How to Pitch a VC

Pitches are for script writers, movie producers, or ad agencies. Nobody starting a company should, in the dreadful vernacular, “pitch a VC.” Really smart founders know they are selecting business partners for the next five to 15 years. In meetings with prospective partners, founders should be buying as much as selling.

Silicon Valley teems with investors. Yet for startups there are not many true long-term business partners. Part-timers can get into 50 or 60 companies a year, and others can pile in when the risk has evaporated. That’s not hard. Selecting and working with founders determined to build market leading companies that can prosper 10 to 30 years from now is different—and very difficult.

First, founders should figure out whether a prospective partner has done his homework. It’s a bad sign if he is unprepared. More importantly, founders should wonder how he can help with the four things a company needs: people, customers, money, and longevity.

The most crucial task is landing the first dozen engineers. They form the startup’s DNA. The founder should be asking whether a business partner can help land customers or distributors, because nobody wants to take a risk with an unproven product and company. Today, customers can be all over the world. Little companies no longer have the comfort of anonymity. Open a website and copycats from Kurdistan to Peru spring into action. Founders should find local partners who act global. Every Silicon Valley company worth its salt will eventually sell more abroad than at home. As for longevity, enduring companies have a long private phase, a sunny (perhaps) IPO moment, and the hurly-burly of being public. The best founders adjust to all three phases, as do the best partners. Founders may want to figure out whether potential partners are on their game. Do they work hard? Do they answer e-mail? Do they deliver on promises, or are they just about money? Founders should ask, “What do you really think?” Anyone who can’t give a straight answer is a joker.

As for us, our needs are simple. We’re just looking for those rare, authentic people who know a lot about something and mean what they say—not the phonies or pretenders. We’re listening intently to the ideas being expressed. Religions were started with the power of the word. So were the greatest businesses. All we seek are a few people with the real stuff.

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