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Telling Stories

Business Networking – But Not the Hippopotamus

I am a pretty big fan of Sandra Boynton’s “But Not the Hippopotamus.” Primarily, because every time I say “But Not the Hippopotamus” my daughter giggles.  But it also reminds me of every business person I know when it comes to networking.

Spoiler alert – I may inadvertently give away the ending of BNTH. The crux of the story is that the poor hippopotamus sits on the sidelines as all the other animals have fun.  She never gets invited.  “But Not the Hippopotamus.”  Or so she thinks.  But then there is a turning point – the other animals say “Come, join us!”  She actually has to think for a moment “should I go?” before she rushes off to join the fun.  Yes, the Hippopotamus!

Many of us feel that when we go to a networking event that it is someone else’s job to break the ice, to include us.  We hover in a corner, staring at the ice cubes melting in our glass.  Networking sucks.  I have been there.

You Are What You Believe

When it comes to marketing, “You are what you believe.”  Let me explain.  If you don’t think you are any good at marketing, chances are that belief will permeate your efforts.  We tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies and look for validation of our beliefs.  If you think you suck at networking, then a bad networking experience will simply confirm that belief and you will be bad at it.

You have to change the dialogue in your head.  The good news is you can.  If we switch the inner voice (you know the one that sounds like your mother) to a more positive tone and repeat that positive message (these are called affirmations by the way), we can actually change our beliefs.  At first, it will feel strange because you haven’t bought into the new voice, but if you keep repeating it, it actually takes hold and you begin to believe.  I like speaking in public, I like speaking in public, I like speaking in public.  And then one day, you realize you actually like speaking in public.

Whether its networking or anything else you want in your life, you can use affirmations to achieve anything you set your mind to.  I love speaking German, I love speaking German, I love speaking German… OK, that one still needs some work.

Tips to Get You Started

I started seriously networking almost 20 years ago.  I had launched a new business a new venture with 2 friends and I was the business development guy.  Prior to that, I had a career in finance, primarily crunch numbers somewhere in the background.  This networking thing was a whole new world for me, and honestly not one I felt very comfortable with.  I was not used to selling myself.  Frustrated, I sought out solutions to become a better networker.  I attended Dale Carnegie‘sHow to Win Friends and Influence People and while it was originally written in 1936, the ideas still rang true.

Six Ways to Make People Like You

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interest.
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

The bottom line is people don’t want to be sold to.  They want to connect with another genuine human being.  Someone who expresses interest in what they have to say.  And that can be very rare.  Successful marketers don’t sell, they connect.

I’ve also been “the bear and the hare at the fair.”  Socializing with my peers, having a good time, making contacts – you know networking.  I am not ignoring you in the corner; I just busy working the room.  Maybe I don’t see you. Maybe I try to engage you and you shrink.  In all honesty, I am not going to work that hard to make it work and I will likely move on after some awkward small talk.

Here are some suggestions to get you going –

  • Get out of the corner – mingle and engage.  It’s much harder to approach a group of people chatting and engaged and trying to break in.  And in all honesty, when people have done this to me (and while I applaud their efforts) it tends to come off as rude.  Instead, look around the room.  find another corner dweller, they are just as hungry to make contact but are either shy or nervous.  This person will be thankful you made the first move.
  • Don’t lead with a sales pitch – You don’t know me, you don’t know my needs.  Don’t assume I need your product – an unsolicited sales pitch is like verbal spam.
  • Listen First – Ask me about me about my business, why I am here tonight, who I am trying to meet.  Then if you honestly believe you can add value, make a pitch.
  • Add Value – And remember –adding value doesn’t always mean trying to sell me your product.  Maybe, it’s an introduction to someone else in the room. Maybe it’s a referral.  I am more likely to remember you when you help me out then if you simply try to sell me.
  • Be Prepared – OK, this one I tend to be guilty of.  I have a successful interaction with someone and then they ask me for my business card.  I fish around in my pockets only to come up empty.
  • Set a Goal – How many new people will you talk to?  How many new business cards will you collect?  By setting a goal, you begin to measure the success of your efforts.  You will feel like you accomplished something.  I talked to 5 new contacts this evening.

