Black millennials are among the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs, and every day we have new ideas that have the potential to disrupt the world. Unfortunately, for some of us, these game-changing ideas never develop into profitable, scalable businesses.
There is a huge gap between having a great idea and being successful, and your pitch is the main thing that could either get your idea off the ground or bury it. Knowing how to pitch yourself and your company isn’t something that comes natural to most people – it’s honestly an art, or really a science to it.
After spending years building startups from the ground up and now teaching hundreds of founders how to do the same, Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon is one that has mastered the art of pitching.
Mandela launched her first tech startup up Demo Lesson back in 2011 with literally a dollar and a dream. After building her company and eventually raising money from venture capitalists, Mandela moved on to work for some of the leading companies in the startup world, Startup Weekend (acquired by Techstars) and Kapor Capital.
After leaving Kapor Capital, Mandela launched her next startup, Founder Gym. Founder Gym is an online program that trains underrepresented founders on how to raise capital to scale their tech startups. Since launching Founder Gym in 2018, Mandela and her team have trained 250 underrepresented founders, and their alumni have already raised over $35 million since graduating from the Founder Gym Cohort.
Going from startup launch to being backed by investors isn’t easy. “I tell founders all the time, it’s going to take you longer than you think it is to make you first dollar from your business. It’s going to take even longer than you think to make your first hundred, your first thousand dollars,” Mandela shared with me.
As a founder, you have to be able to successfully pitch in order to make your first dollar, and get the attention from investors. Here Mandela shared her top tips centered around pitching, and here are the takeaways you should bookmark.
Your first test will be pitching people to join your team.
“What I realize that one of my competitive advantages is that I’m really good at people, understanding human psychology, and what people want.
When I built my first company, I had zero money. First, as a founder you need to understand what are peoples motivation. You figure this out by asking them. Ask them questions like why they do what they do, what are their interests, why do they want to work for you, where do they want to be in 5 years. With those type of questions, you’ll quickly understand their motivation. Do they just care about making money, do they care about making an impact, do they care about having the autonomy, or is having that flexibility important. Figure out what matters to them.
As a founder, you can’t assume that everyone is in it for the money because a lot of people actually aren’t – a lot of people are starving for fulfillment. Take time to get to know them, take time to truly understand them, and then present an opportunity to them that aligns with what they want.
Personally, I try to fit my puzzle piece with theirs. I understand some things about my company’s mission that may appeal to them, or there may be something about my open role that’s interesting to them. No matter what, I massage my pitch to them, and show them how my company and I can help give them what they want.”
Keep it short. Keep it simple.
“Often founders make the mistake of having a pitch or a pitch deck that’s way too long. Most founders don’t really understand the day in the life of an investor. Most investors get pitched 24/7.
As a founder, you have to be mindful that every single word, every single image that you put in your deck must matter. It can’t just be fluff because guess what, the investor isn’t really reading the whole thing. They open up your deck and skim it. It’s important that you have very few words, you have your deck in bullet points, and maybe you have a few images, and just keep it pushing. What I see where most founders go wrong is that they basically take a Ph.D. dissertation and put it on slides, and then it becomes way too much.
Part of what we teach at Founder Gym is how to understand the culture of venture capital that a lot of founders have no clue about. People don’t understand that VCs don’t want a business plan; they want an executive summary and a pitch deck. It’s so much about the culture of the startup world that most founders don’t understand and they get judged by it. It’s not that these founders are not getting invested in because they are not smart or capable. Sometimes it’s because they don’t know the etiquette and the norm, and in the end look like outsiders.
What happens is that these investors judge these founders as not knowing better and doing their research ahead of time, so they automatically get pushed to the bottom of the pile. It’s the little things that I find these founders make the biggest mistakes on, and it impacts their business.”
You never know how much time you will have, so be strategic.
“Written, verbal, public, and interpersonal communication are all important skills to have as a founder. You have to know how to tell a 10-second, 30-second, 60-second, and even 2-minute pitch.
In the short pitches, like a 15-second pitch, you have to be able to shine in a very short amount of time. Keep in mind, to an investor, it is all about money. In your 15-second pitch, you need to tell them how you are going to make them money, that’s it.
For example, if I was pitching to an investor and only had 15 seconds I would pitch Founder Gym and say, “Founders pay us $2000 to learn how to raise venture capital. If you invest in my company I can make you a million dollars by the end of this year.”
Notice I don’t talk about what’s in it for me, the founder, I talked about what’s in it for them. What investors care about is THE MONEY at the end of the day. Don’t go in, wasting your 15 seconds on the extra; tell them what you do and how you are going to make money. Those are the two most important things.”
To learn more gems from Mandela, be sure to follow her on Twitter @MandelaSH.