What’s the best way to really get someone to listen and draw them in? Storytelling has been the medium of choice for communicators and entrepreneurs since the beginning of time. To connect with another person, you need to meet them where they are, find common ground and give them someone (or something) to root for. When you tell a story, you can transport your listeners to a different time, place and reality; one that you architect from the ground up.
While that might sound daunting, rest assured that there is a formula for how to tell stories that is applicable to every startup story in the world, even yours.
Elements of a story
Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Every story has a hero with a challenge to overcome. Throughout the story, there is a guide that leads the hero on a mission toward achieving their goal, helping them know where to go and how to get there.
For the purposes of your investor pitch, you are the hero with the challenge to overcome.
Before you can pitch anyone, you need to know your own story. You’ll need to answer questions like:
- Who am I?
- What’s my desire?
- What is the 800-pound gorilla standing in our way?
Articulate the challenge well and then insert the investor into your story. The investor is the guide. Your guide should arrive at just the right time to give hope and provide tools that will help you make it to the other side. With the guide walking alongside our hero (that’s you), you can overcome incredible odds and achieve the goals you set for yourself and your business. Together, you’ll triumph and finish well. But first, you need to put your story in writing.
Structuring your investor pitch like a three-act play provides a logical framework and time-testing format for introducing characters, identifying the challenge and finding a resolution.
Act I: The past
Begin with the founding story. This is when you can introduce the characters, the location and circumstances of when the idea was born. I’ll often open my presentation with, “Let me open with a quick story…” and proceed to share how it all began.
Good stories are timeless, so avoid naming specific dates and times. For companies that have been around a while, pegging your date of establishment as a decade ago is sufficient information for setting the time frame. For more recently founded ventures, you can build momentum by saying, “Just last year…”
Introduce the founding team by briefly explaining how everyone met. If you met at business school or were lab partners during your computer science program, you can weave in the school name and how collegially you worked together in a sentence or two.
Next, describe what’s happened since you began. Was there a natural fit between the product you developed and the response from the market? Did you face early challenges? If so, how did you overcome them?
You can see how providing historical context sets you up to describe the business as it stands today, which is the next story you need to tell.
Act II: The present
Accurately describing what your business does today is an imperative next step. Consider sharing your mission to relay exactly what you do. This skips over the numerous pivots you may have made in attempt to find your business model. During the pitch, those pivots are irrelevant, however, where you’re at today is absolutely on point.
“Today, our mission is to connect brands with voices around the world. We help them to educate, inform and entertain audiences wherever the human voice is heard.”
Support that you’re on track by highlighting a few metrics such as the number of customers, your current sales volume and even how many people you employ. This is where you want to be specific. By being exact with these metrics, you’ll demonstrate to the investors how dialed-in you are to the day-to-day operation, something all investors will expect from the management team. Further, by being exact, you’ll also be consistent from investor to investor because you’ll be rhyming off the same numbers on each call and subsequent meeting.
Now, you may be concerned that you’re revealing too much information. However, if you’re serious about bringing on investors, you’ll be sharing it all in the coming months.
In addition to your company’s current state of affairs, you’re likely working on some blockbuster projects. Share those key initiatives and how they’ll positively impact the business in the near future. Again, you’re setting some anchor points to reference in future conversations and demonstrating your ability to execute on large scale projects.
Act III: The future
Investors will get most excited about prospects for future growth. As investors, they are seeking a return on their investment, so you’ll need to explain how the capital they provide will drive growth and generate a profit. A compelling narrative of your intended use of proceeds will go a long way in building trust and helping them to see how their investment in you will make them money.
In order to secure funding, you must be a good storyteller, bringing the investor with you on the adventure that is your company. A vibrant, well-told story is infectious and will show investors that you are passionate about your business. Be confident, prove your worth and go for it.