Join my presentation in SF

I will be running a number of workshops for biotech startups in the QB3 Accelerator of the University of California in San Francisco. The plenary presentation is open to the general public. I will be talking about pitching early stage business ideas to investors.

The event takes place on Wednesday October 8, at 17:00, at Mission Hall, room 1400, UCSF Mission Bay (550 16th St., San Francisco). Admission is free.

Details of the event are here, registration can be done here.

A PPM is not a sales presentation

The PPM (private placement memorandum) is a big book that investment bankers prepare when they want to sell a company. It contains all the facts about the company, the legal fine print, disclaimers, and warnings about risks.

Often, this PPM gets used without modification as the sales presentation (investor presentation) of the company. Unfortunately, your presentation design efforts starts with the PPM, rather than ends with it.

Why is a PPM a poor sales document? It contains too many pages, it has a logical rather than a story structure, it is not targeted at a specific type of investor, it is not very visual.

What to do? Finish the PPM, put it aside, and start designing a sales/investor presentation from start, for a specific type of investor. Tell why she should buy your company, and eliminate all facts and detail that are not essential for the first meeting.

The full PPM is the fact base that is needed for the 2nd, 3rd and subsequent meetings, not the first one.

Test pitching

As I prepare to start pitching my own startup (a “PowerPoint killer”) to potential investors I am going through the same process many of my own clients go through. Blinded by my own idea, I am surprised what questions, facial expressions, and other feedback I get when talking to other people. After every discussion I learn more about how to pitch my company.

Every idea has the text book pitch story. It is only by talking to people you find out which elements of the story are obvious/taken for granted (i.e., no need to spend time on them), and which ones are controversial and/or hard to understand.

Print posters

Sometimes I get questions from clients who want to print a physical copy of a slide in a very large format to use in conference boots. That usually does not work. PowerPoint slides have a low resolution to manage file size. Even recreating the slide with a super high resolution version of the image will not work. The solution: recreate the slide in Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop....

Summary does not equal repeat

A summary slide in a presentation is not a slide that repeats your entire story. Repetition is boring, and unless you are preparing your audience for an exam, there is no need to force them to remember the precise content of your presentation. What you want them to do is take some action (invite you for the second meeting for example). The best punch you can give at the end is to repeat a key visual from somewhere inside the deck and keep it to that. The audience will connect to it and think of it in the context of all the other things you said before.

3 types of people

There are 3 types of people:
  1. People who can spot that a chart is beautiful or ugly, and can design a beautiful chart in a snap
  2. People who can spot that a chart is beautiful or ugly, but cannot figure out what it is that makes it that way
  3. People who have no sense of design
Most of us are in category 2. How to get to number 1? Save screen shots of designs you liked somewhere on your hard drive. Try to mimic techniques the designer used, and see what effect it has on your own chart.

[Commercial break: I am targeting my upcoming presentation design app at segment number 2]

Decision making

Big budgeting projects in large corporates usually end with a short 30 minute meeting with a very senior executive who needs to approve 3 months of work. Of course you have sent the 300 pager the night before. There are a few things that you can do to make the meeting run smoothly.
  1. Top down data, start with an overview, the overall budget, then drill down into components. Make sure the components add back up to the total. You have been working on the figures for 3 months, the CFO might see them for the first time and she needs to be people to create a mental picture of the entire data ocean quickly.
  2. Focus on the important, controversial issues where you need guidance. These are not always the biggest numbers. 
  3. Make trade-offs you made very transparent, lots of pro-s and con-s charts that shows that you have thought about things and that you made the sensible decision.

What not to put in a pitch deck

A post with 8 things you should not include in a pitch deck on TNW. My comments:
  1. No detail, 20-30 slides. It depends. If your slides are really light and visual, you can go through a lot of them in 20 minutes. maybe more than 30. Depending on your situation, (some) detail can be good. Really high level pitches lack meat.
  2. No contact information. No reason to overdo it, but an email or phone number on the last page does not harm I think. I do not like it when I cannot find a phone number at the bottom of an email.
  3. Remove a point they can object to. Maybe, but if it is a major point, it has to go in. You cannot change reality... If this is a deal breaker, then this investor is not the right one for you.
  4. Fund allocation. Yes, opening up criticism over your budget might not be smart. Still, an investor wants to know roughly what is going to happen with the funds, and why you need this money, now, and not in 6 months from now
  5. Guestimates. Agree. If you have to make guestimates, make intelligent ones, and make it transparent that it is a guestimate
  6. Unrealistic success prediction. Agree
  7. Saying there is no competition, absolutely agree. Even if there is no direct competitor, there are other solutions, categories, that people are using to solve a particular problem
  8. The "The End" slide, yes, you can take that one off, and replace it with a repeat of a strong visual earlier in the presentation. This is a nice backdrop against which to hold the Q&A discussion. The last slide is the slide that probably sits longest on the projector.

Converting PDF to PowerPoint

Until now, I did not notice this feature in the latest Adobe Acrobat XI: converting PDF files to PowerPoint. I tried it on a PDF file that had the look and feel of a typical PowerPoint presentation (boxes with big text) and the results were surprisingly good. Here and there, a slide needed a small manual correction (semitransparents, etc.), but hey, it worked. As expected, data charts do not come out in vanilla Excel format.

Now, I guess that if you want to convert a file that does not have a typical PowerPoint look and feel, your results will be less good, but that is not the point, is it?

How would you use it? I think very few would use the tool to be able to present a PDF file in a PowerPoint environment. The CMD-L option in Acrobat gives a beautiful full screen view of your PDF slides. But the tool could be handy to strip out images quickly from a PDF file.

Adobe Acrobat XI is a premium product, the free Adobe Acrobat Reader will not pull off this trick.

Reference points

In my twenties I saw many examples around me that created presentation habits I had to unlearn. Professors at university putting a copy of a syllabus page on an overhead projector. Politicians waffling on TV. Senior student organisation leaders giving very poor speeches. Pompous Microsoft Word memos being printed out and distributed in every employee's mailbox. Boring dinner speeches that everyone sat through politely and quietly.

The world is changing and younger generations have videos of TED talks, Steve Jobs product launches, and other presentations to set new reference points. Still it is worth making sure that you are not following bad habits of other people around you, because this is the way you are supposed to give a presentation.

Boring can be good

Many entrepreneurs are great presenters who can energetically sell their idea/vision to a group of investors. That was meeting 1, and you are invited to meeting 2 with questions about the practicalities of your business, how you are going to approach the market, how are you going to charge for it, where are you going to invest the money you are raising in.

Coming back with a slide deck that sells the vision (again) will not score you any (additional) points. There is also no reason to invest in (a professional presentation designer who designs a) a spectacular-looking slide deck that shows your budget. Investors know you can sell, they want to know that you can run a business as well.

In fact, boring slides can be good in meeting #2. Here are the options, I have thought about it, and I pick option number 3. Nobody knows whether option 3 is the right one (things change quickly in a startup), but at least they see someone with a cool, calm head who makes sensible judgement calls. She can be boring when she has to be.

Hiding is not possible

Begin cryptic post...

A potential client discovered that what they are trying to offer in the market is really something that is needed, but nobody wants to admit that they need it. (If we admit we do this, our share price will go down by 20%) You cannot talk about this directly. As a result, the sales pitch diluted and dumbed down. The result: no sales pitch.

It is hard to hide a story, in order to tell a story. A possible solution: define the position of your company as something broader, and give 4 example applications of your technology. One of which is the one no one admits they need.

End of cryptic post...

P.S. The activities of this client are perfectly legal.