Common pitfalls in IPO presentations

I was asked to mention common pitfalls in IPO presentations the other day. Here are some of my thoughts in random order

  • Using an internal strategy deck as the basis for your presentation, rather than starting from scratch. Internal presentations are targeted at insiders, IPO presentations are meant for people who do not suffer from the Curse of Knowledge.
  • Talking management speak, full of buzzwords. Institutional investors are sifting through investor pitches and data all day long, they are trained to cut out the noise. If you provide a lot of noise and padding, they automatically think there is no real substance to talk about.
  • Over-structuring, repeating, repeating again. In a short investor pitch tell a story, do not try to get investors to remember key facts by drilling it in their heads.
  • A generic investment thesis. Very high-level bullet points that could apply to just about any company: growth, profitability, etc. Diluting the core of what is special about your company with many, many other positives that are valid, but not that important. Like in marketing: too many benefits, no benefits.
  • Avoiding the elephant in the room. institutional investors probably are pretty well informed about your company, and the key questions they have (often shared with journalists and bloggers) are pretty clear. Your presentation should address those, maybe not explicitly (here are our weaknesses), but implicitly. These questions are the only thing that people are worried about.
  • Avoid the long-term growth options. There are legal restrictions to what extent management can provide business forecasts in an IPO filing, but that does not mean that you cannot educate investors on how you can think about valuing your business. Give a framework on what value components could be there for the long-term.
  • Focus only on the company, not on trends in broader society. Sometimes the key driver behind the success of a company is a fundamental shift on how people are operating, how things are changing in the world. Your IPO is an opportunity for an investor to invest in that trend. If that is the main driver, discuss it.
  • Confusing financial data. A 30 minute pitch is not enough time to go over the financial data in full detail. Still, there is no reason why you should confuse things instead. Give a good overall picture of the components of your company. Show how the revenue model is working. Show how the cost structure works. 
  • Forget the front line. Management talks about a company in terms of top line revenue, overall market share, but the real action is in the front lines. Give customer case examples, they are often a much more powerful illustration of the attractiveness of a business than top line figures.
  • Recording your presentation in front of a camera, without an audience. Unless you are a professional TV host, people find it difficult to look natural in front of a camera. Invite a small audience when you are video-ing your tape. If that is not possible, maybe tape some images of people on some chairs in the studio/conference room so you can imagine talking to the people who are listening/watching you later.

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