Help To Grow Talk: Communication Skills

3. The Art Of Pitching To Investors - A Talk With Burt Alper (Stanford GSB)

July 19, 2023 Help To Grow Talk Productions Episode 3
3. The Art Of Pitching To Investors - A Talk With Burt Alper (Stanford GSB)
Help To Grow Talk: Communication Skills
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Help To Grow Talk: Communication Skills
3. The Art Of Pitching To Investors - A Talk With Burt Alper (Stanford GSB)
Jul 19, 2023 Episode 3
Help To Grow Talk Productions

We would love to hear your feedback on this episode! Please click here to share your thoughts via text message. We can't wait to hear what's on your mind!

Listen, and learn about the Art of Pitching to Investors in this talk with our guest Burt Alper, Lecturer in Management at Stanford University Graduate School of Business and Founder of Burt Alper Consulting. 

We talk about pitching frameworks - AIM (Audience, Intent, Message) and CUE (Curiosity, Understanding, Excitement); making your pitch memorable; how the investment process works; rehearsing your pitch; anticipating investors questions; last thing you do in a pitch & make it investors easy; what to do if there is no fit & finding an analogy to better connect with investors; and resources that help you sharpen your pitching skills.


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We would love to hear your feedback on this episode! Please click here to share your thoughts via text message. We can't wait to hear what's on your mind!

Listen, and learn about the Art of Pitching to Investors in this talk with our guest Burt Alper, Lecturer in Management at Stanford University Graduate School of Business and Founder of Burt Alper Consulting. 

We talk about pitching frameworks - AIM (Audience, Intent, Message) and CUE (Curiosity, Understanding, Excitement); making your pitch memorable; how the investment process works; rehearsing your pitch; anticipating investors questions; last thing you do in a pitch & make it investors easy; what to do if there is no fit & finding an analogy to better connect with investors; and resources that help you sharpen your pitching skills.


Support the Show.

Contact Help To Grow Talk

Thanks for Listening & Tune in Next Time!


Welcome to the podcast Help To Grow Talk, where we talk about growing your communication skills. How can you better communicate and change the way you live, work, interact with others, and help make the world a better place?

Burt Alper: 0:21

"Your job as an entrepreneur, your job as someone who's pitching, is to make your content as easy to understand as possible."

Desiree Timmermans: 0:31

You just listened to our guest, Burt Alper, Lecturer in Management, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Founder of Burt Alper Consulting. In this episode, we talk about pitching to investors to provide you with tools and tips to help you grow your pitching skills. My name is Desiree Timmermans, your podcast host.

Let's go!

Desiree Timmermans: 0:56

Welcome to the podcast. I am really excited to talk with you about the Art of Pitching to Investors. So let's just start with it. My first question is, when you pitch to investors, preparation is, of course, very crucial. So I understand that you are using a framework for this because you're helping people to prepare for these pitches. So what kind of framework is this? And what can we do with it and learn from it?

Burt Alper: 1:22

Well, first, thank you very much for having me. I'm delighted to be on this podcast. And I'm enjoying this whole process. And I appreciate you bringing me into the mix here.

The framework that I often rely on not just for pitching but for most of my communication in general, I borrowed from two authors, Lynn Russell, and Mary Munter, in their book Guide To Presentations. The framework is quite simple. It's the acronym AIM, A, I, M. In this framework, you first want to consider your audience; that's the A. Then you want to understand what your Intent is with that audience; that's the I. And finally, from that foundation of Audience and Intent, than you think about the Message that you're going to share with them.

Desiree Timmermans: 2:03

Okay. And if we look at this, can you give us a kind of example because what I often see is: you start with the Message.

Burt Alper: 2:12


Desiree Timmermans: 2:12

And that's not how it works, I think.

Burt Alper: 2:15

Well, many of us do. In fact, I will admit I used to start with the message before I was introduced to this framework as well. And I have found that reconsidering the order of operations here is really helpful. Starting with the Audience, I think, is the best place to begin. And in the context of a pitch, at the most basic level: think of it as how you would talk to a customer versus how you would talk to an investor. So when you think about the audience, customers care about very different things. They care about features, benefits, pricing, availability, platform, things that matter to them. You want to make sure that your communication is focused on the things that matter to them that are relevant to them. Investors care about very different things. And, in this case, they are thinking at scale, customer acquisition, cost, net retention. These are about the business that you are running but less about the product, the features, the benefits that you're selling.

