Christian: The pitch, the performance that can either make or break the future of your product and is different for every company and every CEO. It's the thing you need to fundraise to share your vision and to secure buy-in. For many, the pitch ends up guiding the development of the product.
Anna: On today's episode, we're talking to Chelsea Linder. She's the director of the gBETA Indy program, a seven week accelerator program for early stage companies.
Christian: Wait. An accelerator? I think a lot of people get confused when they hear that term. I mean, I don't. I totally know what it is. This one's for you, Anna.
Chelsea Linder: An accelerator is a program that helps start-up businesses grow faster and really evaluate and improve their business. The best way that you can explain it is instead of just working in your business and doing your day-to-day selling or product development, is working on your business.
Anna: Yeah, that's helpful. It was great to hear her perspective on the pitch and what happens in gBETA's seven week program. But for our listeners out there, here's a quick rundown.
Chelsea Linder: The first six weeks of the program all look pretty much the same, which is where myself and the generator team meet one-on-one with each company twice a week for an hour.
Christian: When does the pitch actually come into play? Because that's what we're talking about today, isn't it?
Anna: Just hold on.
Chelsea Linder: The last couple weeks of the program, we focus on helping the companies with their pitches and their pitch decks. Then the last week of the program is all dedicated to pitching. They'll do between 25 and 35 pitches.
Christian: They do 25 to 35 pitches in one week. Naturally over the course of the accelerator, the pitches will change, evolve, and ultimately hopefully become more polished. One thing Chelsea shared was how important it is to practice the pitch.
Chelsea Linder: Coming from a dance background, I have always understood the value of practicing and practicing and practicing, and doing something exactly the same way every time. I think a lot of founders of companies don't really think of it that way. So, they'll do their pitch a different way every single time. Then it can come off as not being clean or that the founders are stumbling on their words.
Anna: She also honed in on how important the details are for the presenters. They only have five minutes, and those five minutes have to be pitch perfect. See what I did there?
Christian: Oh, yeah the movie. Nice.
Anna: Yeah, it's a movie.
Christian: So clever.
Chelsea Linder: We practice it. We practice standing up. We practice where you put your eyeballs. We practice what direction you point your hands in, what direction you point your feet in, when should you click the slide clicker, the transitions. Every little detail. That is polish. That's what makes the biggest difference at the end of the day.
Christian: While the pitch is different for every company, there are certain things that have to be included no matter what. After listening to thousands of pitches and talking to investors every day, Chelsea and her team have been able to identify the five things every pitch needs.
Anna: And that's where we'll start.
Chelsea Linder: We start out with what is the company and what's the problem and then the solution. We call that twisting the knife, is talking about the problem and making people really feel the pain. When you're talking to investors, most of the time they won't have any knowledge about your industry or the pain point.
Christian: The script for a great pitch deck is starting with the company problem and solution, twisting the knife, how the product works, then the team, then the market size-
Chelsea Linder: And it could go in any order.
Christian: And revenue model attraction.
Chelsea Linder: We want it to flow well and be a good story, so however that all fits in. Then the last thing we do is the ask. If it's a fundraising pitch to an investor, obviously there's a fundraising ask. If it's a pitch that's not for a fundraising company, then ask for new customers or introductions or whatever they're looking for. Always ask for something.
Anna: Have you seen where pitches can be different? So, a highly technical company or a company that's more service oriented?
Chelsea Linder: Yeah. Every pitch is different. I think it's more about, like I was saying, the story and the framing than it is about necessarily the content of the pitch. It really just depends on the company and again what's gonna make you look the best to an investor. We talk a lot about how as a start-up company pitching to investors you're putting yourself on a conveyor belt of presents that are going past an investor, and investors, it's a really fast conveyor belt. They don't have a lot of time to make a decision about a company. So, you have to basically do everything you can to make yourself the prettiest package on the conveyor belt and not give them a reason to say no.
