By Giovanni Nani
For entrepreneurs looking to raise an early stage round of funding (i.e. seed and series A), there is plenty of good advice available on how to pitch and position a start-up. But, when it comes to pitching a scale-up business to raise later stage growth capital, the resources publicly available to CEOs to help you prepare for that process are somewhat scarce.
Pitching for late stage funding is different. The Company is at a different stage of development, and late stage Investors look for different signs of potential. Understanding the process and getting the pitch right (e.g. the narrative, the metrics, the deck, etc.) is critical. These need to be tailored from stage to stage to factor in the specific audience requirements. That does not mean writing a pitch that over-caters to investors, rather adjusting it to ensure it speaks their language with the appropriate tone of voice and focus on key topics.
At Frog we are a specialist scale-up investor. We meet hundreds of companies and listen carefully to their pitches. As part of our Scale-up Methodology, we work closely with CEOs and management teams through the entire process to support them in pitching their scale-up businesses for future fundraising rounds.
While I was at J.P. Morgan and Arma Partners, I worked with many growth stage and mature tech companies to raise funding or to sell their business. I learned that each project is unique and even experienced CEOs and management teams of large businesses often benefit (or require) professional coaching and preparation to get the pitch right.
Some elements of a good pitch are universal, but zoom in on the later stage fundraising and you’ll see there are some key pitfalls to avoid. The following six considerations will help ensure your pitch resonates with growth investors:
Ask yourself, “How can I make it easy for them to make an investment decision?”
Growth stage investors will be listening for different things than early stage investors. While their equation for building conviction around an investment may have the same variables (i.e. team, market, traction, etc.), their coefficients are often different. A pitch that reflects the growth stage investor’s mindset will make it easier for that investor to assess the opportunity.
Often later stage investors have a corporate finance / professional investing background, whereas earlier stage investors are more likely to have operational / start-up experience. Their diverse backgrounds will likely influence their expectations and investment mindset. It goes without saying, the numbers (e.g. scale, growth, margins, ROI, etc.) will be of greater importance at the later stage.
Speak from an investment point of view, not just a sales point of view
At Frog, we often collaborate with Benjamin Ball from Benjamin Ball Associates to provide coaching to our portfolio and hone pitches for fundraising. He says that “one of the biggest mistakes we see is that founders or CEOs pitch to investors as if they were selling a product. It is important they realise that investors have different needs than a customer and they require a completely different pitch.”
At the early stage, it is more typical to be pitching directly to the decision maker. At the growth stage, it is normal that you will meet multiple partners and that the deal sponsor will have to present to an investment committee multiple times before an investment is completed.
The Company Story
Don’t just update a Series A deck
In an interview, Bill Reichert, Managing Director at Garage Technology Ventures, says the fundamental difference between early stage and late stage pitching is this: selling a dream vs. selling an operating company and your ability to execute your plans. The experience gained in raising seed and Series A rounds is certainly valuable, but the differences of what is expected at Series B or later must be well understood.
The set of numbers, metrics and evidence that a later stage investor will want to see is greater. History and track record are key to demonstrating sustainable growth potential.
Master your KPIs and use them to underpin your narrative
Expect more data driven discussions and more “difficult”, forensic questions. Late stage investors will look to be convinced by data at a more granular level, not just by the bigger picture vision.
Demonstrating a keen handle of KPI monitoring helps create a sense of control. Investors will want to see that you have got the discipline of having a metrics dashboard in place for several quarters and they will expect you to be tracking against specific performance metrics. Demonstrating milestones achieved (those set during the Series A for example) and setting clear future milestones to work towards will help build your case.
Ultimately, investors are looking for proof points that the money going in at the scale-up stage is really about accelerating the growth of the company and it is not about proving product-market fit.
Leverage your key assets
If you are raising a later stage funding round, most likely you will have an existing set of investors onboard already. Leverage their knowledge and experience, A/B test with them, get input and feedback.
For a company at the scale-up phase, you are typically expected to have senior management team in place (or at least an initial form of it). Carefully choose the team around you that will support you in the presentations and will attend meetings. That should typically reflect the way that the company is run day to day.
Do not underestimate the power of simplicity in your investment story
As with any pitch, preparation is paramount. Be honest, be realistic (yet ambitious) and be frank about challenges, and focus on simple clear messages. In Benjamin Ball’s experience, a big challenge for many CEOs is that they are so close to their business that they end up making it difficult for investors to understand what is truly important that will drive success.
Because scale-up businesses are more complex due to history and size, it becomes more difficult to keep the story simple and clear. Keep the pitching muscles well trained between funding rounds; that way you won’t lose the clarity and simplicity of your key investment story when time comes to raise a growth round.
Resilience is key to long-term value creation, and that is why it is fundamental element in Frog’s Scale-up Methodology. Supporting CEOs and their teams to navigate growth funding rounds is central to the way we engage and add value to our partner companies. It’s important to reflect on the six tips above to prepare for your next round of growth stage funding. Because, delivering a compelling pitch that resonates with growth investors will help you to deliver the resources required for your long-term journey.