And one of the mistakes that I see a lot of entrepreneurs make in the pitch process is they use their sales pitch for investors. And they get stuck talking about the wrong kinds of things for a specific audience that is really important to their future.

Desiree Timmermans: 3:31

So actually, what you are saying, you also have to do a role-play. Besides that you are pitching to the investors; you should also do it the other way around and think that you are the investor and maybe give your pitch to somebody else and let them pitch to you as investor, and then you can see what you can improve.

Burt Alper: 3:49

I love the way you phrase that. In fact, I often will say to clients of mine: if you had a million dollars that you were looking to invest, what would you need to hear to get you to part with that million dollars? It wouldn't be about how fancy the product is. You want to know about how you were going to get your money back with some return, how strong was the team that you were investing in. You want to know about different things. So I love the way you phrase it in terms of roleplay. And I will often encourage people to put themselves into the mind of the audience they are communicating with.

It goes even deeper than that, though. You can think about; even in the investment circle, different investors care about different things. Again, going to a very basic level: Series A investors are focused on different things from Series B investors. In the early stages of the business, you don't have a lot of traction, you don't have a lot of data about your business. So you are selling the dream, the vision, the potential for this company. And often, that comes down to the team and the idea. So that's in the Series A pitch.

Series B pitches, now you have got some traction. You have been around a little bit; you probably have some customers. You have got more data about the nuances of your business, and the way you are using capital, the way your technology has been expanding. Series B investors are going to care about different things.

But even another layer down underneath that: if we only take the early-stage investors, the Series A investors, for example, not every investor is the same. And as the entrepreneur preparing for a pitch, you need to evaluate: what is this investor care about? Some of the early-stage investors I have worked with are really focused on the team. They want to understand why this team is right. Why this partnership is going to survive, what they know that nobody else knows.

Desiree Timmermans: 5:41


Burt Alper: 5:41

So they are team focused, and you need to know that going into the pitch. Other investors in the early stage that I have worked with are very focused on: market size, market potential - how big could this possibly get? It doesn't mean that they are not going to care about other things, but you should prioritize your information based on what you know that the audience cares most about. And your focal point in the pitch should be on items of information that are relevant to that specific audience.

Desiree Timmermans: 6:10

Yes, and I understood that besides the AIM framework that you just explained to us, you also have another framework that you use to coach the people who pitch to investors. So suppose I'm the entrepreneur, I need to pitch to the investor: help me.

Burt Alper: 6:28

One of the big issues that I see a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with is controlling how much information they share. As an entrepreneur, you are very excited about what you've created. It's your baby, and you want to tell everybody about your baby. And often they want to impress the audience that they're communicating with, how smart they are, how much research they've done, how much information they have. And you end up with this massive overload of information. I call it the core dump. Some people call it verbal vomit. But I'm just going to throw everything I know at you, and hopefully, you'll remember some important details. And you'll be excited about that.

Burt Alper: 7:07

When I'm working with entrepreneurs who are preparing for pitches, I'm trying to help them stage the information in more digestible chunks. And the framework that I've introduced in this context is CUE, C, U, E. Each of those letters, as with the previous framework, stands for something really simple.

The first letter C is about establishing curiosity. You want to give them just enough information so that they feel intrigued, curious: they want to know more. And at the end of this segment of content - maybe it's two or three minutes worth of curiosity building - they should be saying to you something like: wow, tell me more, that's interesting, which opens the door for you to now share more information.

The U in this framework is around creating understanding. How does the technology work? How do we earn new business? What do we see as our big challenges and opportunities? That is where most of the pitch will take place. You're helping them to appreciate the nuances of your business the structure of your business. And this is the meaty part of the pitch. At the end of this section, your audience should be thinking to itself: okay, I get it, that makes sense.

Which opens the door for the last bit, which is the E. And that's around creating enthusiasm or excitement. Choose the E of choice there. If I talk about the potential for scale, if I talk about the potential for exit opportunities if I talk about how the trends in the market are all pointing in the right direction for us: now my audience is starting to see how this could make a good investment for them because of the returns they are likely to get. So you're creating some enthusiasm, some excitement. And at the end of this segment, the audience should be thinking; I can't wait to tell my partners about this.

