« Commandment #6: Explain Your New Idea by Analogy To, or Contrast With, Old Ideas | Main | Commandment #8: Know What You Don’t Know – and Admit It »

March 13, 2005

Commandment #7: Limit Yourself to the Baker's Dozen

Loyal readers who’ve slogged it out with me so far will know that, partly by “tradition”, and partly due to the Hard Stop (Commandment #2), entrepreneurs usually have about an hour to get their message across in the first meeting with a VC (subsequent meetings vary in length).

Loyal readers also will know that entrepreneurs have lots to do to prepare for that first meeting (Commandments #1 and #2) and make it productive (Commandments #3- #10 (#8, #9 and #10 aren’t posted (or written) yet)).

Now, more bad news: entrepreneurs have to do all this in 13 (or fewer) slides.

I know, I know…..sounds impossible, but do the math:  You have (roughly) an hour.  According to Commandment #2, you should use a few precious minutes to find out “who are all those people”.  Let’s say 5 minutes. That leaves 55 minutes, more or less. 13 slides = <5 minutes/slide.  Not much time.

Plus, you’ll get questions (in fact, 9 times out of 10, it’s a bad sign if you don’t).  This uses up even more of your precious air time (BTW, Commandment #10 (forthcoming) dishes on how to handle questions).

Now, in reality, actual mileage may vary. The “optimal” number of slides in your presentation may not be exactly 13, but the truth is that it can’t be much more than that or bad things happen: (1) you run out of time, (2) you look disorganized or (3) you end up handling the last few slides like one of those radio announcers at the end of a drug ad – speeding through 10 pages of fine print about possible side-effects in 3 seconds.  Hard to follow, right?

More constraints:  you don’t even really have all 13 slides to explain your business. In every first presentation to a VC, a few slides on stuff other than explaining the business are mandatory: (1) the team, (2) the competition (more on this in forthcoming Commandment #9) and (3) the financial projections. So, you really have about 10 slides to do your thing.

Remember, in the “religion” of getting VC financing, simplicity is a cardinal virtue. Keep this – as well as Commandment #3: Tease, Don’t Overwhelm – in mind.

All this said, we’ve done deals at Mayfield where, despite a lousy initial presentation (takes one to know one; I’m a lousy presenter myself), it was nevertheless clear that the entrepreneur had a great idea.  But, is it ever helpful to meet a startup team that has clearly, cleanly and crisply distilled a complicated message down to 13 slides (or fewer). 

Following Ten Commandments in only 13 slides is really hard.  If you can do it, however, you’ve helped yourself more than you probably know.

March 13, 2005 | Permalink


"But, is it ever helpful to meet a startup team that has clearly, cleanly and crisply distilled a complicated message down to 13 slides (or fewer)."

Making a presentation short is easy: Just leave out a lot. Having a "complicated message" that is "clearly, cleanly and crisply distilled" is also easy: Just give some 40,000 foot view.

Maybe we should teach advanced calculus this way:

"The implicit function theorem is just a local nonlinear generalization of a standard result in linear equations; the classical Lagrange multiplier necessary condition technique for equality constraints is a first application, and the eigenvalues of a symmetric positive definite matrix are a first application of Lagrange multipliers. There are many generalizations, e.g., to the Pontryagin principle of deterministic optimal control. The exercises show how to generalize to the Kuhn-Tucker conditions, with constraint qualifications but without Frechet differentiability, for inequality constraints and how minimizing has a concave dual where the primal constraint values are subgradients; the standard application is called 'Lagrangian relaxation' and is important in applications, e.g., in a company started by H. Everett, a famous student of J. Wheeler.

Test will be on Monday. Have a good weekend."

The main challenges of brief presentations on "complicated" subjects to a naive audience are making the ideas (1) understandable and (2) believable. Otherwise the presentation just sounds like perpetual motion.

Actually, a lot can be covered in one hour; Ph.D. oral exams can be an example; one secret is to have most of the details and supporting evidence already distributed on paper. Another approach is to cover any potentially difficult details one on one before the group meeting.

Posted by: Norm Waite | Mar 13, 2005 4:56:37 PM

I've done literally hundreds of presentations for all manner of applications from getting my ideas across to my work/school colleagues to trying to get project funding for my ideas and to get investors to churn some cash my way. Generally, I know within a couple of minutes weather the audience and individuals within are receptive or not to the idea. Lots of people can get their noses put out of joint in the future by the ramifications of a project getting the go-ahead. VC's as Denny noted in a previous post, do sometimes have conflicting projects that they wish to succeed for whatever reasons. Obviously they are not going to be 100% receptive to the competition trying to come in and downgrade the success of their previous investment.

For instance, the money pool is only so big in every organization/team, if you reduce it then it usually means less for others. This is a common math view but I have noticed that it is the most common road-block to getting the ok on your idea.

