In this follow-up article on the intricacies of pitching on Zoom, Eric Bahn draws on his own experience as both a founder and a VC to explain the benefits of pitching online and provides a detailed breakdown of how to design your fundraising process, how to pitch on screen, and how to effectively follow up.
Keep reading for tips on how to fine-tune your fundraising process or visit the Acceleration for All page to see how ViewSonic and Hustle Fund are teaming up to provide new opportunities for entrepreneurs.
Eric Bahn is a co-founder and General Partner at Hustle Fund. Prior to Hustle Fund, Eric was an angel investor and partner at 500 Startups. Before becoming a professional investor, he spent over a decade as an operator (Facebook, Instagram) and entrepreneur (Beat The GMAT). Eric is a native of Detroit, Michigan and attended Stanford University (BA, MA), which launched his career into software and startups. Eric is happily married with two kids, loves minivans, and helps lead the Hustle Fund team from his garage in the Bay Area.
If you haven’t read part 1 in which I cover everything from the microphone you should use to why you may want to introduce your dog when you start your pitch, start here.
Once your setup is dialed, you’re ready to pitch.
How to Pitch on Zoom
To start a Zoom meeting and get through any initial awkwardness, say something like, ‘Hi, thank you so much for your time. Just out of curiosity, where are you based right now?’ It’s a good way to get things going, and quickly after I follow up with, ‘Well here’s my agenda for today. I have a couple of objectives — I want to introduce myself and walk through the company. But I also would love to hear about your fund and your process for how you make decisions’. Did you read that last part? I think it’s really smart to cover who they are because it helps the meeting feel balanced. I’m not just pitching you…you’re pitching me and you’ve got to explain to me how you make your decisions and why it’s a good process. Why should I consider you for funding? You’ve got to have some of that balance.
This may alarm you, but in the next part of this article, I’m going to explain why you should not use your pitch deck at all on a Zoom call.
When I pitch and fundraise, I never use a deck. Bear with me here. So.. let’s go back in time to that exercise where I talked about closing your eyes… You’re on Sand Hill Road, you’re pitching in a room and the problem is that it’s really hard to look at what’s on the screen and look at every face in the room. They could be seated far apart if you’re in a full partner meeting. Also, it’s really difficult to keep track of all of this while pitching in-person.
This is where Zoom is a superpower. Everyone’s faces are appearing in a nice little Brady Bunch grid. Being able to track everyone’s faces and expressions is a superpower that you have got to lean into.
When I’m pitching, I probably have 10 different versions of my pitch. We at Hustle Fund really care about inclusivity, for example, so if I see people starting to nod more vigorously around our values such as inclusivity, I dive into more kinds of stories about how we support that belief.
In other cases, we’re talking about our unique funding model. We have a unique model where we start with a small check and help startups with growth projects. Then in a subset of cases, we concentrate a much larger check into teams where we’ve earned mutual trust with each other and want to build a longer-term partnership. In those cases, when we talk about the technical aspects of our model and I see people nodding or smiling, I lean into that. If I see people start to yawn in a Zoom setting, it’s a good time to crack a joke or tell a related but weird story to jolt people back into attention.
It’s much, much, much harder to execute this in a room full of people than it is on Zoom. So I think a really engaging pitch that you do without slides, especially your first impression pitch, is important and allows you to pay attention to the faces on the screen and see who’s bored and see who’s interested. You can see where you can put a bit more detail into some parts of your story.
As an aside here, I think a first pitch should be one-on-one, ideally the CEO/founder or co-founder of the business. If there’s a follow-up meeting that involves a lot more partners and so forth, that’s the time to bring in your co-founders because everyone’s going to want to meet the team. But only one person should take the lead and do all the pitching in the initial Zoom call.
How to End Your Pitch and Follow Up
Next in the line of key elements: have a template email follow-up ready to go before you begin each pitch. So go through your pitch, end the meeting, and within one minute of concluding the meeting, you hit send on that template saying, ‘Great to spend time with you this afternoon. I’m glad that we could talk like regular people one-on-one like this but I wanted to share the context of the deck. Here’s a link to the deck, here’s a link to more information… Let’s talk very soon, or let’s schedule a meeting very soon.’
This leads me to the next part of this article: scheduling your next meeting on the Zoom call. We have talked about this in previous Hustle Fund articles and videos, but one of the biggest screw-ups, and I’ve made this screw-up many times myself, is leaving the end of the pitch vague.