Desiree Timmermans: 8:56

So that's what I also understood that you are pitching so that the investor thinks: hey, I want to have a next meeting with you.

Burt Alper: 9:03

Yeah. And I was thinking about how to create specific examples here. And I was trying to apply my own framework to this in a familiar context. And that was thinking about a business that we all know your listeners probably use. You could go into a pitch, an image-sharing platform. And the typical pitch would start off with: sharing images is hard, requires x gigabytes of storage, x megabytes of bandwidth that costs x millions of dollars to create the technology. And then you could go on to say that: our tech team has created a cloud-based infrastructure that allows this, and it's secure, and it's affordable, we built a great team. So that would be a typical pitch.

You could also start a different way. And if you apply my CUE framework, if you wanted to build some curiosity right away, you could tell a story. When I was a kid, my family traveled a lot, and my dad would always carry around a camera. And then we would get home, he would convert those photos into slides. We would all sit around the projector, and we would reminisce about this wonderful vacation we had. And I always wanted to share those photos with my friends and my family. In particular, I really wanted to share those photos of my grandmother, who could never be with us either on the trip or when we were looking at the slides. My company has solved this problem. We have figured out a way that any image that's captured on a digital camera can be shared with anyone you choose instantaneously. And so now, not only can my grandmother see the photos from the trip, but she can actually see the photos from the trip while we're on the trip. It's a great way of allowing people in your circle to live vicariously through you. And this is the platform that we've built. Do you want to know how we've done this right? And then, I can go from there into explaining about the technology itself. But I've started to create some wonder, some curiosity. And even a little bit of excitement, I'm already getting to the E part of my framework in this early stage. I'm trying to make my content more relatable in the early parts of my pitch so that people get some sincere curiosity about what this is all about.

Desiree Timmermans: 11:16

That's really great. And when you were telling, I wanted to answer your question, do you want to know more? Yes.

Burt Alper: 11:23

Unfortunately, I don't have the Instagram pitch in front of me.

Desiree Timmermans: 11:28

Well, maybe we can put it in the show notes. And actually, this is also making your pitch memorable. That is what you just show to us.

Burt Alper: 11:37

Yeah, and I see a lot of entrepreneurs; they're so excited about the technology, they're so excited about the data. They want to share all that data. In talking with investors, they need to see the data, it needs to be available to them, it comes up in discovery when they're doing their research. But that's not usually what moves them. What moves them and what they tend to remember more are: the stories, the dreams, the vision, the analogies that entrepreneurs come up with.

As someone who pitches a lot - and I pitch in different contexts, and I help other people pitch a lot - I am trying to build more story into my conversations. I'm trying to make my content more emotional and more evocative to spark a reaction in the audience that's different from the reaction they get from looking at 72.5% or $3 million. Those numbers matter, but what's really going to stick in the mind of your audience is going to be the story.

One of the things that is important to recognize is that the way that the investment process typically works; you might get a meeting first with an associate at the investment firm, if you're really lucky, you'll get a meeting with one of the partners at the investment firm. That partner, maybe she meets with you on a Tuesday. The following Monday, so six days later, that partner has her investment committee meeting with her team, where she has to represent your business without you or your deck being in the room. So you need to give that person enough information that she can remember and get excited about and get other people excited about without you ever being in the room. That's where analogies and stories and these more evocative elements of your pitch become really valuable because people tend to remember stories more than they remember data. It's why we have fables and myths. Those are tales that are designed to teach us something. And in history, oral communication, oral history, oral storytelling, that tradition of storytelling is how lessons were taught. Because people will remember: oh, don't fly too close to the sun, you know, your wax will melt, or sometimes slow and steady wins the race, and you don't need to be the rabbit that's always getting out in front. That's how people remember things. And I think entrepreneurs would be well served to remember this approach when they're pitching. It's not all about speeds and feeds. There's a lot of value in the narrative that you craft.

Desiree Timmermans: 14:18

Yes. And also to prepare for a story. I think you first have to write it down. Is that correct?