If you are going to network – then make the most of it.  Building a network is about creating trust.  It’s about referrals.  Give to get.  This will make you a successful networker.  And before you know it – you too will be shouting – Yes, the Hippopotamus!

But not the Aardvark…

Business Networking – But Not the Hippopotamus

Be not afraid of going slowly

Be not afraid of going slowly, be only afraid of standing still . . .

– Chinese Proverb

If you’re like me, when you decide to do something, you go all out. When I decide to diet, I basically stop everything but water and watercress. When I start back at the gym, I try to train every part of my dormant body. The result? Great Abs? No. Lean mean fighting machine? No. One very tired, sore, cranky me? Oh, yea that’s the one.

I have tried every program under the sun. Lemonade diets, Hollywood Diets, you name it! I’ve zoned my carbs straight to South Beach! And while I’ve resisted the temptation of the Abdomizer or the Thigh Master, I do have a weight bench (good for storing unfolded laundry), Chin Up bar (good for the clothes that make it to a hanger) and an inclined sit-up bench (OK, this one just takes up space in the garage).

I am the guy they designed impulse shopping for. I buy the magazines at the Piggly Wiggly (yes, I shop at Piggly Wiggly, what’s your point?) while waiting in the checkout line. I am drawn to the promise of A New Body in 10 days, or The Secrets of Blasting My Biceps (I honestly don’t believe I have ever blasted any part of my body, and that has probably kept me out of the ER). I am pretty sure I have heard the checkout clerk giggle as I plop down the latest edition of Buff and Ripped.

So after years of research and a few Cosmo Sex Questionnaires (What? You thought you ladies had corned the market on those little secrets and tips?), I have learned that . . .

People hate change . . .

It’s easier to keep doing what we are doing, than trying to change. That’s why we revert back to our old ways so easily. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, it takes 21 days to change a bad habit into a good one. That’s 21 days without cigarette. That’s 21 days of walking. That’s 21 days without a latte. 21 days is a long time . . . It’s even longer, if you are set unrealistic goals or try to change too much at once.

And let’s not forget in the midst of our makeovers, life goes on. Kids get sick, the dog pees on the carpet and your boss, well – you know that one. Many people underestimate the inertia of their current job, their chosen role at work and at home, their partner, their friends and colleagues and associates, their current habits, their current tastes and family responsibilities. So, as we approach a new year, let’s look at resolutions . . .

Top 10 resolutions . . .

1. Lose Weight
2. Quit Smoking
3. Exercise More
4. Eat Healthier
5. Make more money
6. Go back to school
7. Pay off debt
8. Spend less
9. Make more time for . . .
10. Get more organized

Most resolutions fail within the first month. I would argue most folks don’t get over the 21-day hump. So, obviously, we need another approach.

Be not afraid . . .

Go slowly. Set realistic achievable and sustainable goals. I believe in doing one thing a day that was healthier than the day before. After a week, you will have done 7 healthy things for yourself. After a month (and that dreaded 21-day threshold), you will have done 30 good things for your body and soul. And, if you embraced this philosophy in 2005, you will do 365 things great things for your body. Will you lose 30 pounds in 2 weeks? NO. But, you will start to move to a healthier place.

Be not afraid . . .

Be not afraid of going slowly

Revolutionizing the Elevator Pitch

Recently, we sat down with Micheal Platania of Powerfully Committed to talk about Elevator Pitches.  We met Michael a few years back at Toastmasters in San Francisco.

Can you offer a brief Elevator Pitch to the new service?

Do you know that uncomfortable feeling when you are giving your Elevator Pitch and you instinctively know that the person is not interested? As the Elevator Pitch doctor, I can make sure that never happens again.

Revolutionizing the Elevator Pitch

So define an elevator pitch for us.

An elevator pitch is simply an opening to a conversation. The goal of an elevator pitch is for the client to say “Tell me more.”

Who needs them?

Everyone who is looking for new business and new clients, and even those looking to expand their business with existing clients (though the exact focus of the pitch would change in those circumstances).

I often tell people the Elevator Pitch is getting the client to go on a Business Blind Date.

