How to Impress Investors

So many good ideas. So little money. And so few entrepreneurs with the know-how to get the attention of the investors they need.

As someone who recently had the opportunity to act as a mentor for entrepreneurs and a deal screener for investors at an angel investors summit, I was struck by how many applicants were looking for funding but came in with very little knowledge of how to prepare a presentation for the investors they wanted to impress.

First, how propitious is your idea? It's true what they say -- timing IS everything. If it's not the right time or right place, you could hit a wall. It's up to you to do enough initial market research to present your case and to make sure your research sources are credible and reliable. Don't pitch an eager investor an idea that is past its time unless you want to see the back of his or her head. If you want to introduce an old idea, make sure to innovate or create a mash-up compelling enough to repackage for presentation.

Although most of the entrepreneurs came to the summit armed with a business plan of some type, many failed to provide an executive summary. If you're serious about your business idea, you must be able to produce the materials and answers the investors expect to see and hear.

This, of course, begs the question, "What does an investor look for?" The big picture is simple. Investors look for success -- a better-than-good chance on their investment.

But what do they want to see at the moment just past the idea's inception? They want to see not only a plan, but also your personal commitment to the plan. Here are three reasons an investor may walk away:

  1. You have no plan to work in and run the business. At least at the startup phase, investors want to know you will be an integral part of your business. If you are looking for all the glory with no investment of your time and energy, they may walk away.  
  2. You approach them without 10,000 hours of industry experience. Most of the deals I explored at the summit were from people who did not have actual industry experience. According to research reported in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, you need about 10,000 hours of experience in your business's industry. If you personally don't have it, have someone on your team who does.  
  3. You express an unwillingness to put your own money into the idea. When you only seek ways to use other people's money, you may be seen as a wheeler-dealer to be avoided instead of a serious businessperson. Show them you have and are willing to invest some of your own "skin" in the game.

And any investor worth his or her salt will ask about the other people you plan to bring to the team. Often, owners think they represent the key management team. But one of the most important business value drivers is having a key management team in place. You may not need it today, but have a plan to use in the future -- and to impress a would-be investor.

Remember, business owners must strive to create a win-win situation for themselves and investors. Everyone involved is taking a risk on your ideas. Here are tips for decreasing that risk:

  1. Have a clear business model. Only one out of 10 deals I reviewed had a solid business model. There are three components of a business model: 1) the owner's passion and business purpose -- ideally equaling what the customer is willing to pay you 2) core competency of key processes and key resources and 3) economic engine or profit formula, which includes a plan for diversifying revenue sources.  
  2. Tell investors how they will capitalize on an investment in your company. For the most part, when you ask for funding, it is about selling your idea. So let your investors know what's in it for them. Share how you are going to make money for your investors.  
  3. Have a specific go-to-market plan. Most people talk about their plan but fail to be specific. Both your investors and you need to know how you are going to introduce your products or services into your market.  
  4. Have a specific profit formula and predictable profits illustrated for the next 12 to 18 months. Make sure you show the return on investment. Although it's just a projection, you should demonstrate that you know your goals before you start.

Everything doesn't have to be perfect for you to find funding, but you have to show you are serious about making your business idea work by putting in the effort to create a complete plan. The amount of work, research and thought you put into your business plan will speak volumes to potential investors.