Burt Alper: 14:24

I will remember things that I want to say about a story. In a perfect context, the story is something you experienced, or at least that you're very familiar with. So if I just write down tell the story about your first high school presentation. I don't need to include all the details because I lived that moment. And I've told that story multiple times. I can remember the details of that story.

Desiree Timmermans: 14:50

What I mean is just for yourself and then start practicing it and telling it because as you need to make it memorable, and as you need to make them enthusiastic and excited about your story. That is not easy to do.

Burt Alper: 15:03

I completely agree. Yes.

And this notion of practicing is something that a lot of us overlook. We forget that just because we're familiar with the content doesn't mean we're going to be good at delivering that content. And so I think, whether it's a story or some element of the nuts and bolts of your pitch, all of that information needs to be rehearsed.

I give you a couple of suggestions for how to rehearse these pitches. The first is to rehearse out loud. When you do it in your head, you cover up too many mistakes, or you identify too many; things just get blurry in your mind. And so it's important to practice out loud. And if you can get an audience: could be your spouse, could be your kids, could be a friend who has a different business.

These days, so many of our pitches are done virtually. You can practice the virtual pitch. Set up a Zoom recording, just record yourself as if you're talking to an audience, and then you can watch it back and see: how did you look, how did you sound, was that interesting, did that sound the way you wanted it to sound? And you start to get more fine-tuned with how you deliver the content, and it becomes more comfortable for you.

The other thing that is really helpful is to think in advance about where you can cut content. Investors are notorious for scheduling a certain amount of time: let's say it's 30 minutes, but then encroaching on that time, either by showing up late or leaving early or asking a bunch of interruptive questions in the middle. So, what you think might be 30 minutes of time to share content is really only 15 minutes of content sharing. So if you're planning for 30 minutes, how do you remove certain elements of your pitch to make it fit in that timeframe without losing some of the important details? So knowing what's critical and what can be left out is an important part of your rehearsal process.

The other piece that's related to that: when you practice, practice being interrupted. Investors love to throw questions into the conversation. They love to try and get the entrepreneur, the business leaders, off their game to get out of their comfort zone to see how they'll react to certain scenarios. And, sometimes, they don't even care what the answer to the question is; they want to see how you react to being interrupted or to being disrupted somehow. And so if you practice that with friends, that can be really interesting. And I do that a lot. I often roleplay with my clients, where I pretend to be the annoying investor. And so I'm constantly jumping into the conversation so that they feel what it's like to be disrupted. And they can recover and practice that recovery, so they're much more fluid with it when it gets to the actual pitch.

The last advice I'll give on practicing is to recognize that the best way to practice is with an actual audience. And in this case, if you're getting ready to pitch for a venture investor, you might think of the ecosystem of venture capitalists. And look at segmenting them into here are the groups that we think are really interesting for us, and they should be excited about our business. Here's another group that would be maybe a little bit interested in us, and we might be a little bit interested in them. And there's probably another category of potential investors where you're not likely to get any money from them; you're not even sure that you would want to be in their portfolio. So you've got these different tiers of potential investors.

When you practice, book a couple of meetings with the low tier early on: the tier that's not very exciting to you. So that you can have a couple of reps with prospective investors that aren't your most important investors. You can get some feedback from them, get some advice from them, and get a chance to see how certain things land with the audience. Then when you've had a couple of those cycles, you can start to reach out to the more likely investors that you're really excited about and that you think will be really excited with you.

Desiree Timmermans: 19:16

Because then you can act on the feedback and make sure that you improve your pitch. Because that's also something that I understand: you keep improving your pitch.

Burt Alper: 19:25

I think one of the mistakes that a lot of people make is they use the same content every single time. I don't think that's a good service to the presenter, and I certainly don't think it's a good service to the audience. When we first started our conversation today, the very first thing we talked about was the importance of the audience - and recognizing that customers need different things from investors. Series A investors need different things from Series B investors. But even in the Series A pitch, if you have 50 meetings, the deck might be the same, but how you go through it should be different across writing to the audience's needs: what you know about them, what you think their priorities are, and where you think you can establish the strongest relevance for them. Practicing that and making sure that you adjust to suit the audience's needs, I think, is really important.