Why do we struggle with them?

Because most people don’t understand how to engage on a personal (and emotional) level. In business, we are taught the tips and tricks of elevator pitches – how to put your lifetime of experience into a 30-second resume or one-minute bio, how to explain your accomplishments and successes but this is never what the person you are talking to wants to hear.

I attended an Elevator Pitch workshop last week, and one of the tricks this guy gave was to “speak loud.” Is being loud really what is going to make someone want to know more?

and how do you help?

We revolutionize the elevator pitch by approaching it from a completely different paradigm. Madison Avenue knows that the way to sell a product is to connect with people on an emotional level, and billions are spent to do this through advertising. We approach the elevator pitch the same way – from an emotional level.

It’s scary for a lot of people because talking about emotion is business is not something most people are familiar with. So our clients have to come into this with a certain amount of openness and self-confidence.

What should we avoid in our elevator pitches?

Number one rule – talk less, a lot less. Remember that the point of a pitch is to engage and have a dialogue and if you are doing all the talking there is no room in the conversation for the other person.

Number two rule – it’s not about you and what you have done with your life and your career. My eyes start to glaze over when I hear about sales numbers and quotas and targets. Nobody cares.

In fact, people don’t care what you know, they want to know how much you care.

Does all this take practice?

Yes, it does. I practice walking down the street. I walk past a dry cleaner or pizza place and imagine I am the owner and practice a pitch for them. The is one of the things I was taught by my mentor, Cynthia Malaran who developed the Malaran Method™ for elevator pitches during her time as an advertising professional. Once our clients go through and understand the process they can practice it and tailor it to any situation.

Any parting thoughts?

What is unique and different about this process is that we are less focused on the résumé and more concerned about connecting with your passion and tying that passion to the client’s need, because once we connect your passion to their need, the client is left with one thought on their mind…”Tell Me More!”

And if our readers want to learn more?

The can contact me directly at mplatania@mail.com or through my website powerfullycommitted.com. I am available to work with people in person, via phone or Skype. People who have gone through this process say it not only changes their elevator pitch but changes how they feel about their business and themselves.

Revolutionizing the Elevator Pitch

How To Find Angel Investors

You know your business concept has all the elements to become a very successful. You just need the money to get things rolling and you are well on your way to becoming an entrepreneurial sensation. But then again, money is hard to come by these days. Even with the recent recovery of the US economy and things looking good in the small business sector, many banks and financing institutions are still wary of approving loans for small business start-ups. If you have exhausted all your options and still come up with nothing, then maybe it’s high time that you learn how to find angel investors.

How To Find Angel Investors

Angel investors, also known as business angels, are people who are willing to shell out the much-needed funds to get a business concept into reality. In almost all cases, a business angel is someone who is wealthy and established individual who has shown great interest in the industry you are wishing to enter. Since an angel investor is willing to risk much money on a business grant concept that has yet to materialize, they require so much from the entrepreneur as well, like convertible debt or ownership equity, in exchange for the funds.

Another thing that must be put into consideration is that angel investors would want a significant portion of control once the company gets off the ground. This is a fact when it comes to angel investing. If you are a business owner who does not want to share the steering wheel of the enterprise, then you better look somewhere else for the funds you need. However, if you welcome the opportunity to learn from an experienced business figure and allow him or her to take the reins from time to time, then angel investing is probably just for you.

If you are decided to have an angel investor fund your enterprise, then here is a short guide on how to find angel investors:

Always start within your area., 150-mile radius to be precise. Call your attorney. Lawyers know who has money. Get in touch with local business clubs and ask the officials to point you in the right direction. Contact your local SBA office and see if the people there know anything of significance. Business colleges and universities are also great spots. You can get a lot of information from teachers and school officials.

Bear in mind that angel investors are not people who would readily and immediately send you checks for your start-up. It is best that you seek out angel investors that are interested or involved in the industry that you desire to join and provide them with a very sound and workable business plan as well as realistic projections to keep expectations from going over the brim.

