Adrián Fernandez de Mendoza Ibarra
Director Payment Acceptance Network
Banco Azteca


Expert Contributor

Do's and Don’ts When Pitching Your Startup

By Adrián Fernandez de Mendoza | Mon, 07/11/2022 - 09:00

The year: 1991. I was a straight A student, and had been from elementary to high school. At the end of 10th grade (or tercero de secundaria), I had 14 assignments and I got 13 A+(!) and one A. I was proud. I could not wait to tell my mom.

2:10 pm. The bell rang and I ran as fast as could to meet her. “Look mom! I did it!” I yelled as I threw my report card at her. She picked it up, scanned through it, raised her eyebrow and said, with a mellow yet cold-as-ice voice: “What happened with that A?” Boom, roasted and scarred for life.

That day, my mom gave me, involuntarily, one of the hardest yet most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned: It’s never enough and not everybody will value things as you do.

Fast forward 30 years. I’ve always worked for established companies and I joined Endeavor as a mentor on the tech vertical eight years ago and now I’m part of 0bs (Zero Bulls--t), a founder-friendly VC fund in Mexico. My role is to select pitches from startups and decide with my partners who presents and eventually where we invest our money.

I love the “entrepreneurial” ecosystem. Lots of good vibes, high-fives and excitement. But sometimes, I looked at decks that made no sense (at least for me) and the more money the company lost, the more the audience celebrated the “bravery and ambition” of the founder.

I remembered the fable of The Emperor’s New Clothes and hated to be the party pooper, so I kept the feedback to myself. But at the end of the day, we did end up doing the right thing and not investing. So, why not give the founders the raw feedback, so they can adapt, change or pivot?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a true optimist. But sometimes, I get tired of celebrating the new unicorn of the week. Aren’t you a bit intrigued to look under the hood of these multibillion-dollar scale-ups? Are they getting the feedback they need to improve their unit economics, customer experience or product roadmap? Or is it only high-fives during fancy dinners while celebrating new cash inflows and stratospheric valuations?

After seeing hundreds of decks and pitches, I have some recommendations. Are you ready for some tough pills to swallow? Grab a glass of water and let’s get to it:

1. The first two minutes (three tops): We have a short attention span, deal with it. We live in a world where entertainment is now six-second videos (thanks TikTok) and we think people will listen to us for 60 minutes and 35 slides. Wrong.

Work on your first two to three minutes (startup incubators are great at training their founders to do this, even watch Shark Tank for ideas) and two to three initial slides. Your funding and your listeners will appreciate it.

2. Nobody cares as much as you do:At least now. Founders are naturally very excited about their startup (they better be) but wrongly assume everybody should be. Big mistake.

You’ve been around your idea for a long time and it is unfair to newcomers. Walk them (briskly) through the problem you are tackling and how your company addresses it. Put some (market) numbers on top, and voilá, you’ve gained some fans.

3. Avoid that right-top quadrant: Take a humble-pill and avoid putting your company logo on the market landscape chart, three times bigger than the competition and in the top far right. It says to the audience: nobody has figured it out but me. Cocky.

Of course, you have to dream big and shoot for the stars but even Uber started by trying to be a town-car service with a driver to impress a girl after a night of drinks in San Francisco and avoid a DUI.

4. High energy, please: Don’t have the facial expression of Kanye West (or now Ye). Show your excitement about your idea and be contagious!

Inclusive disclaimer: Not every founder must be an ultra-outspoken-mini-Andrew Newman to capture the room and enroll devoted followers but passion can be transmitted in different ways (detailed information, stories, metrics and images, for example). Or grab a Red Bull. Or two. People can confuse low-energy presenters with lack of commitment or potential.

5. Good listener ≠ Being “weak”: Now that we are addressing the big alpha (fe)male founders who intimidate and charm everybody in the room (at the same time), pitching does not have to be a one-way road: you should be able to communicate and to listen attentively. I’ve often heard: “He/She is great but I doubt he/she will listen and that can be dangerous.”

6. More Nos than Yeses: This is definitely not VC-related. This is life. I always recall this phrase by Michael Jordan: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

And be graceful when rejected. A few weeks back, we got an email at 0bs from a founder of a rejected pitch calling us a “fraud” because we passed on his deck. So sad to read. We wished him the best (and he still blurted more curses).

Life is not about enjoying the highs but enduring the lows. A quote that I love from a 70-plus-year-old IG influencer who shares pieces of advice while trekking: “Friendly reminder: You are not for everyone. That's OK. Everyone is not for you. That’s OK.”