The other reason it's valuable is as a presenter. If you present the same thing over, and over and over again, it's hard to be enthusiastic about that content. And even though you've said it 50 times, this is the first time for the audience to hear it. And they need to feel your passion; they need to feel your enthusiasm. Sometimes, if you're on version 50 of the pitch or you're delivering it for the 50th time in a week, it can be hard to generate that excitement. If you make slight changes in the pitch based on the feedback that you've received, it gets better and better, and it stays fresh in your mind. You continue to be excited and enthusiastic about the content.

Desiree Timmermans: 20:56

And how do you anticipate to questions that investors throw in?

Burt Alper: 21:00

I think of three kinds of questions. There are the questions that you always get. So everybody always asks you about net retention, or everybody always asks you about customer acquisition costs. Sometimes I'll include those in the pitch itself; I'll preempt their questions with the expected answers. Sometimes I'll wait to let them ask the question. So I can seem better prepared. Either way is fine. But you should think through the questions that come up all the time and have very concise answers for those.

Second type of question: the questions you hope people ask you. There might be more unusual, but they really make you look good. Something about, maybe: what do you know that the rest of the industry doesn't know? Or what do you see in the future that will make this business even more exciting? There are different types of questions that can come up here. But you see this all the time somebody asks you the question, you're just like: ah, thank goodness, you asked me that. Great. Like, I'm so glad you asked that because it really allows us to talk about this other thing.

The third bucket of questions: the questions that you hope nobody asks you. The ones that are always challenging for you. They're difficult to answer; they don't always paint the best picture of your business. Those questions are going to come up; everybody's got some weakness, some area that's not as perfect as all the other areas. If you anticipate those questions the day before, the week before, and you start practicing how you're going to respond - even to those really challenging questions - you will be perceived as more confident and more comfortable with those challenging questions when they're introduced by somebody in the audience.

Desiree Timmermans: 22:39

I absolutely understand. So preparation is important with the framework: Audience, Intent, Message. Then, of course, we have to make it memorable, and we have to rehearse. Is there another thing that we need to do?

Burt Alper: 22:53

I just recognize that in the pitch process, you're looking for something; usually, it's money. Realize that there are a lot of positive outcomes that are different from a cheque or a term sheet. So feedback is the easiest one; somebody's giving you some advice. Introductions, another great outcome from a pitch meeting: I'm not going to invest in your business, but I know three people who will. Or in this tight labor market: I like your business, I'm not going to invest in it, but I can introduce you to a potential engineer or head of marketing or some other role that you're trying to fill. Those are positive outcomes. And one of the great - I don't know if it's a rule or an axiom - but one of the great concepts that I've heard from a number of investors: any meeting that doesn't end in a no is a success.

Desiree Timmermans: 23:47

That's a nice way of saying it.

Burt Alper: 23:49

So if you get invited to another meeting, that's a victory. Don't be in a hurry to get that term sheet. I know everybody wants the term sheet, that check in the mail, or that money in the bank account is really important -but recognizing that anything that's not a no is actually a win. It's kind of like dating; you're going to have a few dates before you get married. And so as long as the person that you're trying to go out with isn't turning you down, then: okay, this is going well, I'm excited about this, I can keep this going.

Desiree Timmermans: 24:20

But how do you do that, building these relationships? Is it also about having a network, and before you start pitching, reach out to certain people?

Burt Alper: 24:30

Absolutely. The relationship is key. And I think many business people underestimate the value of relationships. They think it's all financial and business, but in fact, it's very relationship based. And even beyond the relationship that you might have with a specific investor recognizing that that investor has many other relationships in the venture community or the private equity community. Those people talk a lot. So your first impression with investor number one will carry you over to your meeting with investor number two because they probably talked about you in between those meetings. So recognizing the relationship and your impressions are very important. Doing your homework and understanding what they care about and what they need to hear from you helps you establish the relationship.

And recognizing that the 30-minute meeting that you might have with an investor is only one piece of the relationship-building process. The way that you get introduced to them or introduce yourself to them matters. The way that you deal with their executive assistant matters. That's all before the meeting, but it's part of the relationship-building process. And then after the meeting, the way you follow up, stay in touch, keep the prospective investor apprised of developments and things that are happening. That's also part of the relationship building. And all of this happens over a much longer period of time. So you have a 30-minute meeting. But you might have spent two weeks trying to organize that meeting and schedule that meeting, and find out where that meeting is going to be; that takes time. And there are a lot of interactions with the prospective investor in that time, or at least his or her assistant.
Similarly, at the back of the meeting, there might be 2, 3, or 4 weeks' worth of interactions that come after that. Don't forget about the value of creating connection, creating relationship. It's not all business. There is certainly a business component to it, but we like to do business with people that we like. And if they like you, then that's a good thing.

