A good pitch starts with a description of the problem and your solution. You probably expect this is the easiest part of your pitch; after all, you’ve been talking to customers about it for years. But you’re wrong. It’s actually the most difficult section to get right, and the most critical since you’ll either hook your audience right away or leave them struggling from the beginning.

There are two mistakes I see frequently. First, the explanations of the problem and solution are often incomprehensible to anyone outside your niche, especially for B2B products. And second, the problem and solution inevitably go on far too long.

Find a Way for Laypeople to Get It

You’ve been pitching your product to customers for years. You’re an industry expert. You could teach a class on this specialty. And therein lies the problem. Investors are not customers.

Angel investors may be successful entrepreneurs in another field, or they may be finance professionals, lawyers, doctors, money managers, company executives, or real estate investors. But we’re not your customers, and we usually know nothing about your industry. We know a lot about investing, we’re usually pretty savvy about business in general, and many of us are world-class experts in some specialty. If you pitch me a new computer networking protocol, you don’t need to explain TCP or its limitations to me. But anything else, you’d better start from scratch because otherwise I won’t have the context to understand it.

Does that mean you should only pitch to experts in your field? Certainly not, though you do want to bring those experts on as investors, advisors, and mentors while you’re still early in building the product. But now you’re talking to angel investors and VCs and we’ll invest in anything that looks like a good investment. Fundamentally, you’re building a widget, and have to explain to laypeople what your widget does and why people need it. This goes beyond just eliminating jargon and acronyms to providing the context that’s common sense to everyone in the industry.

Try to explain your product to your parents and relatives. Sound simple? Hmm, maybe not. Especially since you not only need to explain to Aunt Margaret what your product does, but also what makes it unique from all the other solutions. Like most things in building a startup, try different approaches and see what resonates. If you can’t get Uncle Bob to understand your product in 30 seconds, start over.

Two Slides, Three Minutes Max

Entrepreneurs are rightfully enamored with their product, but usually make the mistake of believing a great product is what draws investors. As discussed in an earlier article, what investors care about is a successful exit. The product is just one piece of the story that includes market size, team, intellectual property, traction, revenues, and deal terms — i.e. all the pieces that eventually gets a bigger company to buy your business for a large multiple of the investment. While the product is the foundation of the business, it’s arguably one of the least important parts of the pitch. Of course, if you get to due diligence, we’ll confer with customers and industry experts to see what they think of your prospects, but during the pitch, you just need to convince us there’s a real problem you’ve solved and a big need for it; it doesn’t really matter what it is.

So your take away from this week’s article is ditch the customer presentation slides. Everyone starts from their product presentation and tries to adapt it into a pitch. Don’t. It doesn’t work. It’s a completely different audience that requires a completely different message. Start over from scratch. Polish your 30 second elevator pitch. Find a way to explain the problem and your product to people who knows absolutely nothing about your business. When that’s working, put that onto a couple of simple slides that get the main point across. In your investor pitch, keep it to two (uncluttered) slides and under three minutes, ideally less.

The Parent Test

Test out your problem and solution slides with your parents as your focus group. If they say, “You’re so smart, honey, we’re so proud of you,” then throw it away and start over. When you get to the point where they say, “Wow, what a great idea. How do we give you our life savings?” you’re on the right track. Then move on to your grandparents. When they get it, you’re ready to pitch it to investors.

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