Christian: What, in your experience, have you seen looks good to investors for companies that are at the stage of gBETA?
Chelsea Linder: Definitely that early traction and growth. We're always pushing for our companies to be around 20% growth month-over-month. So even if you're just one customer and then two customers the next month and then four customers. Any type of growth that you could show is really important.
Christian: What's the biggest myth that you find yourself having to correct amongst founders that you see in the program?
I think that a lot of people think it's really easy to raise money. It is really not easy. It is a full time job.
Christian: Do you teach that in the program? Do you prepare people for what they're about to really embark on? Because it must be new to them.
Chelsea Linder: Yeah. Pretty much the standard is that we tell companies it's gonna take at least six months to raise a round. So, start working on it six months before you really need the money. Another thing is a lot of people think that they'll get a verbal yes or some kind of confirmation, soft circling, from an investor that they will be investing. They think that money is gonna be in their bank account in three days. It takes months. Even if the investor said, "Yes, I'm willing to give you $500K," don't actually count on that money until it is in your bank account because so many things can happen in between the verbal yes and the actual check. Even you can have signed term sheets and everything ready to go, and you still might never get that money in your bank account. It happens.
Christian: It seems there's the investment side of raising that's a lot of hard work, but then there's the actual product side. Are they also working on iterating on the product itself while they're in the program, as well as the pitch?
Chelsea Linder: That's really where that first few weeks of the program comes into play. We focus a lot on the pitch right before the investors form, obviously because they're getting ready to pitch. But the more of the beginning part of the program, we're really focused on their product, customer acquisition, and product development. I can do everything from helping them plan out and do customer interviews to actually just looking through their website or their product and giving them my feedback on it or helping them with just getting confidence in their MVP. It just depends on the company.
Chelsea Linder: A lot of the time, it really is a question of just did you talk to other people before you built this. A lot of founders think they have a great idea and they just want to build it right away, and it really needs to be that crawl, walk, run. Do sketches. Talk to people about your idea. Get feedback. Build one feature. Don't build 10 features. Ask people who it's working for them, what they wish it had. Don't make assumptions. I just think design thinking and not concept is still pretty foreign to a lot of people, unless they come from the tech world. So, really teaching founders how to take that design thinking methodology.
Anna: How do you do that, because you have this idea. You're in the accelerator program. Now you start ideating. What would you recommend to founders?
Chelsea Linder: So, we'll set goals a lot of the time about, okay I want you to go and talk to 10 potential customers this week, and bring me back their feedback. It's all customer driven.
Christian: What is it driven by? Does everybody have active customers when they come to the program?
Chelsea Linder: Customer driven as in even potential customers. So, we'll make introductions to people who could be potential customers in our network or we do a lot of LinkedIn in-mailing. You can go on LinkedIn and search for people who have the title at the type of company that you would want to sell to one day, and just send them a random cold LinkedIn email that says, "I'm building this thing and I would love to get your feedback on it," and just see if they'll talk to you for half an hour.
Christian: What we hear a lot is, "Once I get the money, then I can do ABCD," all these different things. How do you guide them through that when it's the cart before the horse? You need the money to execute.
Chelsea Linder: Yeah. Like I was saying, it's all about just thinking critically about each thing, making a list, and thinking through the order based on how loud are my customers shouting about this problem to, again, is it the wheels on the car, or is it just something that people want? Does it fit my core mission and value as a company? A lot of the times, I use the technical phrase scope creep. A lot of the times people might be asking you for something that really has nothing to do with the core mission and value of your product. Maybe it's just a side thing that's not actually solving that original pain point of what you started this company to solve. So, those things, while they might be great, are they really what you need to be focused on at this point in time?
Christian: When we see start-ups, they have great ideas and then all they can see is the TAM, the total addressable market. They're like, "Well I could do this for everybody under every circumstance," which I think is good for founders. You want to have an idea where it has that applicability, but then when you're actually at the stage, if you actually back up to say, well that's 20 years out where you're at today. How do you help get people to think small when their very nature is to think big?
