The Startup Pitch Advice, “Tell a Story,” Doesn’t Mean Tell Your Story

If you follow the general rules of giving good presentations, especially giving a good pitch presentation to an investor, you’ll see the idea of telling a story repeated over and over. Unfortunately, I think a lot of entrepreneurs misunderstand this advice a bit and take it to mean that they should tell their story, and that’s not actually what you should be doing. If you’re an entrepreneur prepping your pitch you’re probably thinking, “Wait, if I’m not supposed to tell my story then whose story am I supposed to tell?”

Well, you’re supposed to tell the story of a successful investment, of a business that makes a lot of money for an investor, not of a successful entrepreneur. When you’re pitching, an investor only cares about your success in so much as it means s/he makes money. Your mom wants you to succeed. Your mentors want you to succeed. Your spouse wants you to succeed. These people are interested in a story with you at the center conquering the challenges put in your way and living happily ever after at the end of your made for TV movie. An investor wants the business to succeed so that money is made on the investment. Your success, eh, whatever.

Yes, that sounds harsh and, of course, there are investors out there that will have relationships with founders and become invested in the success of the individual. But we’re talking about your pitch right now so it’s important to realize that your individual success isn’t what’s paramount when you’re trying to convince someone to invest in your startup. Instead, you should focus on telling the best business story that you can and that means addressing the problem, the addressable market, the growth strategy, and yes, of course, a bit about you, but only is so much as it serves to show an investor why you are the best person to lead this company to success. It’s more important that we know about the company than it is that we know about you, so you have to set the stage before you launch into your own personal history. Guy Kawasaki explains in a blog post about the Art of the Pitch that:

“Entrepreneurs believe that a pitch is a narrative whose opening chapter must always be autobiographical. These personal tales are supposed to convince the audience that this is a great team. Meanwhile, everyone is wondering, ‘What does this startup do?'”

Now, I’m sure some of you are out there thinking, “Okay, but what about all of that talk of how investors value the team and founder as much if not more than the business idea?” That’s still true, but one of the best ways to convince an investor that you’re the rock star founder s/he should be working with is to show her/him that you understand what’s important and what’s important is the business, not you.

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