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Pitching for Yes: How to Prepare for an Investor Meeting

If you're an entrepreneur preparing for your first investor meeting or about to begin fundraising, you may find pitching to investors a daunting task. So, what steps should you take to prepare for this critical stage in moving your venture towards a sustainable future?

asian female pitching in front of a crowd

Whether you’re an entrepreneur who’s landed your first investor meeting or you’re about to start fundraising, pitching to investors can indeed be a significant challenge. So, how should you prepare for this important milestone towards turning your venture’s future into a sustainable reality? 

Tailoring the Pitch 

Pitches come in a variety of forms but generally aim to speak to your venture’s value proposition. Depending on the venue, you will need to tailor your pitch to the time and resources provided. Harvard Business School distinguishes between three types of pitches: the one-minute elevator pitch, the short-form pitch, and the long-form pitch. In each, your pitch should introduce you and your team, your perceived problem and intended solution, the market opportunity, your competitive advantage, and your intended business model, including your financial ask and go-to-market plan. 

However, it’s important to understand the needs of potential investors beforehand to improve the chances of a successful meeting. Questions to consider include what industries or venture stage investors generally support and whether your personality or venture would align with their interests, given a previous track record of investments. Not all investors or competitions are a good match for your venture and recognizing as much early on can save time on both sides. “In years past, I used to apply to as many competitions as possible,” reflects Kaci Xie (YC ’24), Cimu Founder and 2023 TigerLaunch First Place Winner. “But I've realized over the years that some competitions will not give you the time of day to understand the company you’re building, so there's no point in wasting time trying to make them listen. That last point, I feel, is more relevant to startups like mine, which don’t necessarily fall into some neat, flashy category that most investors or judges are interested in.”

While questions of fit can sometimes be exclusionary for entrepreneurs, finding the right investor is far from a passive approach. Beyond selecting appropriate pitch venues, entrepreneurs and innovators can use the investor meeting as a chance to determine whether an investor can help further long-term goals such as sustainability or a diversified workforce. Jorge Torres, Entrepreneurship Fellow at Tsai CITY, venture capital investor, and instructor of Venture Fluent, sees investor pitches as the starting point for a crucial dialogue between partners that could continue long after the initial meeting. He notes, “If an entrepreneur has the choice of different investors, I think it's important to consider how much there is an alignment between their values and approach to building a startup and the investor’s values and approach to supporting an entrepreneur. These two examples—working style and values—are important to consider because it takes a long time for early-stage companies to mature. When you're pitching to a venture capitalist, you're proposing a partnership that will last longer than a lot of marriages, so you better know who you're partnering with before you sign on the dotted line.”


Making an Impression

Regardless of experience level or industry, the most effective entrepreneurs and innovators are able to convey a compelling story about themselves and their venture through their pitch presentation. Investors will chiefly want to know whether your venture can get big fast and, specifically, how your product, market, and team will contribute towards that goal. Entrepreneurs should focus their pitches on their product innovation and market intervention, emphasizing whether the product will disrupt the status quo or even create a new customer category. 

Investors are also interested in the story behind the entrepreneur as an indicator of the venture’s resilience. They need to trust that entrepreneurs are fully committed to their vision, which can be difficult for students to demonstrate while juggling academics alongside a new venture. Yet students can prove their commitment in a number of ways, such as relaying relevant professional experience or intending to focus on the venture full-time after graduation—in either case, the point is to affirm your credibility as an entrepreneur so that investors feel assured in their investment. “I think the storytelling piece of this for a young entrepreneur should center on what I call the distance traveled,” Jorge advises. “What has their journey been like from inception of the idea to this point in time where they're sitting across from a potential investor and pitching them? What failures have they encountered and what have they learned? What crucible moments have they been through that have forged them and their ability to carry out the things that they want to do?” 

With the right story, a young entrepreneur can create a lasting impression and gain the investor’s trust in their skills as a founder. And the fastest way to do so is by cultivating the sense that the venture would do well on its own regardless of outside involvement—a phenomenon which  Jorge terms inevitability. “The best thing you can convey in a pitch is a sense of inevitability, or the forward momentum that gives you the sense that these are people who know how to execute and keep pushing the business forward,” he describes. “Entrepreneurs who are really good at conveying a sense of inevitability can do it in the first meeting. They are able to communicate that, whether or not the investors partner with this entrepreneur, this business is going to be built and it's going to get really big. That, in my view, is the most compelling message an entrepreneur can leave an investor with after a meeting.”

Though creating momentum through a single pitch can be challenging, entrepreneurs can refine their storytelling impact with practice. "For me, pitches are like performances," says Kaci, reflecting on her years of pitching at competitions. "Years ago, while considering music school, I attended a masterclass by a music audition coach. One major takeaway was learning to start playing without overthinking. Skilled performers begin so instinctively that there's no room for doubt to seep in. The same principle applies when pitching to a large audience."

Key Takeaways

By following these guidelines, entrepreneurs should be able to make a strong impression and increase their chances of securing investment:

  • Do practice your pitch until it becomes natural 
  • Do keep the conversation on track during the meeting
  • Do focus on the product innovation, market disruption, and venture/project team
  • Don’t “info dump” – your pitch should tell a concise story about your journey and vision

And if an investor decides not to invest, that’s OK too—it can take multiple rounds of pitching before an entrepreneur receives a “yes.” The last piece of advice from Jorge: “Whether it's an explicit or tacit no, when you get that rejection, move on. Don’t spend a whole lot of time engaging with investors who are not going to get excited about your company. There's just too much to do to build your company and too many other investors out there to justify trying to convince an investor who didn’t invest.”

Want to see some pitches in action? 

Register for Startup Yale 2024, Yale's biggest entrepreneurship event. The event will feature various activities, such as pitch competitions with over $160,000 in cash prizes, workshops, networking sessions, and panel discussions.



Startup Yale 2024

Yale's biggest entrepreneurship awards — and so much more.