by Wendy Tokunaga
A few months ago my husband quit his job to start his own business. He’s helped co-found a couple of companies before, but with this one it’s just him and his partner, who is located in a different state. So this is an exciting and important time. I want to help him as much as I can, but I’m not directly involved in the business. His industry is medical imaging, where he has many years of experience. I’ve worked in a few tech startups in the past in an editorial capacity, but I don’t have any expertise in my husband’s industry. I haven’t been sure how much help I can provide him in this new venture other than to give emotional support.
One way to get money to run the company is to tap venture capital (VC) funders or “angel” investors. We live in the heart of Silicon Valley so there are many such funders in the area. My husband started to devise a slide presentation to explain what his company does to prepare to pitch to VCs and investors. I had him practice in front of me.
To be honest, the presentation was much too long, rather dull and full of technical jargon the average person wouldn’t understand. I could comprehend very little of what he was saying. Something struck me immediately: he needed to use much simpler, to-the-point-language, leave out all the extraneous details and clearly describe the problem that his product solves and its benefits. He needed to tell it like a concise, compelling story. It was then that I realized that some of my expertise could help him. This was not unlike writing a query letter or pitching a novel to an agent. And this was a lot like the editorial service I’ve provided at writers conferences where I listen to an author’s pitch and tell her how to break it down so it’s short, sweet and compelling enough, with just the right amount of plot details and character motivations to make an agent sit up, take notice and request the full manuscript.
And it turns out that when you’re giving an initial business pitch, you’re not allowed to use Power Point. You must relay it in a two-minute speech. You can even do “speed dating” with investors. This, of course, is very familiar to me—how many times had I done speed dating with agents when I was pre-pubbed?
My husband and I attended a “Shark Tank” investors pitch event just to see how this operates and it was quite eye opening. A lot of people had the same problem—they didn’t know how to effectively explain their business in two minutes. The ones who were chosen to meet with VCs had their pitch down.
So I was able to give my husband some good advice on his pitch. And a few days later we went together to a pitch workshop and I was validated to hear the facilitator give largely the same advice. Why would a VC even think to fund you if you can’t give a compelling story about your product and clearly explain in jargon-free language what it’s about and why it’s worth his while? It’s the same with an agent.
My husband is blogging about his experience starting up his startup. You can read about his adventures here: http://rerereboot.blogspot.com/
Wendy Tokunaga is a novelist, creative writing teacher and manuscript consultant. Find out more about her at her website www.WendyTokunaga.com and find her on Twitter at @Wendy_Tokunaga