Pitch Clinic: Your Team Slide Sucks.

When it comes to your team slide in your pitch, there are usually two lines of thoughts:

  1. First tell me who you are and why I should listen to you
  2. First show me the problem set and what’s hard about solving that problem. Once I understand what you want to achieve, show me how your team is the best team for executing your vision.

There are usually three parts to the team:

  1. Your co-founders and executives (the “team”),
  2. your investors, and
  3. your board and advisors.

The Team Slide

Just remember that we might not have worked together yet. I don’t know you well enough, and depending on how we got introduced I might have limited color and context on your achievements and professional qualities. Here are a few things I would avoid:

  • This is not a beauty contest. Your picture and name and title alone don’t tell me anything (though a picture and name might help refresh my really bad memory).  Unless you are a well-known entity in your field, or a well-known entrepreneur with a fabulous track record, your name and CEO title alone will not say much.
  • Logos ≠ Achievement. “5 years at Facebook” or three logos of Cisco, HP, and Juniper, are not enough.  Five years ago, in December 2012, Facebook had about 4,600 employees. There are also quite a few people who worked for Cisco, HP, or Juniper in their past. I’ve always wondered how many people were “lead officers” in the unit 8200, they must have a huge turnover and attrition rate over there, or maybe everyone was a “lead officer”(at some venture firms everyone is a “partner”)
  • Employment ≠ Experience. “10 year work experience” or “combined team experience of 150 years” also does not qualify: maybe your experience was really bad. Or maybe you have learned nothing from that experience.
  • Products ≠ Relevance. Dropping big product names does not help either: “worked on Microsoft Office” does not tell me whether you were blowing the coffee cold or were leading a team of 400 people, and what your actual activities and achievements were.

Instead, take the opportunity to highlight your accomplishments that are relevant for this startup and that I can reference. What are the three things that I should remember about your team? Don’t worry if your previous startup died or was only a mediocre exit — hey, at least you exited –, but outcomes usually depend on many factors. Maybe you build an awesome event streaming platform that could handle 1 billion events per second, but the company failed because of some hiring mistakes in sales and marketing.

You also don’t have to show all of your team, but rather key executives. Your team should show great execution potential for the hard problems you are tackling. Your team should cover all your key resources, key activities, your value proposition, and your key partnerships (hello Business Model Canvas).

The Advisor Slide

While your team is covering what’s hard, your advisor slide should cover what’s difficult.  Your team might have a weak track record for building customer success teams, or you never ran a board meeting before. Your advisors should be able to help and mentor you and your team in these areas.  I always like slides that spell out key areas where advisors are helping, beyond a name and face and a title.

I will make reference calls and maybe listen into a call with an advisor. It will be really clear really fast whether your advisor is just a figurehead to attach yourself to someone else’s achievement, of if there is a true mentor and advisory relationship.

The Investor Slide

Your investor is more than a partnership or limited liability company. It’s a person. I’d like to know which GP is leading the investment, and how they will help you. Just like the advisor slide, investors should help with something that’s difficult, not hard: If a general partner is better suited to fill a key executive position, then, well, she should be your key executive instead of your current team member.

I get it: if your investors are Sequoia, Benchmark, and Greylock, someone presumably really smart with a very long track record and a lot of institutional knowledge behind her did some really hard thinking and vetting. That’s a good sign. But (A) this is still venture capital, and not a municipality bond — some startups fail! –, and (B) you are not backed by a LLC but by people, and it’s good to know who the general partner is who is backing you, and what her area of expertise and help is.

Disclaimer

Ask ten VCs and you will get twenty opinions. As this is my blog, you probably realized that this is my opinion. Others might see it differently. That’s fine. Regardless of how you come out on the team slide topic, tell an authentic story, something that you feel comfortable with. If you are confident that an unorthodox storytelling style is your thing, then so be it, go ahead, rock it!

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