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Image credit: Women's Startup Lab

Preparing the perfect pitch, part 1: Advice from an entrepreneur

Preparing the perfect pitch, part 1: Advice from an entrepreneur

Melissa Kargiannakis shares what she has learnt from pitching her startup

Image above: Melissa Kargiannakis pitching to investors

Pitching to potential investors and funders is a daunting experience, even for those who have done it many times before. So Leading Change asked two Queen’s Young Leaders – one who frequently pitches, and one who is pitched to – for their tips and advice

Melissa Kargiannakis is the Founder of Skritswap – a tech startup that aims to make digital information easier to understand. She has been pitching to investors in North America over the last year and has learnt hugely from the experience.

“They say, in the investor world, if you’re trying to get investors it’s 20 to one. So you’ll talk to 20 investors, and one will invest, says Melissa.

She adds that your belief in your project or product must be genuine and authentic.

It should come through that you genuinely believe that you’re going to make it, and that your true authentic self is someone who’s going to hussle and fight, and every time it gets hard you’re going to get back up.”

Be persistent

Melissa has pitched and faced rejection and disappointment on several occasions, but says that this means her “recovery time” is so much shorter now.

“You need to be able to smile and keep going,” she says. “I get told all kinds of things all the time, but you can’t give up.”

She talks about an investor she’s met several times who recently praised her for being persistent.

“He was telling me why he even gave me the meeting,” she says.

Listen to the investor

“The second thing he said was, ‘You followed my advice. You’ve no idea how many entrepreneurs I’ve cancelled within the last six weeks because they did not follow my advice’.”

So when a potential investor tells you to do something, for the most part, do it.

“Sometimes, maybe if it’s against your ethos, explain why you’re not going to do it.”

Do some research

The third thing this investor told Melissa was that he wanted to support more women entrepreneurs and he favoured her because she is from his home town.

“To that, I said if for once being a woman is going to work in my favour instead of against me, I’ll take it.”

It’s worth doing some research to find out what individual investors are interested in or looking for, so you can target the ones who are more likely to help you.

“Know your audience," says Melissa, "And know the pitching terms they use.”

Pitch coaches

Melissa’s advice is to get a pitch coach. “Get additional help. You’ll need it. Trust me. It doesn’t matter how good a public speaker you are, it’s a totally different beast.”

She points out that pitch coaches are often investors too, so they know what investors are looking for. “I’ve worked with four or five pitch coaches. Work with them. They specialise in this.”

Melissa used government grants to fund her pitch coaching, but if that’s not an option where you are, she has some other ideas that might help you access the right guidance. You can start by cold emailing them.

“Very succinctly explain your position, what you’re doing, ask for 30 minutes over Skype. They’ll probably end up giving you more.”

You should demonstrate that you’ve tried to raise funds to pay for their services. And, when approaching them, you should set out your credentials so that they know you are genuine and not a time-waster.

Melissa suggests asking them to review a document. Say, ‘Would you be able to look over my pitch deck?’ That will probably turn into a Skype call eventually because they’ll want to walk you through it.”

The presentation

A pitch deck is a presentation – often using PowerPoint, for example – that gives potential investors an overview of your business plan. 


This pitch deck example has been created specifically for technology startups, but the headings for each slide are useful prompts to get you thinking. Image credit: Sequoia

In the video below, startup guru Bill Reichert of Garage Ventures explains that it's important to tailor pitch decks to your business or venture, rather than stick rigidly to the prescribed format. Use them as a guide and a tool, rather than be constricted by them.

“There’s a lot of formats, depending on where you’re pitching,” says Melissa, who recommends the online resources Sequoia for helping you construct your pitch, and Docsend for sending pitching documents to potential investors. “Docsend is the software I use, so that I can see who’s looking at them and how long they spend per slide.”

Solution first

However there is one change that Melissa recommends making to the traditional pitch advocated by Sequoia and others. “Don’t do problem first, do solution first,” she says, adding that she picked this up from Bill Reichert of Garage Ventures  when she attended the Women’s Startup Lab in California. “He really emphasised this.”

She points out that most people start a pitch by setting out a problem to be solved. Stating a solution first is not only more positive, it can also be a lot more compelling.

She refers to an exercise she did where you try to explain what your social enterprise does in just seven words – a useful exercise in itself.

“If you can come out and be like, ‘Heuristext changes the level of any reading page instantly!’ That in itself should be so compelling. What you do should be so compelling that you can explain the problem after – give them the statistics they need after. By starting with the solution, people’s jaws should be on the floor!”

Preparing the perfect pitch, part 2: The investor