So you go through your pitch and it goes great, or it goes poorly, and then the meeting kind of ends. It’s like OK thanks so much…and that’s it, and you’ll never hear from that VC ever again. You’ve got to reserve time, like five minutes at the very end of your pitch, share your screen, and bring up your calendar and say, ‘alright let’s talk about concrete next steps.’ Ask them how their investment decisions get made after today. How long after this pitch should we expect a response… and then while we’ve got a little bit of time, why don’t we schedule our next meeting, put a placeholder in… ‘How does Tuesday next week work?’ Schedule it within the Zoom meeting and avoid the vague ending.
It’s going to feel a little bit awkward but I think it helps you drive the process further. And you shouldn’t rely on the VC to drive the process – they have all the time in the world. The action that I always include in my own pitches at the end is to say, ‘Thanks for the pitch. I’m going to follow up with you in two days and get some early thoughts.’ In this case, it’s going to be you taking the action – you’re not going to wait for the VC.
So include that at the very end of your verbal pitch on Zoom, but also include it in your email that you send within one minute of concluding your call. I know this is super tactical, but I strongly believe that it’s a kind of ‘alpha dog’ thing and it demonstrates that you are on top of things. It leaves a very strong impression that you’re someone who’s driven, an execution kind of person. When I see that and I’ll be honest with you, maybe less than 5% of founders I talk to have this kind of approach, I am impressed.
How to Design Your Fundraising Process
The last part of this article is about designing your fundraising process. This is an expansive topic that’s bigger than just Zoom pitching. But it’s something that I love to discuss with our founders. I strongly believe that fundraising is a two-week process. We coach all of our founders to condense fundraising into two weeks.
What do these two weeks look like? Well, it’s actually two and a half weeks.
The Thursday before the two-week period begins is where you’re going to dedicate all of your time to fundraising. You’re going to talk to other founders, your friends, your existing investors, anyone who’s willing to give you warm introductions and try to compile a list of let’s say, 100 VCs, Angels, and any other investors that you want to meet.
Put all these people into a spreadsheet and figure out who would be willing to give you a warm introduction to each one of these people. On that same Thursday, you’re going to ask every single one of your referrers to make introductions for you all at the same time. OK, so that’s Thursday. Everyone dropping 500 referrals for you for introductions all at the same time on Thursday.
The next thing you do is you’re going to see a bunch of people getting back to you on Friday. You’re going to see a VC respond, “Oh hi, I’m Eric from Hustle Fund, and I’d love to talk to you. Want to schedule some time?” But you’re going to ghost them. You’re not going to do a damn thing. You’re going to be radio silent on Saturday and Sunday. I’ll explain.
The reason you don’t respond immediately is that you want to be in control of the process of whom you’re speaking to and when. In your first week you’re going to start talks with a bunch of Tier 2 VCs and Angels, those that you’re pretty cool with but they’re not super duper ideal dream VCs.
You’re going to practice with these Tier 2 VCs Monday through Wednesday. That’s when you get your reps in and you get your best pitches honed. Then you’re going to move to your Tier 1 funds, those that are your dream investors, for Wednesday through Friday. End of week one.
You’re going to leave this weekend open. Do not schedule brunch, or hike with your husband or boyfriend or your dog. Leave that weekend open because if you do find that at the end of week one, your pitches are going well, someone’s going to invite you to take a long hike with them or do some sort of other kind of Zoom or coffee session with them over the weekend. You’ve got to leave that time free so when week two comes around, you can wrap up any remaining Tier 1 and Tier 2 discussions that you have as early as possible in the second week.
In week two, on Wednesday through Friday you get into your Tier 3, Tier 4… the individuals that you don’t really care about. Hopefully by that Friday you’ve given your Tier 1 and 2 people enough time to consider your company and have answered their questions. Then terms start to land all at the same time. That’s when the auction begins! You’ve got a lot of options here so you’re going to start negotiating higher valuations, wanting these certain conditions removed, etc.
That is sort of the arc that I think we should all be striving for, and the beautiful thing about Zoom? Before Zoom, in pre-pandemic times, you could maybe do five meetings a day. That’s a lot of Ubering plus a plane ticket to Sand Hill Road. On Zoom you can fit 15 of these pitches in one day if you want. I wouldn’t recommend that many, maybe 5 to 10, but achieving 50 or 100 meetings over the course of two weeks is a lot easier now. This is where leaning into Zoom has become super amazing for a founder.
By the way, location matters increasingly less. A lot of VCs are biased towards investing in companies in the region, in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, etc, but what Covid has taught us is that businesses that are ‘Silicon Valley’ are more of a mindset versus a location.
If you’re near the Australian outback and want to run 100 meetings from your garage, it’s going to look like you’re my neighbor here in the Bay area. Moving away from location importance is one of the aspects of Zoom pitching that gets us excited at Hustle Fund.
A couple more things I’d like to mention about the fundraising process. Let’s talk some more about lining up your investors.