How To Find Angel Investors

It’s Not About You

I was working with a client to help him develop a client presentation.  His pitch was “we do this”, “our services provide”, etc.  What was missing was what’s in it for the client.  What are their needs and how was he going to meet them.  So, I asked him how this pitch had worked so far, and he admitted not so great.

Then I asked him, “You’ve been on the buying side, what were your needs?”

“I wanted a reliable provider who would deliver a consistent product on time at the price quoted.  No last-minute changes, delays or excuses.  And if there was a problem, would answer my calls and make it right.”

He quickly realized that his pitch wouldn’t have sold him either.  It was time to change his approach.

It's Not About You

Too often our pitches are simply about what we offer.  Whereas, it is about understanding the client’s needs and conveying how you can help.  Simply pitching a service without first identifying a need is like a putting a “Square peg in a round hole.” Yeah, you might be able to make it fit, but you have to force it.  That’s not how you win new customers.

Instead, ask a few questions –

“What’s your biggest challenge?”

“What’s working and what’s not?”

“How can I help you?”

Once you understand what the client needs, then you offer a solution.  It doesn’t feel like a pitch anymore, now you are helping them out.  And your prospect will see you as a partner, not a salesperson.

Honestly, no one wants to hear you talk about yourself or your company. Your clients are focused on themselves, their needs, and finding someone to offer the best solution. Your job is to figure out how to meet their needs.

Thoughtful, provocative, and probing questioning demonstrates that you are looking to address the client’s needs, not just simply pitch a service to make a sale.

Remember, it’s not about you.


It’s Not About You

First Determine If There is an Unmet Need

First Determine If There is an Unmet Need

Last evening, I attended a networking dinner with a friend of mine.  We were engaged in a light conversation with a gentleman when out of the blue my friend launched into a pitch about a joint project we were working on.  Very quickly, it became evident that this guy was not a prospect for our services.  My friend threw the ball to me hoping I might try another approach.  I opted to wrap things up instead.  I acknowledged this might not be the solution for the prospect, but asked if he should know of anyone that might find our services helpful to please keep us in mind.

First Determine If There is an Unmet Need

By closing down the pitch, it allowed the third-party a graceful exit.  He didn’t have to say no.  And it gave him an opportunity to be helpful if he should so choose.  I have found that most people genuinely like to be helpful.  They may know someone who might be more suitable for offering and make an introduction.  “You should meet Bob, his company is growing and you might be able to help him…”

In hindsight, what went wrong?  My friend never established if there was an unmet need.  Instead, he pitched a solution.  Did anyone need this solution?  Obviously, not the guy we were chatting up.  This all could have been avoided with a few questions to the prospect.  Before you offer a solution, you must determine what need is not being met, or if there is a gap in satisfaction in the product, good, or service that is being offered in the marketplace.

Ideally, you want to lead the conversation from small talk to what are the prospect’s unmet needs.  Start with a few light probing questions to see where the prospect is at.  How is business?  What are you working on? Based on his willingness to share or not, will determine whether you probe deeper for an unmet need.

If the prospect shares more or self-identifies an unmet need, then you have an opportunity. Does your product or service do something for him that no else can do? Can you do it better than the competition? If you cannot answer these basic questions, then you need to stop what you’re doing and listen until you can.

Once an unmet need has been identified – and you can say yes to above questions, then you make a pitch.

First Determine If There is an Unmet Need

Matthias Treutwein, co-founder of enpact

Recently, we caught up with Matthias Treutwein, co-founder of enpact.  enpact targets sustainable entrepreneurial development via international mentoring programmes.

How did enpact start

We started in 2013, when Sebastian and I met during the implementation of a different mentoring project. There we realized, what a powerful tool entrepreneurship and mentoring can be and decided to start our own social enterprise

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

I have to be there at 9 am…. No, jokes aside. I am trying to build a network of inspiring and engaged people, empower them to create sustainable and fair jobs and to improve in general the way development aid is implemented by focussing more on changemakers – and not the agencies.

Why is entrepreneurship important in developing regions?

People lost faith in governmental and/or religious institutions, that – in many countries –  abuse the mandates they have been given. The huge amount of jobs that have to be created due to the intense population growth – especially in the global South – requires innovative solutions that can only come from the private, and not the public sector.

