Jim Duffy: The essential task of making a good impression

'Time is money in this game,' says Jim Duffy. Picture: Ian Howarth
'Time is money in this game,' says Jim Duffy. Picture: Ian Howarth
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I recently attended a business event where new businesses were pitching for funding. In essence this means an entrepreneur presents to a room full of investors or to one specific investment vehicle (like, for example, an angel syndicate).

Pitching new ideas to investors is certainly not new. A pitch, if you have not experienced one, usually consists of some pretty straightforward information that a potential investor is looking for. It will include the problem that the entrepreneur believes they can solve or disrupt.

Investors make human and emotional decisions on all they see and hear

Jim Duffy

It will provide the solution and some detail on exactly how they are going to do this. Added to this, there will be some commentary on the team, progress to date and eventually an ask of the investor. Creating and crafting a pitch takes time, effort, focus and a willingness to put oneself “out there”. There is a lexicon that has grown up around pitching, and certain phrases that are expected, but to be fair are not always relevant. Buzzwords and phrases like: metrics, milestones, barriers to entry, business model, route to market, secret sauce… and a whole dictionary of others.

The process of an entrepreneur putting themselves out there in the shop window to attract resources and cash is not to be taken lightly. The old adage “time is money” is spot on in this game. The pitching entrepreneur is using up a great deal of their time capacity, as, crucially, are the investors. They will have seen at least a prepared one–pager on the business, perhaps have Googled the pitcher or the business, or carried out some initial due diligence on the idea, proposition or market segment. So, in effect both parties are somewhat contracted into creating some form of successful communication and dialogue that can go further. It all sounds great and straightforward. But alas, our entrepreneurs are still making rookie mistakes.

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Before writing this piece, I wanted to do my own diligence to confirm, or “validate” (to pick a phrase from that dictionary!), my experiences and those businesses I’ve worked with at Entrepreneurial Spark. I spoke to a few investors, including a good friend of mine who runs a big funding organisation for start-ups and early-stage ventures. From these chats, it seems my experience and what I am seeing now is correct and also cuts right across the UK. Investors are turning up, looking forward to watching a well-rehearsed, slick and informative pitch. It works, they’re being impressed – the entrepreneurial dating system is working well. But, and here’s the rub, the next stage is where it is all falling down. And it made me think about how this applies to so many situations in business. Yes, it’s the drinks in the bar later that really let one see what one is getting into business with.

On so many occasions in the business context, if you do not get this bit right, it can result in a “no deal”. One very clever angel network has a drinks reception after the pitching, so the angels and the entrepreneurs can chat and get to know each other more informally.

Unfortunately, many forget that the pitch has not ended. The assessment of who you are, what it will be like to work with you and how you work with others is still being scrutinised. In my area of expertise, this is where so many entrepreneurs let themselves down and kill off any chance they had of securing funding. They let their guard down – it seems absolutely crazy but it’s a sad fact.

My ask to so many of you out there, whether it’s starting up or bringing in new business development at an SME or corporate: be careful not to kill off all your hard work in the bar. As humans, we’re conditioned to work with who we like. The clever people are still making their mind up on you and if you want to create the right impression then treat this après-pitch session as the second half to seal the deal. Investors make human and emotional decisions on all they see and hear. Give them an excuse to like and respect you… and maybe we can have even more business deals over the line.

• Agitator and disruptor Jim Duffy is head of #GoDo at Entrepreneurial Spark

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