Desiree Timmermans: 26:36

Okay. And suppose I'm the entrepreneur, and I just pitch to you as an investor; the last thing that I need to do in my presentation, what is that?

Burt Alper: 26:47

Make an ask. Too often, the entrepreneur gets to the end of the presentation and says: okay, thank you, bye. And they forget that they were there for a very specific reason. So at the end of the presentation, you might say: we're looking to raise $5 million, we're looking to keep the cap table very small, so ideally, we'll have one anchor investor and three smaller investors. But we really hope that you will consider investing in this business. And please let us know if there's more information that we can provide to make that investment more interesting to you. But finish the meeting with a final thought, whether it's the ask or another affirmation of the problem you solve and the market opportunity for this business. Leave them with something interesting to think about, don't fade into the sunset, like many presenters do. Often the last thought is what stays with them. And so if you can leave them with something interesting that they can then take to their investment team or investment committee, you've done yourself a favor, and you've done the prospective investor a favor as well.

Desiree Timmermans: 27:51
So what's important: you have to make it as easy as possible for the investor to further communicate.

Burt Alper: 27:57

And think about this is true for you as well. When you're a customer, if there are barriers to you getting the product that you're trying to buy or the service you're trying to buy, you're less likely to buy that thing.

Desiree Timmermans: 28:08

That's true.

Burt Alper: 28:09

So you have to make it easy on your customers, and you have to make it easy on your investors. What can you do to make this process smooth for them? There's a dance: they want to invest in the right businesses, and the entrepreneurs want to find the right investors. There's certainly a matching process that happens here. But it's a mistake to think of it as a transaction. And so the more you can create fluidity and dialogue and relationship reports, you get a lot more value out of your investors than just the check they sign. They give you a lot of advice, they give you a lot of help. And, I think, recognizing how can I make this easy for them, how can I streamline the process for them? That does wonders for the relationship you're trying to build.

Desiree Timmermans: 28:54

And you said it's important to tell stories, but also that you make them enthusiastic and build the connection. But sometimes you come into a room, and there is no click: what do you do?

Burt Alper: 29:08

I would say, more than sometimes. I would say it's frequent that there's no click. Sometimes the answer is: this is not a fit. And I'm going to save you some time. I'm going to save me some time. Clearly, this isn't a fit. Can you point me in a different direction? Or can you give me some information on why you're so uninspired by this business? You can quickly cut the meeting short, and then ask for a quick hit of feedback, and maybe just excuse yourself.

Other times you're going to want to fight. You're going to want to stay in the conversation because this is an important investor. And you feel like this is a good fit, and you just haven't explained it well. In those situations, I'm looking for ways that I can find where I missed. So even saying out loud: you don't look very excited about this business. Tell me what you were looking to hear either in terms of our customer base or our scalability, or our technology platform. Where can I go a little bit deeper to make you feel more excited about this business? And actually ceding control, you're giving control of the direction of the conversation to the audience in an effort to make them feel more connected to your content.

Desiree Timmermans: 30:20
That's a smart approach. I like that.

Burt Alper: 30:23

The other thing that I've done is - you can't do this retroactively - if you're worried about fit, if you're worried that they might not understand your business: trying to find an analogy that is familiar to them can help them appreciate some of the nuances of your business.

I was just working with a client a few months ago, and they're in the energy storage business, the electricity storage business, which is going to be a big deal as we start to convert more of our electricity production to renewable energy, solar, wind, hydro, thermal, geothermal. Part of the value, or the necessity, there is: how can we store it because the wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine? So to be able to store this energy. The most practical way that it's currently done is by pushing water up a mountain and then letting gravity pull it back down to return a hydroelectric plant. It's a very expensive way of storing electricity. But it works. This company that I'm working with actually applies the same philosophy. But instead of pushing the water up, they push the water down. And so they create these little pockets in the ground, and then gravity pushes the water back up. And that's what makes the hydropower work.