What is enpact’s mission?

enpact wants to empower people to create urgently needed jobs.

How many cycles have you completed?

We have concluded three cycles of our international mentoring programme, currently with 60 and 25 mentors and experts from more than 10 countries. Additionally, we piloted two national mentorings in 2014 in Egypt and Tunisia, and are now relaunching the one in Tunisia, and hopefully this autumn again the one in Egypt.

What has been the most rewarding aspect?

Meeting and working with so many talented people from a region, that normally only gets bad press. Additionally, that for many – myself included, this is a life-changing experience, where barriers are brought down, horizons are broadened and intercultural exchange becomes a playful side effect.

What is your biggest challenge?

Developing a sustainable business model & managing an intercultural and international team across different continents.

What kind of feedback have you gotten?

Lots of positive, but also some negative. Most important one: That we help people to positively impact on their societies and to develop perspectives by living their dreams.

What are you currently working on?

We are trying to become financially more independent and have been restructuring our NGO accordingly. We are about to launch two new projects and starting negotiations to develop more startup spaces in the MENA region.

How can people get involved?

We are always looking for inspiration, so if our activities intrigue you, please reach out to us to discuss over a coffee or a beer. Also, we are currently looking for participants in our national mentoring in Tunisia and in autumn we will open the call for applications of our international mentoring programme. Finally, we are always looking for dedicated mentors, experts, and fundraising leads!

Matthias has worked several years as a project manager and consultant in international development (Transparency International, The Owners Forum, InWent) and cultural management (Goethe Institute, Bosch-Foundation). He holds a Master’s degree in Arabic, French and Spanish Literature. He has a high level of cultural awareness that he developed during several study and work sojourns in the MENA region. Matthias is very interested in fostering networks while strongly believing in horizontal and life-long learning.

enpact was founded with the aim of strengthening economic relations between young entrepreneurs from the start-up scenes of the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. Since then, this goal has been successfully implemented with the “engage participate act” project – an innovative mentorship programme for promising young entrepreneurs – funded by the German Federal Foreign Office. In addition to that, we promote entrepreneurship and support local entrepreneurial ecosystems by creating entrepreneur spaces for start-up related activities.

Matthias Treutwein, co-founder of enpact

Talking Startups with Point Nine Capital

We haven’t chatted with Point Nine Capital, so we decided to catch up with Mathias Ockenfels.

Mathias joined Point Nine as an Investment Associate in the summer of 2013 and is currenty a principal at the firm. He comes from Naspers, where he worked as an M&A Manager for the ricardo Group in Zurich. Previously Mathias was an Investment Manager at Mountain Partners.

Talking Startups with Point Nine Capital

Point Nine Capital recently won Best Angel/Seed Investor of the Year (2015) at the Europas, what is unique about its approach?

Our investment thesis is centered around 2 business models: SaaS and (digital) marketplaces. Having such a focus allows us to offer value-add to our portfolio companies independently of their geographic presence. We are based in Berlin but we are investing everywhere in Europe and North America. Some companies appreciate the fact that we are active on 2 continents and can help to cross the pond in both directions.

What is an Angel VC?

We call ourselves “The Angel VC” because we strive to unite the best of both worlds: Business Angels and Venture Capitalists. We try to be as hands-on as an Angel while having the financial “firepower” of VC-fund. In that sense, you may also call us a “Micro VC”.

In terms of stage we are often the first “institutional” investor coming in or, we even invest in the first seed round together with other angels.

How many deals are in your portfolio? What are some exciting prospects from that field?

We now have a portfolio of roughly 55 companies across 3 funds.

We are excited about every company that we are invested in but, by the nature of things, some are obviously a bit older and at a more mature stage which makes it easier to predict promising outcomes. Among the companies that have recently raised larger follow-on fundings are startups such as Delivery Hero, Algolia, docplanner, Shiftplanning/Humanity, brainly, Vend, Kreditech, Helpling or Westwing.

How many cold call presentations do you get? And do you respond to unsolicited pitch decks?

