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How should I prepare for a presentation to a venture capitalist?

Answered by: Paul Maeder

You can use our contact information to reach Highland Capital Partners via phone or email, but you are always better off getting to us through a mutual business contact. It should be pretty easy for you to find someone we have in common.

When you present to Highland it is important to recognize what you are not selling. You are not selling your product, technology or assets. What you are selling is your vision, your stock and the opportunity for us to join you in a business partnership. To accomplish this you need to demonstrate not how great your product is, but how great your team is, and how well it's suited to the opportunity you are attacking. In short, your job is to offer a convincing story about who you are, what you have accomplished so far, and what you plan to do.

The objective of this first meeting is to get a second meeting, and to drive the initiation of serious due diligence. It is expected that you will be promotional and it is essential that your team be concise, focused and well organized. We always assume that customers will give you far less time to explain your proposition than we do, so make the description of your business concept tight and clear. A well organized, persuasive presentation will convey your sense of purpose and leave us with the desire to get to know your team and your company better.

The best way to sell is to buy so begin the meeting by asking us the questions. A good venture capitalist is a partner and an advocate for the entrepreneur. We can help hire key people, land early customers, and provide useful advice at critical junctures. Ask us about our experience in your industry and explore the value that Highland can provide to your business. Become comfortable with how we operate, the amount of time we can commit to your business, and the availability and origins of our funding. Highland's investment in your company is the beginning of a relationship that can help your company grow and succeed in a very competitive marketplace – but it only works if the fit is good. Like any successful relationship, it has to be built on a foundation of understanding and reasonable expectations.

The first meeting with a venture firm almost invariably lasts 1 1/2 hours. Your presentation should take 30 minutes maximum to deliver without questions. The rest of the meeting should consist of introductions, questions and discussion. The biggest mistake you can make is to try to force an overly detailed and lengthy slide show down an investor's throat. Begin the presentation by asking the participants what they would like emphasized. Bring key members of your team, but in no case more than four people. We will be trying to discern how well you can manage a company; managing a productive and timely meeting is a good indicator. Those management team members who are not speaking should listen attentively to the speaker as if this were their first time hearing the material - even if it's their thirtieth. And everyone should get some air time.

The presentation portion of the meeting should cover the Big Four: Management, Market, Product, Finance. Begin by giving the backgrounds of key management members, from birth. Discuss the market size quantitatively, but more importantly describe the customer need with compelling anecdotal information. The product presentation should not dominate the discussion. A demo can be helpful in explain the concept. Conclude with a brief presentation of your financial performance, projections and capital needs.

Finish the meeting on time. Remember, managing a meeting well is a proxy for managing a company well. And leave something for next time. Ask about next steps and follow-on materials. Naturally, materials can be provided more quickly if they are prepared beforehand. There is little variation in what venture firms will request: detailed management resumes, lists of management references, competitive landscape, lists of reference customers, industry experts, customer or prospect contact information, and competitors.

Never be shy about calling the point venture partner for follow-up feedback. If you call someone five times rather than once, they'll call you back first, either out of guilt or because they get to delete five emails when they call you back. Above all, demonstrate the same kind of organized management over the fund-raising process as you do over the company. Raising capital is not a distraction from the CEO's job, it is a core part of the CEO's job - forever. Dedicate yourself to getting good at it.