Having the right team and a strong mission, vision, and set of core values are the key to building trust, credibility, and traction with investors as described by a Matter of Trust: How to Build Brand Credibility That Earns Traction and Funding panel during a Startup Boston Week 2020. The 3-step process is simple yet often overlooked and includes:
People first – hire the best team.
Qualifications – articulate why the team is uniquely qualified.
Customer challenges – demonstrate why the team cares and can solve customer challenges.
Start with your team.
Your Team is Key
The most important thing investors are looking for is a good team and it is often not given the deserved attention. In most pitch decks, the team is buried in the back, but according to Sara Hodges, Partner at Pillar VC, it is absolutely the most critical component of your startup and the investors you are trying to attract. “Think about your story, your experience, and why you are uniquely qualified along with your team.” She said, “Emphasize this upfront as one of your main selling points.”
Many founders undervalue their people. They must learn early on that surrounding yourself with the right team is critical to success. According to Christian Jones, Founder of Neil Creative, “You can have the best idea in the world, but without the right team, it may not work. On the other side,” he added. “A mediocre idea and a great team will win every time.”
Investors see a lot of lackluster pitch decks and founders need to differentiate by showcasing their team, mission, vision, and core values; and crucially how their product is of value to the marketplace. Show investors that you understand how to execute for success and how to execute on your value promise.
Align Your Brand and Online Presence
As with any business, your brand, online presence, and pitch deck should reflect your mission, vision, and core values. However, the design of your website depends on where you are in your business model and who you plan to target. Christian Jones suggests that you design with the customer in mind so investors can see that you’re in business and putting your theory into practice.
“Branding may not be the fun part to founders, but it is necessary. Christian Jones said. “your mission, vision, and core values will stand up, be unwavering and build a culture that allows employees to activate around a common message and goal. Every decision must tie into your mission, vision, and core values.”
Investors want to see a cohesive message and you need to make sure you align with what the investors are looking for. Rebecca Obounou, Social Innovation at MIT PKG Public Service Center says: “If you don’t focus on an area of interest to the investor, you may not land what you want.”
Everyone Has Something to Say
Another side of starting a new business is that your friends, relatives, family, investors, and many others want to give advice. The panelists agreed to be wary of these often well-intended suggestions. “Make sure you know what is aligned with your vision and don’t let people sway you on that,” said Mary Imevbore, Co-Founder & CEO of Waeve, Inc, “Make sure you stay true to what you know and your mission.”
Christian Jones added that you should take what you need and ignore what you don’t: “Understand how to stay rooted by understanding your fundamental elements to help you from getting lost in the advice. Understand your why and how suggestions align with your why. If not, be careful.”
Everyone agreed that while founders need funding to succeed, not all money is good money. The bottom line is to walk away if suggestions do not align with your “why.” Do not change your ways just for money.
Creating your Pitch Deck – Less is More
Investors have busy schedules, lots of meetings, and plenty of good opportunities. Founders must recognize this and quickly build rapport. Tell the story concisely and compellingly, and explain why you have the right qualifications. From there, remain focused on what challenges or challenges you want to solve. When pitching, do not use a lot of slides and leave plenty of time for questions. Investors will form impressions in the first few minutes, and you will need to be crystal clear and tight in your pitch. If you have 30 minutes, use 10 minutes to present your team, qualifications, and product and leave the rest for questions. Let the conversation evolve through investors’ inquiry.
Founders must create a solid first impression, differentiate their business, and address investor’s interests. Many founders hastily put together pitch decks without thinking about the importance of the brand and its alignment to the mission, vision, and core values. A misalignment could send the wrong signal to investors.
Rebecca Obounou said “Don’t over-rely on slides…share a story about the gain or what challenge you are solving in 30 seconds or less and leave time for investors to ask more questions to show them you know your stuff. Save details for the appendix.”
It is best to be customer obsessive. Many times, founders invest so much time in their idea, they become inappropriately emotionally attached. It can be a risky position especially if you lose sight of customer needs.
Christian Jones reminds us that we should not get caught up in the pretty stuff. You don’t need a logo at the start. Focus on the business side. The logo is only a representation of your business and can be fine-tuned later in the process.
“Your logo is like trying to create a word without a definition.” Christian Jones said. “Build your business and define why you are here, what you are trying to build, and how you can be of value to the market. The market will be right every time.”
Networking is an important part of your business plan—and not easy! The best networkers make conversation natural. It’s where you ask questions of potential collaborators, listen, and demonstrate an understanding of their needs. Focus on building a relationship rather than talking about your business or asking for money.
“A web of relationships and community is critical,” Sarah Hodges said, “Some of the best relationships start with you giving and being open and not making the conversation transactional.”
Rebecca Obounou agreed with building a bond first. “Let’s move away from the word networking and call it relationship building.” She said. “Networking doesn’t build your network. Building authentic bonds and letting it grow from there works much better.”
Mary Imevbore offered a good strategy: to just talk with people. It’s how her startup became a reality. “Just start talking with people,” she said. “We had this idea and started speaking with anyone who would listen. People love to talk about themselves and we found through chatting that there was this need: we defined a new category and started the business.”
Christian Jones added that it’s all about building trust and credibility. Demonstrate an understanding of their needs and barriers—no one wants to be sold something. They want to be helped. Figure out how you can help people and build that into the conversation, and you will build that trust. Start small and make it scalable.
Rebecca Obounou adds that making friends and building relationships are important building blocks. “Reach out to family and friends and use them to test samples. Create a list of keywords they use to describe the product. It’s like a simple ‘dirty’ beta test to determine your minimum viable product (MVP). Use their feedback to develop the brand and even build out your product.”
Be the Solution
“ROI is a social investment,” Rebecca Obounou said. “Startups need to start with the social impact on people first. I cannot stress enough that we should start with the people who are impacted the most and enroll them in your process.”
Founders need to think about how they build credibility, build bonds with people, customers and investors as well as build a strong pitch deck that communicates, mission, vision, and core values and how your product will solve a specific marketplace. If you can, the credibility and trust will be strong, and investors will want to be part of your journey.