So when we were talking about this technology: it's very complicated, very complex technology. But what we came to as the story that made sense was, right now, that bottle of water that's sitting in front of you is used to store something really important. And the price of the container is inexpensive, and the price of the product inside is relatively expensive. In the energy business, it's the opposite. The product itself is relatively inexpensive, but the price we're paying to store that energy is ludicrously expensive. So, could we find a cheaper water bottle, a cheaper way of storing this valuable resource that applied similar technology but in a much more cost-efficient way? So this quick pivot from the complexity of storing water underground and having it all pushed up became much more about changing the pricing dynamics. The cost dynamics of this process that everybody can acknowledge are important. How we do it became more about what's the most cost-efficient way of doing it, as opposed to is this necessary - where did we do this? We answered a whole bunch of other questions by focusing on this one analogy for them. And, I find that if you can think about ways of making your content more relatable, more easily understandable, you take questions out of the equation. And you make people feel less intimidated by your technology. Your job as an entrepreneur, your job as someone who's pitching, is to make your content as easy to understand as possible. That doesn't mean you have to dumb it down. But you do have to make it easy.

Often, really smart people who are really good at engineering make things more complicated for the audience because they want to impress the audience with their technical knowledge. That's not the right approach for a pitch conversation.

Desiree Timmermans: 33.37

So, what you need to have is a toolbox, but also with some tools that you can use if something goes wrong or if an investor responds like this, that you are flexible. So rehearsing that is really important because I can imagine that otherwise, you freeze sometimes.

Burt Alper: 33:54

I liked the way you put that: the concept of being flexible. And it does go back to what we talked about. We were talking about one of the ways to rehearse is rehearsing with interruptions. But you could also have somebody rehearse with you who wasn't impressed. And so, how would you deal with that situation in a rehearsal so that when you get into the actual pitch with the actual investor, you are much more comfortable trying these tactics because you practice them already? But you're right; I think flexibility and adaptability are important things not just for the pitch but for leaders in general. And this is where I think a lot of investors challenge these leaders by making the conversation difficult. So they can see, is this leader flexible? Can this leader adapt? Can he or she adjust to the situation that we've just created? It's not just about whether we're going to give them money because this pitch is so great. Are we going to give them money because this leader is so great?

Desiree Timmermans: 35:01

So they invest in you as an entrepreneur.

Burt Alper: 35:04

Exactly. That's right. Never forget that, especially in the early stages of your business. Later on, it's more about the data. But in the early stages of the business, the investor only has two things they can invest in: the team and the idea. So how do you make that idea compelling? And how do you make the team compelling? And that comes with being a good leader, showing that you're a good leader.

Desiree Timmermans: 35:28

Well, thanks for that good insights. For the listeners that want to know more about the art of pitching to investors. Do you have any resources that you can recommend to them?

Burt Alper: 35:38

One of my favorite resources, and a really interesting and somewhat unique opportunity, to see how this really happens: Reid Hoffman, who was one of the founders of LinkedIn, posted the pitch deck that they used when they were pitching LinkedIn for their Series B. It's really interesting. And what they do is page by page: they talk about what they were trying to do, what really happened or what they were trying to do, and what advice they have for people who are coming into the situation based on what they learned. Most people know the business and know how successful it has become. But seeing how the business evolved based on the way the pitch conversation went and what they learned from those early meetings with investors, I find it fascinating.

Many venture investors have a guide to the pitch on their website. If you're going to come meet with us, here are some things you should know. My personal favorite is the one that a group called Garage Ventures put out. It shows you slide by slide; here's what we think you should include and why you should include that. And then a little bit about how you can anticipate what's going to happen in these meetings. I think, it's perfecting your pitch, is what they call it. It is really valuable information. And that's a nice foundation to get start

The last thing I'll share with you is a book that was put out by Harvard Business Press. That's about The Art of the Pitch. And it might be too basic for some of the listeners that you have out there. But for people who are just getting started in the pitch process: it covers everything from what to include in the deck to how to make the deck look more fanciful and how to think about questions you're going to get. It's a very comprehensive foundation for people who are preparing to pitch. So those are the things that are specific to pitching.

