Tell Them To Go It Alone: Tag-Team Pitches are Terrible

Adapted from an article originally published by the author in Inc. Magazine.

As a mentor and startup advisor, one of the most common fund-raising questions founders ask you is: can my co-founder and I pitch the company together? I suggest you tell them to strongly resist the temptation. It is a very bad idea. Tell them that some roads are better walked alone. Single person pitching, by the CEO, is always the preferred approach. In the Q&A they can find a role for others, but tell them they should not make a role in the pitch itself. 

Investors Need to See the CEO

In the early days of a start-up, the CEO is the critical face of the company. Over time, the head of sales and other people will help shape the way the company interfaces with the outside world, but at the beginning it is the CEO. She sets the vision, she communicates the story, she sets the tone from the top, she builds the team, she defines the character of the organization. She, as much as anything, is what the investors are investing in at the seed stage. Any pitch time devoted to anyone else is time that the investors cannot use to appraise the CEO. 

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The CEO Has to Demonstrate Mastery of the Whole Story

Given the importance of the role, the CEO needs to demonstrate comfort with the entire process: strategy, technology, team building, marketing, sales and go-to-market, and the business model and revenue model. If the CEO puts other people up there to tell key parts of the story, it begs a natural question: does she have a comfortable handle on those parts?  This is particularly true when presenting the numbers. It is OK to have a CFO back a CEO up, but the CEO has to know the numbers cold and be comfortable and effective in talking about them. 

Speaker Transitions are Distracting

Further, as a practical matter, passing the slide remote back and forth is clumsy. Most pitches are time-limited, and all are attention-limited. Investors are only going to stay engaged for so long. Fumbling with handing the baton back and forth is distracting, breaks the narrative flow, looks amateur, and wastes precious time. 

Intensive Co-Founder Prep is Still Required

Make sure they are forewarned. Even when they relegate co-founder contributions to the Q&A portion of the pitch, they still need to put in intensive prep to avoid land mines. Co-founders need to be very brief and stay on script. Insist that they prep to keep answers short. This helps keep the Q&A cadence high so they can answer more questions. Sometimes co-founders have been bottled up so long they start rambling and over-answer (based on anecdotal evidence, this appears to be particularly true of technical co-founders). It is also important for them to prep their choreography to avoid the pitfall of not knowing who should answer which questions. If they both jump in and talk over each other, people will wonder who is in charge (and why they didn’t prepare better). Similarly, contradicting each other makes people wonder if they are on the same page, covering something up or not being totally forthright. Same with steamrollering over a co-founder trying to answers--it makes people wonder if the CEO is a good manager. 

They Should Have A Plan

In case it is not obvious, the Q&A phase is really tricky business. You need to coach them that the choreography and body language during the team Q&A is critical to a successful outing. Although many CEOs choose to just show up alone (which is always my advice, provided they have a good team slide), there are some advantages to showing off a great team. To make it work to their advantage, they need a plan, and lots of prep to nail the execution. Generally the best plan is for the team to agree that the CEO will take all questions EXCEPT those on specific topics. Then they should agree exactly what the answers to those topics are going to be and practice them until they are fast, tight and on point.

Most good CEOs will agree this advice is common sense. The trick is to convince them to take the time to think everything through before the first pitch. Forewarned is forearmed. If they take the time to create a roadmap, it will detour them around the major potholes. 

About the Author

Seraf Co-Founder Christopher Mirabile is the Chair of the Angel Capital Association and also Co-Managing Director of Launchpad Venture Group. He has personally invested in over 50 start-up companies and is a limited partner in four specialized angel funds. Christopher is a frequent panelist and speaker on entrepreneurship and angel-related topics and serves as an adjunct lecturer in Entrepreneurship in the MBA program at Babson. 

Due to his combination of roles as investor, advisor and angel group leader, Christopher was named among Xconomy's "Top Angel Investors in New England."