In total we see around 2,500 to 3.000 opportunities per year which includes all kind of different sources of deal flow. We try to send an answer to everyone who submits a serious funding request. In general, we follow the following principle: if you (as a founder or startup) spend time on trying to understand what we do and what we look for and subsequently submit your business plan because you think there is a fit, we will spend time on trying to understand what you are up to and send you our feedback in due time.

What’s the best way to be introduced to Point Nine?

The best way to get in touch is through another founder preferably from the Point Nine Family (i.e. our portfolio). This means an additional layer of “vetting” for us and makes it easier to filter considering that someone else that we know and trust is willing to put in a good word for you.

What advice would you offer an entrepreneur trying to raise capital?

Spend time on understanding the investment focus and approach of prospective investors and make sure whether there is a potential fit with the angel or fund in terms of stage, theme and investment size! Otherwise you might risk to burn a lot of relationships early on and you will waste your own, precious time.

What do you look for in an entrepreneur?

First and foremost an entrepreneur needs to be a good salesperson:

  1. He needs to know how to sell the product to customers.
  2. He needs to know how to “sell” the company as an attractive place to work to potential employees.
  3. He needs to know how to sell the company and its vision to potential investors.

Besides, persistence is an important character trait.

We also tend to prefer teams over single founders where the team members have a complimentary skill-set.

Do you co-invest with other angels?

Yes, we often invest together with angels or bring in other angel-investors alongside ourselves as part of the same round.

Berlin Startup Scene – hot or hype?

The hype in Berlin has definitely solidified over the last 2-3 years so that it has become a real movement and is not just a “trend” anymore. The startup scene is an integral part of the Berlin economy as the city never had any economic basis like e.g. Southern Germany with all the car manufacturers and their suppliers.

What are your thoughts on Crowdfunding as a source of equity?

For a startup, it’s a valid alternative to regular VC or Angel funding. It is highly regulated in Germany as well as in the rest of Europe which makes it hard to raise straight forward equity in a crowdfunding campaign. Also, we as Point Nine would probably not invest into a startup as a part of a crowdfunding campaign. Of course, that does not mean that we would not invest afterwards. The industry is still very immature and it has yet to be seen how the performance of crowd-funded startups will pan out.

Investing with AngelLab

I had the pleasure of meeting Maria Dramalioti-Taylor, Managing Partner AngelLab, the last time Angelsbootcamp was in London.  We recently sat down and discuss parenthood, female angels and investment philosophies.

Investing with AngelLab

You’ve worked for Andersen and Ernst & Young, been a CEO of a startup, launched Incite Ventures, a syndicate for women tech entrepreneurs, been a partner at x.Million Capital Ventures, and you are currently a managing partner at AngelLab – which you also founded, an Entrepreneur In Residence at INSEAD and Professor of Finance at HULT Business School which you said you do it “just for the fun of it!”. You are also on the board of Charities such as Reload Greece. What drives you?

The same thing that drives every working person on the planet: doing something useful with one’s time and the abilities that we have been given. I am fortunate to have a job that is also my hobby, something I would do in any case in my spare time. Not many people are as lucky as that.

What challenges did you face as a woman in business?

I never saw myself as a “woman in business”. I consider myself “a working person” with no specific gender classification. As such, I face the same challenges that most people do when they work and try to build their businesses and careers. If, at any point during my professional life, some people saw the gender before the person, then probably I was too busy working to notice it. If there were the occasional flippant gender-specific comment, I probably laughed and returned the … “favour” at the first available opportunity. Having a sharp tongue helped, I guess…

Why aren’t there more female angels?

For the same reason that there are not more working women or more female VCs or more female senior executives: women opt out at some point to cater, full-time, for their families. No matter what anyone says, there is always a risk associated with being a part-time mother, wife, housekeeper. When things go wrong, you always question whether, were you able to devote all your time to your work, you would have prevented “it”, whatever this “it” might be. By continuing to work, most women take a risk: so long as we do it being fully aware of the potential negative consequences (perceived or real ones), that’s fine. A partial “guilt complex” is part and parcel of the choices we make. One learns to deal with it.

You were the founder of Incito Ventures for FinanceSE, an angel syndicate for female-led tech startups. Do we need special funds for women owned startups?

