An investor's take on making a lasting first impression
Here's all you need to know to have a high-quality first meeting with a VCSanjay Swamy
I meet new entrepreneurs every day. Unfortunately, most meetings are terrible — poorly structured, poorly managed, and often do disservice to the brilliance of the startup. Quite often, I find myself having to look for a diamond in the rough, when it really should be the entrepreneur who should be doing a great job articulating their labour of love.
Let’s start with the GOAL of the first meeting with a VC — this in itself is where things go wrong as often, expectations are incorrect.
The goal of the first meeting is simple — to do just about enough to get the second meeting quickly! So, what does one need to do to make the first meeting effective? Here are a few tips that will hopefully help entrepreneurs have an effective first meeting — even if it’s only 20–30 minutes long.
- Start your meeting ON time. Arrive 15 minutes early, and ask the office admin to help set up the presentation/WiFi/Demo etc.
- Be tech-ready. In today’s day and age, it’s best to be ready to project through ChromeCast. Don’t make statements like “I’ve never used ChromeCast” and expect to pitch an AI startup!
- Figure out how to project your mobile demo — I used to do it over 10 years ago on Nokia phones, and it was “wow” then — now, it’s just “ugh” when you don’t do it!
- Do learn to control the meeting. Set expectations on how you plan to use the time. Remember — VCs see this meeting as a proxy for how you will lead a team and customers/partners. A VC pitch is a sales meeting.
- Basic rules of presentation flow (true for a VC meeting, or a customer sales meeting and most other meetings too):
5.1 Start with questions — get to know your audience. Ask VCs why they are different from others. Ask VCs if they’re familiar with this space, and what they like and don’t like about it. Try and understand who is your friend in the room, and who is the one you need to convince.
5.2 Do basic things right.
- Tell a story about your background — don’t ramble, but a crisp story helps.
- Talk about the rest of the team’s background.
- We like to know your motivations and your prior experience with each other, how and why you came together.
- We want to know your motivation for doing this — not just what you are doing — do incorporate that into your discussions.
- On some days, we are more chatty than on others — be ready for a conversation, a discussion, a debate — and enjoy it, don’t get defensive.
5.3 Dive into your key topic — tell a logical story — show your excitement and passion for what you are doing, it’s contagious.
- If you have a live demo, show a KISS demo first that illustrates something very fundamental that you solve
- Finish your presentation in 20 minutes. Leave plenty of time for discussions. Do not take 50 minutes for presentation; in the first meeting, nobody needs the details, just the highlights.
- Take notes, and summarise key takeaways before you leave the room. Then, send an email with this summary by EOD — not the next day, the SAME day! If there is any data or additional information requested, please mention it and send an ETA for when you can furnish the information — and don’t miss the expectations you set.
- At some point, stop pitching. This is typically when you have got the VC so excited that they keep asking “can we do this and that, etc”. At that point, you need to ask questions — ask how they can help. Have they worked with similar companies or opportunities before? Examples? Effectively, now it’s your turn to be the buyer, and the VC’s turn to explain/justify why they are the right partner for you. If the VC is excited about you, they will follow-up — there is no need to keep playing new cards once someone is convinced. Keep the positive surprises for later. In other words, Do NOT sell beyond the close
- Never BLUFF — it has a weird way of biting you in the butt, it’s not funny how people get caught bluffing!
Very few VCs are concerned about FOMO, and unlike what people sometimes like to believe, very few VCs succumb to deal pressure or can be hustled into giving you better terms.
Sure, if you genuinely have a timeline you are working toward, let them know, but never try to bluff your way to a funding round or commercials — it rarely happens! The scars and reputation risks to you as a founder are far higher.
Cover all the key points:
● What is the problem that you’re solving?
● Who is the customer? The beneficiary?
● How big is the problem?
● Why are you the best suited to address this?
● Why are you passionate about addressing the problem?
● Why is your solution 10x better than the state-of-the-art?
● How will you distribute the solution?
● How you will monetise your solution?
● What is the stage you’re at?
● Who else is doing this or could do this?
● Why do you think you will win?
● What will it take to get to the next stage?
● What will it take to get to 10x from that point on?
This may sound like a LONG list, but it is all the important points to articulate in a short presentation and when you are clear in your flow, it can happen in under 10 minutes.
Remember that the goal of the first meeting is not to convince them to fund you then and there —
the goal of the first meeting with a VC firm is only for them to immediately send an email or WhatsApp message to their partners saying: “Just met this amazing entrepreneur and company doing XYZ — I’d like one of you to meet them soon, this could be hot!”
Many of these are common sense — but I’ve rarely met an entrepreneur who does this well — and as an entrepreneur-turned-VC, I hope these tips will be useful.
The fact of the matter is, you only get one chance to make a first impression — do it right!
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)