions you anticipate and immediately be able to pop up on screen a slide to support your answer.
This shows not only that you’ve already considered the factor, but that you recognise its significance and bearing on your project, and that your project has been planned accordant with that knowledge. If it won't fit in your main flow but you suspect it will come up, keep it dry in your slide deck until the question comes up or you can steer a Q&A answer to include it. It can be a real confidence-boost for investors to see that you’ve already thought outside the basics needed for the pitch. Investors will appreciate that you didn't want to zoom in on the details in your main presentation, but that you're primed and ready to get into it as soon as they're ready.
Interruptions should be planned for.
You can tune your deck and practice until you’re perfect, but remember you’re there to meet and discuss your business project, not just to get through delivering a presentation.
No matter how familiar you are with your verbal and visual messaging, if an investor cuts in to start asking questions and you worry it would derail your carefully planned and structured delivery, you should have a plan for how you’re going to deal with that interruption.
Some people get easily flustered if their delivery gets derailed. In the moment, you suddenly have to venture off-script, break your flow, and maybe address a question out of order. With XR pitches, it's very common to be asked to explain your tech or process in more detail than you might have covered so far. If it looks like you're moving on, the investor is signalling that you're losing them, and that's obviously damaging the chances that your pitch is going to amount to anything with that investor.
If you suspect your flow might be interrupted by an investor or potential partner, practice handling that disruption beforehand. Identify the key areas where some investors might need a bit of help, especially with tech- or engineering-heavy proposals. Know whether you’re going to answer them there and then or if that question is going to be addressed on an upcoming slide.
In case you need to answer them there and then, you can be prepared by constructing some quick, comprehensive answers, and learn them so you can deliver a considered answer on-tap. This is a traditional technique used in media training; you want to appear confident and prepared. You don't want to ever have to be caught in the dead air of 'ummm's and 'errrmmm's while you think what to say and how to say it.
If time runs short and - disaster! - you have to skip something on the day, you should already know what you can skip. Prioritize the slides you can’t miss if time is running short; if it’s all contained in your takeaway information you know you’re covered. With any luck there might be an opportunity to throw it up on screen during the Q&A. If you can, it's a good idea to make sure you have all the info you are going to present them with from your support package also ready as defensive slides so you can whip them up on screen to answer questions rather than telling everyone to ‘turn to page 13’ in their doc. The more you can keep them interacting and conversing with you, rather than reading your presentation or head-down in your supplied documentation looking for answers, the better.
“Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.” ― Thomas Edison
In Part 2 of this article, we'll dig more deeply into the information puzzle presented by all of the channels you have at your disposal, and when and how each one is best used during your pitch presentation.