On Allen's points about keeping the slide presso down to the lucky number 13 (unlucky for some) is the bane of all good presentations. As most people cant be bothered reading every slide it is, in my limited view, better to let a picture do the talking and just naturally describe it in your own 'voice' as Allen mentioned in #6.

Depending on the idea you can easily have double the 13 slides if you link them to your pitch ideas systematically and clearly. By this is mean that if you are pitching a start-up for selling audio cd's to someone who has never heard about them then it is not an issue to have 10 slides in ten minutes with a picture breakdown of the CD media. This would be pointless if the audience knew about the subject topic already, so skip it. I always go into every 'important' presso with at least 3 times the slides I need. For every question that goes off the track I first try to relate it to a previous slide or hold off till I get up to the relevant section but sometimes the room will be 'turned' into another thought bubble and the extra slides pay off. This was you cant always answer everything but you can prove to be a very thorough individual which most investors like a lot. Currently we have 2 investors who were convinced in a very short timeframe in one singular meeting. We need more pre-launch but that is our problem. My point is I guess - be confident in your understanding of the material, work with your partners to field different areas and be uber prepared.

I'm interested to see what is produced in Allen's # 8 - 10.

Posted by: Wayne Connolly | Mar 13, 2005 5:44:14 PM

I must say Norm has an unusual way of getting his point across although still mildly entertaining, has he ever worked at NASA?

I also took a look at your not so subtle advertisement for Pluck, it seems like nothing more than an agregator of information that gets cached and distributed to allowable lists. I will limit my coments to only saying Microsoft purchased a similar concept about 3 yrs ago so perhaps the market has matured in that time.

I am somewhat concerned that you started this thread with the title - "Ten commandments..." without apparently knowing what these 10 distinctions are. Is this the same logic and expertise you also apply to the proposed ventures who come knocking.

I hope the last three segmentss have more value as I would'nt be prepared to condense a marketable idea into 13 slides based on what your site has provided so far.

Posted by: Anton-Jay | Mar 15, 2005 1:20:53 AM

Allen, this might be one of the better, less insulting commandments. And for you enterpreneurs out there, let me just say this is really, really, really hard to do. As an entrepreneur, you love your idea and probably spend 18 hours a day thinking about all of its nuances. That said, this is not the time or the place to share all of those details.

Couple of things have been helpful to me when preparing these types of presentations:

(1) Show it to 5 people you respect outside of the company and get their feedback (Do they understand it? Were they bored? Were there any parts where their eyes glazed over?)

The best, most experienced presenters I know build detailed presentations that are inevitably too long. The difference between them and you is that they find an objective editor before they present.

(2) Know your audience (Has this firm invested in this market before? Are they retarded or have some clue? Can I see a fundraising presentation from someone who got money from them in the past?)

(3) Decide on the one -- and only one -- thing that you most want someone to take away from your presentation. This is the Hollywood line that Allen speaks of in another commandment. Use 'em! Examples are "Napster for podcasting" or "Google for Open Source" (although the company that has been using that line in their recent fundraising efforts is retarded becaues that line, and their business, doesn't make any sense...but I digress).

These presentation suggestions aren't just for VC fundraising either. They apply to sales presentations of all kinds and, sadly, may mean the difference between success and failure.

Think about it this way: if your company can't make a clear, crisp presentation explaining your idea to VCs with short attention spans, how the hell is it going to sell software to the mid-level IT person at Ford Motors?

Posted by: Vanilla Chin | Mar 16, 2005 2:15:27 PM

I agree with most of the previous comments but I have found that success or failure is usually determined prior to the presentation, assuming that the product/service is economically feasible with sufficient marketing appeal.

Researching information on each VC attendee prior to the presentation is critical. Granted, the core presentation remains the same, but the "packaging" should adapt to the personalities of the attendees.
Rehearsals with objective third parties are also mandatory.

I usually give a twenty-minute intense, succinct "pitch" for the foundation of the presentation. I promise plenty of opportunities for questions shortly. Any real element of success requires a "buy-in" within this twenty minute period.

The next twenty minutes are utilized to expand and "cement" the strategic action plan with additional, crisp audio-visual aids and well constructed written information. The presentation must be as effective as necessary to convey at least a basic understanding for every VC attendee. Only exceptional preparation will allow this to occur.

I have a very attractive "exit" package for each attendee which is visual, will reinforce the presentation, will provide support for each salient point, and will cover any potentially difficult areas.

Finally, perception is usually reality. The presentation environment should be flawless, including but not limited to, set-up, appearances, presentation equipment, room arrangement, meeting organization, procedures and protocols. Little things do matter.

Posted by: Lowell Nicholas | Dec 19, 2006 6:55:07 PM


Posted by: sohbet | May 7, 2007 2:40:55 AM

thank you

Posted by: sohbet | May 7, 2007 2:42:03 AM

Post a comment