No, we don’t. Capable women entrepreneurs will always find their way to capital. Such as Brynne Herbert of Moveguides, AngelLab’s first ever investment or Fiona Strens, CEO of Crowdvision and so many others. The aim of Incito was to create a “go to” place for investors who wish to invest in this specific talent pool. My belief is that generation X and the millennials are gender agnostic in their ambitions and this particular talent pool (female tech entrepreneurs) will become deeper over the next decade or so.

What advice would you offer a woman interested in becoming an Angel?

Learn from the best out there. Diversify the portfolio like mad. Take it seriously, even if you consider it a hobby. BTW, this is also the advice I would give to anyone – man or woman – who wants to become an angel.

Did you have a mentor?

I had many people who influenced my way of thinking. I always chose to work with fiercely intelligent people and independent thinkers with sharp judgments. I am usually the least intelligent and experienced in the room but I catch up quickly. There were two people who were pivotal in my development, both were from the PE and VC sectors, both managing funds in hundreds of millions. One is here in the UK and the other is in the US.

What is your investment philosophy?

I back talented people who show an acutely painful problem and build well-engineered products to solve it. It’s as simple as that. There is no substitute for talent. I like to go for the outliers which means mostly binary scenarios ( massive wins or capital loss) but I make sure I have colleagues who balance this view with more moderate attitudes. I seek to manage my deal flow universe to improve the ‘signal to noise’ ratio and I want to diversify the portfolio at the ideal level. Some people confuse “ high diversification” with “spray and pray”. It is not the same thing at all. I call my strategy “highly curated diversification”.

Your previous firm was investing across Europe and into Russia. What are the challenges of cross border investing?

This is not about cross-order risk. It is about country-specific risk. In addition to all the usual startup venture risks, one has to deal with country-specific risks in terms of legal structure, operations, cultures. The odds are stacked against you. The bet therefore needs to be significantly better than what you would find in your local market to make it worth-while taking the extra risk.

When investing, what do you look for in an entrepreneur?

Talent. Raw, deep, unquestionable technical talent. If I can find this together with humility and ability to converse in ‘human language’ and explain technical matters plainly, then I know I have found someone I want to back.

What do you do for fun?

The usual things that most working mothers do for … “fun”: tidying up our house, helping with homework, taking my son to rugby matches and Saturday Greek school (OK, my husband does most of the latter two but I can still claim responsibility for supervising the activity…). I also fence the foil and can’t wait until my son starts fencing so that we have proper bouts.

How Important is a Pitch Deck?

A few years ago, I joined Toastmasters. I joined because I honestly believe that 1) Public Speaking is one of the most compelling marketing tools in a entrepreneur’s bag of tricks and 2) Almost all of our public speaking could use a little work and outside guidance.  Don’t believe me? Set up you cam to capture your most profound thoughts and after 5 minutes play it back. I hate to say “I told you,” – oh, who am I kidding? – See, I  told you!

Your pitch is your one big chance to get that ever elusive “angel” to become interested in you next Uber like business that’s a guaranteed Unicorn. Are you really going to go it alone?

I was commiserating with a long time friend of mine, Troy Norcross, about sitting through yet another batch of bad pitches.  “You know we can help those startups? They should talk to us.” Yup, he’s got a startup and it specifically helps perfect your pitch – Startup Business Review. He also work with you to get in front of the right investors.

How important is a pitch deck?

It’s a great question – and a terrible question all at once. I think that one of the biggest issues that people face when pitching is that there isn’t just a single pitch deck that they need. There’s the pitch deck that you send when you can’t present the business yourself, the 20 minute stand up pitch deck, the 5 minute pitch deck, the pitch deck you use to pitch your business and the pitch deck you use to pitch your product.

How important is your pitch deck? How important is it for you to convince people to think and act differently?

What should you lead with?

Empathy and Curiosity. In the first slide you have to communicate to your audience that you have a shared view of the world – and that you might have something new to share with them.

Some pitch decks lead with explaining the problem. Some lead with describing the size of the opportunity. Some lead with their amazing team. The most important thing is that you lead with a message that your audience is going to immediately relate to and then want to learn more about.

