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8 reasons why startup presentations fail

Investors often meet startup founders through their presentations, questionnaires, or one-pagers. And, unfortunately, in 90% of the cases, the first impression is negative. Here are eight reasons why.


Poor grammar, language


Every third presentation or investor questionnaire is filled out with mistakes, typos, and incomprehensible language. When filling out an application for a startup competition, for example, founders can start writing in their mother tongue, then write half a paragraph in English and switch back to their mother tongue again.


Ignoring readers


This mistake is most often seen in questionnaires for startup competitions. Founders ignore their readers and write, “I have so much experience in marketing, and my partner has 10 years in software development.” Well done, but how are the readers supposed to guess which of the three founders is this mysterious “I”?


In their presentations or questionnaires, founders may also use complex terminology, which does little to explain their business’s essence and product. Instead, they dive deep into the company’s technical structure. Investors are not necessarily people with a strong technical background, so they may not understand what these startups are actually working on and close the presentation.


When preparing documents that outsiders will read, startups should think about their readers first (read: investors). When people don’t understand something, they usually won’t be interested in it.


Not using numbers


It doesn’t tell investors anything when founders describe their target market as “huge,” write that they got “a lot of cool feedback,” and say they are “growing fast.” If founders want to be convincing, they should write the actual market size, mention the growth rate, and tell exactly how much positive feedback they received.


No business model


In their presentations or any other document, founders can come up with “we have a classic business model” or write that they “founded a startup to enjoy the process — not for money.”


As a good friend of mine from a Latvian company once said, running a startup is constant sales training. Therefore, if founders don’t know how and to whom they sell their product, they have a basic idea — not a business. To become a business, go to the Y Combinator website, find an online course on business models, and learn.


Forgetting the team


There are several mistakes that startup founders can make when presenting their team. The slide describing it may be missing; there may be just team photos with no captions; the captions may have just names and business titles, while the members’ experience isn’t mentioned.


Believe it or not, investors do put money in people. Why? Because founders who aren’t ambitious, experienced, and motivated won’t hire the best people and, accordingly, won’t create the best product on the market.


Absent founders


There are companies with a founder who is a passive owner; the director, CEO, or CTO is someone else with no share in the company or just 1-5%. This means the actual founder transfers full responsibility to a person who is essentially an employee.


For investors, a CEO is a person who should provide employees with financial security, professional growth, and invaluable experience for which they risked a stable job and came to work for a startup.


Defining 'traction' wrong


This word can mean different things to people. Investors, however, usually associate it with revenue, monthly growth, sales funnel, paid demos, test results, and so on — realistic indicators that signal that there’s demand for the product. Likes on Facebook or LinkedIn don’t count.


Startup competition victories don’t count, either. Winning such a competition is great: founders learn how to pitch, stop being afraid of investors, and maybe meet those who will eventually fund them. However, the results of the competition won’t help them prove that there are customers and demand for the product.


Self-deception


In startup presentations, investors often see metrics like Community Adjusted EBITDA. But these are hypothetical metrics that show only the most optimistic picture. They are also called vanity metrics, and investors are interested in metrics based on actual data. After all, they put in real cash — they don’t make Risk-Adjusted Cash Investment equal to the Desired Investment Size multiplied by 0.5 (it’s a joke, there are no such terms).


By artificially inflating metrics, startups don’t do themselves a favor. Instead, they raise the investors’ expectations and don’t show them the real picture. Besides, startup founders are deceiving themselves, as such metrics don’t help them understand their performance.


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Unfortunately, founders who make these mistakes will look much weaker than their rivals only because the latter know how to sell themselves.


It is a shortened and edited version of the column that first appeared in tech media Ain.ua and was titled “8 reasons why presentation of your startup is mediocre.” Its author is Flyer One Ventures investment director Elena Mazhuha.


Cover photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash.

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