Two Great Moments in Pitches

You decide, after reading, which of these was a really good moment and which was really bad.

Moment one: the annoying interruption

It struck me at the time as an annoying interruption, ill timed, and off point. It was just a few minutes into the pitch. She, the CEO of a fledgling pharmaceutical company with a lot of intellectual property, research, management experience, was confident, rolling through slides, and building momentum. She was interrupted when she clicked to the financial summary, a bar chart showing three years of annual sales, gross margin, and net income.

“Those numbers are different from what you show in your plan,” he said. He caught her in mid sentence.

“Of course not,” she answered, without missing a beat. She responded as quickly and naturally as if the interruption had been part of a script. “That version of the plan was submitted to your deadline, three weeks ago. We’re not static ever. Things change. This chart is from our latest projections.”

And on she went.

Moment two: we didn’t do it

Honestly, I was really liking the people, the market, the secret sauce, and just about all of that pitch until they got to the financials. As they summarized their numbers, they were projecting enormous growth in sales with relatively tiny marketing expenses and huge profits, like 50 percent of sales before taxes.

There were multiple objections. Nobody was buying those numbers. The three founders, who had been excellent to that point, looked at each other, and the floor, for just a few seconds, obviously at a loss, until the leader took the initiative.

“We don’t like those numbers either,” he said, “they were done for us by an outside financial consultant. We’re looking for somebody to come in and revise them.”

You be the judge

Which of these two answers do you like? It is a matter of opinion, of course. There are no right or wrong answers, no set formula. As a point of fact, both of these companies got financed, although not both by the group that saw the pitch I saw; and neither of them is far enough along to say they have or haven’t made it.

I will say that most of the investors in the first room really liked that first answer, the response to the interruption. That presenter made an extremely good impression, and an important point about business planning too. She had no problem defending the difference between the plan that had been submitted and the summary in the slide.

Most of the investors in the other room really didn’t like the buck passing in the second answer. Nobody wants to see a presenter distance him or herself from the numbers. Let them be wrong, if you have to, but don’t just make dumb excuses blaming somebody else. You are presenting the numbers to investors, so you better own them.

The irony is most investors I deal with would agree that unrealistic numbers are the easiest thing to fix. Given a good team and a good market, differentiation and defensibility, and growth potential, unrealistic numbers are not fatal.

But disowning your own presentation doesn’t fly. You need a team. If you have to throw somebody under a bus, do it before you finalize the slides and deliver the pitch.


All opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of Gust.

Tim Berry , Founder, Palo Alto Software
October 11th, 2011