What are the key messages that you need to convey?

This all depends on who you are pitching – but if we’re assuming that you’re pitch deck is for investors the most important message you can convey is that you are “investable”. The pitch deck needs to leave business angel the feeling that you genuinely understand your market, your customers pain, your solution and your teams ability to deliver.

Can you explain what “Go to Market” entails?

“Go To Market” – In earlier times Go To Market meant putting your products (eggs, spices, garments, etc.) into a cart and walking to the market. The market was where all the people would come and walk in and out and through the stalls looking at everyone’s goods. You would arrange your products to look as attractive as possible in the hopes of selling as much as you could.

Go To Market in the digital world is much the same, but instead of taking your cart to a centralized market, you have to come up with a strategy that allows you to reach those people who might want to buy your product or service and to get them to come to your website (your stall) and then make sure that your product presents in as attractive way as possible.

Put more simply – a go to market strategy describes how you are going to make sure that as many potential customers as possible come to you.

Another nuance of a good Go To Market strategy is that you want the “right” customers – not just “lots” of customers. You want to reach people who are looking for a solution to a problem that you solve – and who have the money and ability to pay for it.

What about the Revenue Hockey Stick?

Ah – the hockey stick. It’s that part of the graph that shows you growing from meager numbers of customers and revenue – and suddenly shooting to the stratosphere. The hockey stick has become a bad cliché. Most investors just let out a “sigh” when they see a hockey stick forecast.

If you’re going to put a hockey stick in your pitch deck, be ready. investors will grill you on all the assumptions that you have made to create the rapid growth.

Some US-based investors don’t even want to see the hockey stick – they know you have one in the deck. Some UK investors actually rate you as being “naïve” if you have a hockey stick – unless you can back it up.

The best time to put a hockey stick in your deck is when you’ve had the initial traction and you can show real data that you’ve crossed the bend in the hockey stick – when the graph looks more like a boomerang – with the potential  to become a hockey stick – now that’s interesting.

What should you avoid?

Here’s a list of things that I think everyone should avoid:

  • Never create a deck without answering each of these questions:
    • Who is my audience
    • How much time do I have to present / does my audience have to read?
    • After seeing my deck, what do I want my audience to think?
    • After seeing my deck, what do I want my audience to do?
    • At the end of the deck is there a clear, simple and reasonable call to action? (Call me for more info. Invest £500K for 20% today. etc.)
  • Too much text – and text that is so small you can’t read it. If you’re presenting the deck use the Guy Kawasaki idea of no font smaller than 30 point. If you’re not going to present – but only mailing the deck – no font smaller than 20 point.
  • Too many slides: Really you should aim for 10 – 20 slides. You can have a further 10 slides in the back of the deck to answer specific questions – but remember,  the first 10-15 slides need are a stand alone complete presentation.

What do investors really look at?

Pitching is selling – and your vision and your ability to lead a team to deliver that vision is what investors are looking at. You could have the best idea and team in the world – and if the investor doesn’t connect with you – it’s not going to happen.

Do I need an exit strategy?

The Exit Strategy is another one of those “almost a cliché” things. Most business plans say: “And then we’ll be bought out by Google, Facebook,Amazon or someone else.” – What an investor wants to know is not what is “your” exit strategy – but what is “their” exit strategy. When will the business be at a point where they can take their money back and what returns are you hoping to offer? Are you going to go public? Are you going for acquisition? Of is this a business that you want to run for the rest of your life? ( A lifestyle business )

How can you help?

Your pitch is a critical part of the success of your business. I can help you look not just at the pictures and text on your slides – but with the pitch itself. I do this by asking you questions and helping you to see your pitch from the viewpoint of the audience.

Right now, I’m offering a review of your pitch deck against 25 key points. After reviewing the deck, I’ll spend 30 minutes with you 1 on 1 sharing my ideas on where you’ve nailed it – and where you can improve.

After you’ve had a personal pitch review with me – you’ll look at your business differently, your audience differently – and your pitch differently.

Register at www.startupbusinessreview.co.uk for your pitch review today.

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