The other side of this is more general communication books. One of my favorites is: Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. It's a book that talks about how stories, narratives, emotional details, evocative details: those are the things that help people remember things. So stickiness is their idea of memorable. And they offer a number of great examples, often hilarious stories that highlight how business leaders were able to move audiences by establishing stickier messages. It's a great book; whether you're pitching or not, it'll help you with customers as much as with investors.

Desiree Timmermans: 38:10

So, in the end, in pitching, communication is really important.

Burt Alper: 38:15

I teach a communication class at Stanford. I use all that information and all of those best practices in the pitch process. And, I find the pitch is just the highest stakes version of all these best practices. There's so much riding on your pitch: you need to be a good communicator, you need to understand how can I relate to my audience in a way that inspires them to take the action that I need to take. That's absolutely an element of communication. And the pitch is just a really important execution of that. How you think about your communication and those pitching moments will often dictate whether you're going to be successful or not.

Desiree Timmermans: 38:59

I absolutely agree. And that's also what I learned during my years of experience that communication, in the end, is everything. If you can communicate, if you are flexible, if you know what you're talking about, and that's something that you can prepare, then you feel much more confident; you can help people to understand you.

Burt Alper: 39:19

I couldn't agree more. You're absolutely right. I think what you're seeing now is more recognition and acknowledgment that people need to be more effective at communicating. I think your podcast is a good example of how the industry has changed. Now, people like you who are good communicators are bringing in people like me who are good communicators to talk about how communications can be more valuable. Even the platform of a podcast in itself is an example of communication.

But now business, a lot of the data is hard to remember: it's hard to get excited about. What people get excited about is the story you tell. It's the dream you paint and the connection you establish with the audience. And if you want people to remember stuff, tell the story. Be a good communicator. 

Desiree Timmermans: 40:05

I absolutely agree. And we are coming already to the end of the podcast. But my last question to you is: is that anything you still want to share with the listeners about pitching?

Burt Alper: 40:17

I think that the key is to remember the different ways to win. There are different ways to win. Every pitch is, in itself, a sales conversation. You can pitch to a customer, an investor, a spouse, a child, and a friend. Those are all conversations. The investment pitch doesn't always result in a term sheet. But there are still other ways to win. Being aware of - you talked about this - the importance of the relationship that you're starting, that meeting may not result in the win you're looking for. But at some point down the road, if you build a constructive foundation and establish good relationships with people, there's a victory for you in that communication. So that's one key takeaway.

I think the other key takeaway is: less is more. Don't try to impress everybody with everything you possibly know. Think of yourself as the curator of the museum of knowledge you have. How can you curate all the wisdom you have, all the information you have, so that the audience only gets those important nuggets they need? And if you can curate your knowledge, you simplify the process for the audience, and you simplify the process for yourself. Don't worry about impressing people; they're going to be impressed by you anyway. They're probably going to be more impressed if you share less information with them. But if you overwhelm your audience with too much detail - too much of the speeds and feeds - you end up being less memorable, less distinctive, and ultimately less desirable as an investment.

Desiree Timmermans: 41:49

Well, thanks for that. It's really great talking to you. And I think I'm already a winner because you gave so much insights. And it really gives you confidence. It's practicing. If you make an error, or if it doesn't click with the investors, it's not a problem. It can happen; you can respond to that - you have a toolbox to do that. Make sure that it is full with a lot of good tools. So really, thank you very much, Burt, for all your insights about pitching. It's really great.

Burt Alper: 42.19

It's my pleasure. I'm really honored to be invited to this and thank you very much for bringing me in. I appreciate it.


Thanks for joining us for another episode of the podcast Help To Grow Talk. This episode was produced by Xavier Petit and me, Desiree Timmermans. For more information and episodes, subscribe to wherever you get your podcasts or visit 

Tune in next time!

AIM Framework: Audience, Intent, Message
CUE Framework (Curiosity, Understanding, Excitement) & Making Your Pitch Memorable
How the Investment Process Works
Rehearsing Your Pitch
Anticipating Investors Questions
Various Positive Pitch Outcomes & Building Relationships
Last Thing You Do in a Pitch & Make It Investors Easy
What To Do if There is No Fit & Finding an Analogy to Better Connect With Investors
Recommended Resources
Two Key Takeaways