David Hornik, the August Capital partner and a prominent VC blogger, is not quite a colleague; but, on the matter of persuading entrepreneurs to wean themselves off flowery language and superlatives in their investor materials, we are kindred spirits. David’s post on the idea of stripping adjectives from VC pitches is well worth reading. I am not entirely sure how well that idea in practice would turn out (kind of like reciting the Gettysburg Address without using prepositions) but I am in full support of the spirit behind that suggestion.
Every decent treatise on the subject of pitchcraft will make some mention of ‘knowing your audience.’ Well said. Venture investors are tired of being told in pitch meetings of the promise of the internet and how it has changed our day-to-day lives. We get it. Move on. A topic less well-trodden, that Dave raises in his post, is that of taking the Joe Friday approach and stripping your presentations of superfluous adjectives and other superlatives that serve to muddle the overall message and just sticking to the facts….ma’am.
Granted, this is easier said than done. I understand that some entrepreneurs will feel that VCs are asking them for competing things. On the one hand, we want to see real passion and excitement from the entrepreneurial team about the opportunity and the road ahead. That passion needs to come through in the pitch and in the investor collateral. How, then, can there not be a lot of ambitious, adjective-heavy language in the presentations? On the other hand, we are saying we want presentations (or reports to the board of directors) stripped bare of flowery, superfluous language. Are there competing interest to juggle here? Not really. Basically, the idea is to be rigorous and ruthless in editing the materials you are sending to prospective (or current) investors. The passion should still come through.
Michelangelo was once asked how he carved a horse from a massive chunk of marble. He famously replied that he chipped away anything that did not look like a horse. Do likewise. Before hitting that Send button, print out all your documents, break out the red Sharpie, and really have at it. As best you can, try to look at things with fresh eyes and cut away any descriptive language, figures of speech, hyperbole, or other things that might detract from what you are trying to communicate.
This does not mean dumb down your materials. Simply limit yourself to details that support your conclusions without just providing your conclusions. As Dave Hornik states properly in his post, don’t tell me you just hired a “fantastic” sales guy, tell me why he’s fantastic. What has he done? Has he blown out the quarterly number the last three years running at his last position? Great. But let me be the one who determines that he is, indeed, “fantastic.” Depending on my experience hiring and evaluating sales people, we may have different hurdles for what constitutes “fantastic.” The same goes for insipid assessments like “collossal growth”,”exponential user traffic” and the like. These phrases communicate nothing. Let the facts speak for themselves. With any luck, the facts will support such hyperbole and the investors will come to their own frothy conclusions. It will then seem like it was ‘their’ discovery that things are so “spectacular” at the company. I think that is another one of those well-worn car salesman maxims, by the way: let the customer convince himself that it was his idea to buy the car. Now, that’s a neat trick.