How can you figure out who can give you a warm introduction?
Do your research on NFX Signal and AngelList just to see if there are folks in your industry that you care about and then expand it a bit further. Look for anyone who can Angel invest into your company at the early stage. This is not just someone who’s an accredited investor making $200k a year in salary or more and has a net worth of more than a million dollars. These are small business owners, doctors, dentists, and lawyers. It’s OK to include those folks; they’re not a negative signal. They actually really do expand the pie.
Once I’ve identified who these people are, I like to go on LinkedIn and see if I know someone who is a secondary connection. I reach out to my friend and ask if they can make a warm introduction for me.
One thing you really need to have ready here is a forwardable blurb. When you ask someone for a referral, don’t make them do any work. Don’t say, ‘Yo Mike, I really want to talk to Bill Gates, can you make an introduction?’ and he’s like I need more context like what do you want to talk about, who are you, what are you pitching… you’re making Mike do your work and he’s already super busy doing other stuff. Don’t make him do anything.
What you need to do is create a nice pithy forwardable blurb that your connection can pass along in under two seconds. The only thing that Mike has to write is an ‘Interested?’ and that’s it.
Let’s dissect the elements of a good forwardable blurb.
The best approach is to write one to two sentences about your company that show the most compelling details, like traction, customer base, or pipeline. Including something about the team is a really good flex to say, “Hey! Look how much experience we have in this space! We’re really relevant!” If you have a teaser deck which is basically a summary deck with five slides or so of what you do, include those and have your contact information at the end.
What if you have a demo? Should you show it on a Zoom call?
As you’re trying to avoid distracting visuals on Zoom, I think any demos have to be short and take 5 minutes, maybe 10 minutes max for something that is a little more complicated such as an enterprise platform. If there’s a way you can get the VC to participate in the demo it’s even better! That way they aren’t passively watching or getting bored.
Create a dummy account in advance they can quickly log into on the Zoom call and then ask them to share their screen so they can do the demo with you. This is the very best kind of demo. It is like kinesthetic tactile learning: you’re forcing the VC to actually do and listen at the same time.
Always start off with just a one-on-one video chat and then say, ‘Hey I’m Sarah, I’m the founder of this company and I just wanted to give you an overview of what we’re doing but if we have some time I want to show you a quick demo too’. Offer the demo in the middle of the presentation but rely mostly on the one-on-one video chat.
Another important point in the process is what to do about running over time.
The moment that you become one minute late to the next meeting, you’re going to be two minutes late to the next meeting… three minutes late… 10 minutes late and at some point it just makes you look really bad. You have to end on time. The way I handle a call that is going to overrun is to say, ‘Look I want to respect your time. I see that we have two minutes left and this is such a great conversation, why don’t we schedule our next call now?’ and just move into the scheduling phase. Build the momentum and end the call at a high point. It’ll leave a great impression.
I also advise that you subtly drop that that you have other meetings to go to. It’s a little bit of a dance and it’s a little bit of a flex. But in general, as a VC, I don’t want founders to feel like they’re in a supplicant position where they feel they are begging for cash. Don’t bend to other people’s will. That’s the wrong relationship. Don’t be in a subservient relationship with your VC.
The relationship with your VC should be as equal as possible, we at Hustle Fund feel very strongly about this. If you feel, for example, that there may be a risk of bias, or you have experienced it, then alternatives to Zoom video are perfectly fine. I think asking for a phone call as an alternative to Zoom is a great way to get around this.
You can set this up by saying, ‘I know you’ve got a ton of Zoom calls, and maybe we can go for a walk instead and we can just talk and walk while on the phone and I can share what we’re working on’. I love that – that’s so smart and the reason why is you get your body moving and the blood flowing. It makes it easier to move to the attention-focused neocortex part of our brains. I can concentrate on the ideas properly. And it also just sounds really fun to take a 30-minute walk and talk to someone on the phone versus sitting at my garage desk and hearing the pitch. So I definitely think phone calls are the best option outside of Zoom.
Finally, if you are a pre-seed stage company, or just have an idea, we would love to hear about it. You can go to Hustle Fund VC and click the pitch button and tell us what you are working on.
Our team reviews every single company that comes through that door and whether you’re a warm referral to our fund or someone that read this article that we haven’t met yet, everyone is asked to go through this form to have an equal footing from the start. This is a very important part of our process to make sure that we limit our bias as well.
What are you waiting for? Pitch us!
If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in Eric’s previous contributions where he shares his advice on how to raise capital via newsletter updates and how to create the perfect headlines for your pitch deck. You can also visit the ViewSonic workplace solutions page to explore productivity-driven displays designed to improve the way you work.