Chelsea Linder: It's all about making a plan and having a strategy and a clear pathway to get from today to whatever that grand vision is. I think people are a lot more comfortable with not hitting that amazing total market if they understand how they're going to get there, but a lot of people don't even really ever think about that. So that's where working on your business and working on those road maps and strategic plans to get yourself there is really important.
Anna: What are some of the biggest things that people don't understand about product?
Chelsea Linder: I think that people, non-technical people, don't understand the time that goes into developing a product or a feature. People think it's just magic. Just tell somebody to build it and it magically is built. It takes a long time, just like fundraising. It takes forever to build most things. People run out of patience with developers, or think that they're not working that hard or whatever else. I think that if you're not a technical co-founder, you really have to make sure that you trust the people that you hire to build your product and that you maintain consistent communication with them because it will not go as planned. It will take longer. It will have bugs. You will have to fix them. It will test your patience in every way and that's just how building stuff works. So, I think that a lot of non-technical founders just don't really understand that whole process.
Anna: So, whoever's building your code, whoever's coding for you, so you said keep in contact with them. There's gonna be issues. It's gonna take longer than you think. How do you pick that partner?
Chelsea Linder: Do more due diligence on your developers than you ever think you need to. I've heard of so many companies that have just hired the wrong one or got ripped off by developers or have ended up in legal battles. It's just so hard. It's really hard to pick the right one, but it's worth it to take the time and make sure you're really finding the right person and not just hiring somebody, especially if you're gonna be paying them hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Anna: Anything else about product that just really blows people's minds?
Chelsea Linder: I don't know if it blows people's minds, but I do tell a lot of founders a lot about the need to be gathering customer feedback all along the way. Again, I just think it's just something that non-technical people or non-designers just don't really know about. It's more of just an education thing.
Anna: Okay, so this is gonna be the last question I'm gonna ask you. What does better product mean to you?
Chelsea Linder: I think better product means it is truly solving a problem for your customer. It needs to be building something that ... the word worthwhile comes to mind, but that seems really ambiguous. Really just solving a big problem in the world. I think focusing on achieving that and actually solving the problem is the number one thing that a good or better product needs to do.
Christian: That was Chelsea Linder. You can check out gBETAstartups.com and pick your city to find out more information about programs in your area. For those in Indy, Chelsea also said she holds office hours, which you can book directly on the site at gBETAstartups.com/indy.
Anna: This is the part of the show where we debrief about our conversation with Chelsea. Joining us today from Innovate Map is Brittany Young. She works a lot with start-ups. She works on pitch decks. Listen in as we dive into the discussion, taking what we learned from Chelsea and really adding in Brittany's perspective.
Christian: I would like to say this section is pitchin'.
Anna: We had a conversation with Chelsea Linder. She's a director of the Indy gBETA accelerator. One of the things we talked about with her was how to stand out to investors. Brittany, I know you have a lot of experience doing that working with start-ups, working with entrepreneurs, helping them get their pitch right. So, I'd love to get your thoughts about this. She mentioned investors see so many pitches, it's like a conveyor belt. As a start-up, you have to be the prettiest package on the conveyor belt. In your experience, how do entrepreneurs stand out?
Brittany Young: I think that they stand out with clarity on what they do. I read that investors see up to 5000 presentations in a year, so I totally get that analogy that Chelsea gave. The visuals that you choose to use, so a lot of entrepreneurs when they're coming to us for their early stage pitch deck, they may not have a brand, but we really think through what's the problem they're solving, what's their solution, what is their product, and we get inspired and create some sort of brand MVP, we say.
Anna: Tell me what do you mean a brand MVP?
