How to Pitch Founders: Advice From Top VCs
To get into the hottest deals, VCs must offer value beyond capital. We talked to leading VCs about how they stand out when pitching a founder. Here’s what they had to say.
- Know your value proposition
- Show don’t tell
- Be specific
- Be human
- Share promotional content
- Personalize your pitch
- Be brief
- Don’t be needy
- Move fast
- Be excited
1. Know your value proposition
If you’re not writing a lead-size check, you must be able to provide value to founders in other ways. “Value” as a GP typically comes in a few different forms:
- Expertise in a specific function (growth, recruiting, engineering large-scale systems, etc.)
- Sector / market expertise the team doesn’t possess, or
- A large rolodex / means of distribution for sales / growth.
These value propositions are what separate smaller VCs from larger firms and make them useful to have on the cap table. Founders know exactly who they’ll be working with and how they’ll be able to support.
“My newsletter and podcast give me an unexpected unfair advantage in working with founders. The time I spend researching each post, including the growth and product strategies of the world’s most successful companies, I can directly translate to personalized advice for the founder I work with. I basically spend all of my time studying what works (and doesn't work), and then sharing it with founders.” – Lenny Rachitsky, AirAngels
2. Show don’t tell
Once you’ve stated your value proposition, present a viable narrative that makes your value-add believable. For instance, if you claim to be a product management whiz, explain how you’ve helped some of your portfolio companies develop their product roadmap.
“When I talk to founders over Zoom, I screen share to show them all the ways I can help with growth and I encourage them to brainstorm with me—in real time—to uncover how relevant my experience is to them. If they walk away impressed, they’ll likely let me into the round.” – Julian Shapiro, Julian Capital
3. Be specific
The more specific you can be with a founder on how you’ll provide value, the more believable you’ll seem. Concrete examples and numbers help (e.g., “If you accept my investment, I have a large network of downstream investors, and I will put you in front of at least 20 VCs in the next two weeks as part of my initial value add.”)
“Getting specific about numbers, when you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do, and then actually following up is something that will differentiate you from the sea of venture capitalists who have very hand wavy promises, but disappear the moment they’re expected to do any real work.” – Eric Bahn, Hustle Fund
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4. Be human
Founders want to work with people they enjoy being around. As such, investors shouldn’t be afraid to let their human side shine through. This is another way of personalizing a pitch and differentiating yourself from other investors.
“Do you know how many funds sound the same when you meet them? I try to be totally myself. The truth lies beyond the gloss and glamour. You want a partner who is there for the good and bad. That is what matters.” – Harry Stebbings, 20VC
5. Share content
Compile and share content that familiarizes the founder with your fund and illustrates your value proposition. Share these proof-points prior to meeting so the founder has maximum context.
Examples of content to share:
- Fund website
- Fund one-pager
- Investment thesis
- Diligence process
- Founder testimonials / references
- Blog posts
- Bylined articles
Content also helps VCs passively pitch by educating the market without needing to do outbound.
“At Ganas Ventures, we share information about who we are, what we believe in, how we work, what we do, and how we can help via our website, Notion, Twitter, and my personal newsletter. Providing lots of content means founders often already have a good feel for what we, as a fund, have to offer, before we even sit down. ” – Lolita Taub, Ganas Ventures
6. Personalize your pitch
Your value prop, examples, and content should be tailored to the founder. This means doing some research into what the founder’s needs are so you can structure your pitch accordingly.
“For me it’s a case of crafting my pitch to cater to the founder’s needs with tangible assets. For example, if they need help with building a brand or customer acquisition, I’ll sell all the lessons we’ve learned over 7 years building to 100M downloads for 20 Minute VC. If they need engineering support, I'll sell our ability to be the best switchboard in the world and our access to great product and engineering leaders. I think about my firm’s various value props as the products I have to sell, and my customers are founders.” – Harry Stebbings, 20VC
7. Be brief
VCs should have an elevator pitch for their fund they can use for both live pitching and asynchronous communication. Shortening your pitch forces you to hone in on the parts that matter most. It also shows consideration for founders, who often need to dedicate a considerable amount of time to finding and vetting investors.
“A VC should be able to articulate their investment thesis, value prop, diligence process, and check size in a one-pager or a short email blurb.” – Leo Polovets, Susa Ventures
8. Don’t be needy
Investing in startups may be your primary job, but for most founders it’s a sideshow that distracts from their core responsibility of building their business. A VC can squander the good will they’ve built from a well-delivered pitch if they poke, prod, or otherwise nag the founder without providing any tangible value.
“An investor that writes a check and disappears is far from ideal, but an investor that writes a check then asks to meet up monthly without providing tangible value is far worse. We aim to be as hands on or hands off as our founders prefer, and put trust in them to prioritize their time and focus. That doesn’t mean we’re all ‘pull’—we also ‘push’ suggestions and offer to help proactively but avoid being prescriptive and cognizant of distractions.” – Ryan Hoover, Weekend Fund
9. Move fast
If it’s a hot round, the founders are probably dealing with inbound from numerous VCs. In such a situation, GPs can stand apart by moving quickly and communicating clearly.
“Part of the beauty of small funds is there’s less (or no) red tape. So if you can make a decision after one call, do it. If you’ve offered to put money in and are waiting to see if they’ll give you allocation, be clear about your interest and follow up, but don’t pester or text every day. If you get allocation, sign and wire as soon as you’re able. Kindness and consideration go a long way. Do not add unnecessary work to the founder’s plate.” – Ali Rohde, Outset Capital
10. Be excited
You’re investing because you believe in the founders or are passionate about the problem they’re trying to solve. Let that enthusiasm show. Founders want to feel like you understand them and are fired up about their vision in an authentic way. They should leave the pitch wanting to speak to you again.
“Your ‘why’ is so important. For large funds, the why is often the same: they have dry power and a mandate to invest in founders that seem like good bets. But smaller funds and solo fund managers often have deeper convictions: they’re passionate about the space or want to share their experience with other founders. That innate human desire to help should come across in your pitch.” – Ali Rohde, Outset Capital
Learn to Pitch Founders With Angel Squad
If you’re ready to pitch founders IRL, consider joining Hustle Fund’s Angel Squad. As a member, you’ll have the chance to sit in on real founder pitch meetings with Hustle Fund partners, invest in top Hustle Fund deals, and network with founders, operators, and investors.
To learn more, visit our website.