Presenting to Investors: It’s What They Need to Hear, Not What You Want to Say

Last Thursday evening, I attended the Venture Atlanta Entrepreneur’s Reception, thrown by Silicon Valley Bank for the 32 entrepreneurial CEOs selected to present to Venture Atlanta this year at the Georgia Aquarium (October 22 & 23). The reception provided an opportunity for these rising leaders to get to know each other and get briefed on details and expectations for the upcoming conference.

I enjoyed seeing many familiar faces and meeting many new ones. Of all the interesting encounters and conversations, one moment that struck me most was a piece of advice in the presentation by Matthew May, managing partner at AquityCFO and a member of Venture Atlanta’s advisory board.

In prepping presenters for their time with a few hundred potential investors, Matthew made a simple and great point: “You’ve got six minutes for this. Think Miller Lite: Great picture, less words.”venture-capital

That advice is all about effective communication to this particular audience, in this setting and for this purpose. When pitching investors, effective communication requires understanding clearly who you’re talking to and the picture they need to see – not the words you want to say.

CEOs presenting to Venture Atlanta aren’t there to win customers. They are there to secure investments that will enable them to win more customers in an entirely separate set of activities. The sole point of presenting is to strike a chord with the people who can supply money.

And that’s why economy – great picture, less words – is so critical. Venture capitalists have learned to look for certain things, and it’s not customer-facing messages. Investors have two basic areas of interest for every company seeking an investment:

– Is the team really good? Should I have faith in the people leading this company? Have they succeeded in similar ventures before? Pedigree goes a long way toward reassuring investors. Not every company will have a Tom Noonan or a Paul Judge involved, but there is an impressive entrepreneurial talent pool in Atlanta. Highlight your own proven entrepreneurial talent.

– What do you have? How solid are the fundamentals? Is there a market? In other words, what real evidence is there of a path to return on investment? Some investors will be interested in specific areas (cloud, etc.), but all will want to see the fundamentals first.

In thinking about Mathew’s advice and these concerns, it strikes me that the Atlanta technology investment game has matured very nicely. Fifteen years ago, VCs were investing in less proven entrepreneurs with less solid fundamentals because they supposedly held the customer-facing keys to the Internet-driven “new economy.”

Years after it became clear that the new economy was the same as the old economy – and that teams and fundamentals are the real keys to success – entrepreneurs are focused on real business people with real business ideas. Fortunately for us all, Atlanta has a wealth of them.

That’s why I can’t wait for Venture Atlanta and those presentations.

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