Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong
Years ago, there was a beer commercial that showed football players practicing by smashing into each other over and over. The voiceover declared: “Amateurs practice until they get it right. Pros practice until they can’t get it wrong.”
This quote made famous by Julie Andrews goes back to a school superintendent, George Loomis, though I’m sure some Greek or Roman orator must’ve expressed a similar sentiment.
What’s true in sports and music applies even more to startups. The entrepreneur’s version of this maxim is:
Amateurs pitch that their startup will succeed; professionals pitch how their startup cannot fail.
This is, in essence, the difference between pitches that rake in investor money and those that don’t.
It isn’t the products. It’s the founder and his or her attitude. It’s the subtle differences that cause investors to want to jump aboard a winner or remain wary of another startup that sounds good but is unlikely to succeed.
After hearing hundreds of startup pitches, whether for enterprise SaaS or women’s handbags, they start to sound the same: here’s our product, solution, market size, etc. etc.
Then one founder comes along and we’re left with mouths agape. At the end of the pitch, the only question is where to send the check. We look at each other and declare, “She’s the real deal” with the same reverence as the coming of the messiah.
You want that to be you. But how?
The key is creating a reality distortion field that projects success. And that comes from the confidence generated by practicing until you cannot fail. It comes from being the professional in a room of little leaguers.
But let’s back up for a moment. Before you can become a pro, you have to understand the rules of the game, master the strategy, and study your opponents.
The first thing is focusing on the goal. And in this game, the goal for investors is to make money. If you want to score, you need to focus on achieving that difficult goal and nothing else.
Despite spending all our days trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, 90% of our investments will still fail. So what we’re looking for is simple — that 1 out of 10 startups that will succeed, and do so spectacularly.
The takeaway of any pitch needs to be not that the company has a chance to succeed, not even that it will succeed, but that this is the one investment in the portfolio that absolutely cannot fail.
That usually means showing an experienced team that’s already built unicorns from scratch, a large market, and a pants-on-fire need. If you’ve got all that, great! You won’t have any trouble raising money even before you build the product. In fact, you won’t even need a real pitch.
For everyone else who has to fight and beg to scrape together funding, the same advice applies. If you want to play in the big leagues, you have to act like a professional. And that means practice, practice, practice every day. Practice until it flows smoothly without reading. Practice not until you get it right but until you can’t get it wrong.
Make this your daily training regimen:
- Watch other pitches. There are plenty of pitches on YouTube. Don’t just watch them, but watch with a purpose. No viewing at 2x speed or multitasking in the background. These are your training films. Take notes on what is good, what is weak, how you would you make it better. Watch each one at least 3 times in a row, then watch them again the next day. Focus not just on the content of the pitch but the presenter’s delivery — pitch, intonation, pacing as well as how she stands, faces the audience or camera, uses the slides for support instead of as a crutch.
- Practice in front of a mirror: Give your pitch 10 times each day in front of a mirror without notes. Look yourself in the eye and convince yourself you cannot, will not fail.
- Record the pitch and analyze: Make a recording of your pitch every day, then watch it multiple times. Take notes. Be objective. Then go back and improve it. Do it every day, not until it’s good enough but until it can’t get better.
- Join pitch events. Nothing can replace pitching in front of a real audience. But don’t just join an event to pitch. Use the opportunity to watch all the other presenters to see who succeeds. What the expressions of the investors as they’re pitching — are they bored, skeptical, or enraptured? Figure out why. Steal their best techniques and make them your own. Try a different pitch each time to see how they land with investors.
- Find coaches: There aren’t many pros who’d succeed without great coaches. Find people who’ve built successful startups and get them to give you honest feedback and guidance.
Your goal is to create a reality distortion field that convinces investors that you are the one in a million who’s going to succeed, change the world, and carry us investors along for the ride.
To do so, you need to command the room. You need to be supremely confident about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and why it cannot fail.
Then get up and wow us. Give a pitch that methodically shows how all the pieces are in place and the startup just needs our money to ignite the rocket fuel.
Here is the essence of your pitch: the product is exceptional and customers are dying to get their hands on it as soon as you let them. The market opportunity is infinite. The company has not only met its milestones to date but far exceeded them. The team is a group of unstoppable professionals that will be impossible for anyone else to replicate.
The pitch deck itself needs to look professional, too. It’s hard to pass yourself off as a pro with a powerpoint template that’s wordy or filled with typos. Hire a professional pitch deck designer to help. Pros don’t do it all themselves — they have other pros on the team to support them.
At the end of the pitch is the shot on goal. The round is closing soon and there isn’t much space left. Get your investment in now or lose your chance forever. Make sure investors understand that if they pass on this opportunity now, they’ll regret it forever.
Stay humble, don’t lie, but get up and show the world why you are the leader of the next unicorn.