Brittany Young: Minimally viable product is how you talk to MVP in the product world. We do that for brands. We don't take them through the whole brand exercise and create a logo and a color palette, but we will do a start of that in a way because it's so important to build credibility early on and make your product or idea or your vision really inspire and come to life. The way to do that is with words and visuals. So, if the visuals aren't there, a lot of times words can just fall flat or they don't inspire or invoke emotion. So we really try and make sure that you look credible, polished, inspiring, and really speak to the emotion that you want them to feel using colors, pictures, icons or visuals. We do all of that early on.
Anna: How do you think an MVP brand, to use your words, is different from a full fledged brand? What should you be considering?
Brittany Young: Goodness. Yeah, I think your personality as a business in a way, or even as a founder. What do you believe in? What are you passionate about? What inspired this idea? We just start hearing them talk and we start hearing their passion. We start getting visuals in our mind or even fonts or colors. We work with our designers and we start thinking through, how do we want this deck to represent the founder or the business or their idea? Yeah, we really just listen to them talk. So, in the early stages we're really letting them represent their idea and also giving us background on the audience because the audience in this case is the investor, whereas a full fledged brand you're thinking about the end user or how you want to go to market, and your full brand. So in this case, you're really thinking about the audience, which is the investor in this case.
Christian: How do you handle other outward customer-facing things like positioning? How do you position a product and a pitch deck when the audience is an investor versus a potential buyer?
Brittany Young: We walk them through a similar process. It's just more of a condensed process. So, touching on the problem that they're solving and then how they're solving it. Those are the key questions we always ask first. Then that helps us to really start ... and then the benefits. So the problem you're solving, how you solve it, and then what are the benefits of solving that problem. So all of that feeds into a positioning statement and who you are as a company. Sometimes it doesn't change a lot.
Anna: Do you differ that by different investors? How do you do that?
Brittany Young: Yeah, just knowing how much do they know. Are they typically investing in B2C and you're a B2B solution? Are they typically investing in this industry and you're something new that they're somewhat interested in, but they really have no idea?
Christian: Do you ever find ... When Chelsea was talking, she was talking about there's this seven week program. She talked about a lot of the issues with the companies, the five companies that come through, is really just polishing the act of presenting, not just the presentation itself. Does it change? Do you get feedback when they're going out and pitching?
Brittany Young: Yeah, sometimes. It kind of depends on where they are in the phase of pitching. Sometimes we're creating decks that validate an idea. That's all it is. We have the bare minimum slides where you're talking about the problem, the solution, and the competition, who else is doing this, why are you uniquely structured to solve it in the best way, and then the team. Whereas all the way on the spectrum, like validating the idea all the way to validating your plan, which is a little bit, actually a lot more involved where you actually start including more details about traction. You get really into the weeds of financial ... not really into the weeds. I mean, there's always an independent section for that, but you'll have a financial slide.
Brittany Young: So it kind of depends on where they are in the process of pitching or what the deck is intended to do because we work with clients that literally are either validating an idea and we know it's gonna be just a short deck, but it really needs to be inspiring, and paint a vision of what this could be, all the way to, like I said, validating an actual plan and to potentially get acquired for instance. We see it evolve in that way. There's still a difference too between a business plan and then a pitch deck. Pitch decks always err on the side of more inspirational and painting the vision of what this could be, but we need your help to help us do this, whereas a business plan is we've thought of all these things. Trust us. We're the right team. This is our plan to get there.
Brittany Young: So, there's always gonna be a vision plan, or a business plan, where you can really get into the details, but a pitch deck should err on the side of really inspiring and painting a vision. I like the quote, "A pitch deck should paint a picture of the world your product will create." Help them get into the mind of how the world's better with you.
Anna: Thanks so much for listening to the show this week. If you haven't yet, be sure to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. Until then, visit InnovateMap.com/podcast and subscribe to learn how you can take your product to the next level. As always, we're curious. What does better product mean to you? Hit us up on Twitter @InnovateMap or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christian: I'm Christian.
Anna: And I'm Anna. And you've been listening to Better Product.