5 Lessons Learned on Pitching from Industry Leaders

Social Media Week

I had a great time hosting a 7×7 Mentoring Salon for SMW in February. I’m just now catching up with the video, which you can see here. See the panel profiles here.

7×7 Mentoring Salons give people actionable advice to advance their career. I get together seven experienced leaders and seven up-and-coming professionals/entrepreneurs for a chance to have an advisory panel. Over the next few weeks I will share the seven questions asked and the mentors answers .

The first question is about how to overcome bias in pitching. I think the key takeaway is that if you are truly excited about your idea, you will eventually find your “pitch charming” but you may have to kiss a lot of frogs to find the one who sees you for what you are worth. Call it pushy or call it purposeful, assertive and excited…keep pitching positive.

Issue #1: Pitching vs. Pushing

Rachel Cook is a former futures trader, producer/director of the film The Microlending Project, and founder and CEO of Seeds. Seeds enables people to make microloans through mobile games, channeling the massive number of women who game into support for entrepreneurs, largely women, in developing countries. They launched their first partner game in January and see no reason why they can’t build micro-gaming in to every game in the world.

She and her team have raised $200K to date and they’re in the process of a second raise. During the fund raising process, they have run up against some feedback on being too aggressive or pushy versus the need to be more humble.

Rachel’s question.

I want to hear about how others have navigated fund raising when dealing with mostly male investors, accelerators and MDs. I have the sense that there’s an invisible hurdle in the space that is specific to female founders and I’d love to hear insight from others on how to successfully close.

A1. People invest in people. Leverage the people who have invested in you.

People don’t invest in good ideas. People invest in people who can execute good ideas. I find through my coaching and training that women are often excellent at selling and pitching ideas but bad at selling and pitching ourselves as leaders. So that’s an important part of the process. Then I would advise leveraging the people who made the initial investment because it’s those people who can make a really strong case for why other people should invest. They are already a part of the village. Lastly, get coaching from a resource like Levo League or other young women who have raised. — Tiffani Dufu, Chief Leadership Officer at the Levo League


A2. Don’t conform to the bias…be yourself.

It’s likely that part of that response is a function of behavioral norms. You are taking on somewhat male characteristics rather than conforming to a more communal female role. There are a lot of underlying subtleties and the complexities.

Erika Trautman, CEO of Rapt Media wrote a post about what she learned about “gender bias after pitching to 200 VCs”. She found that while there are biases on the other side of the table, you have to realize you’re not going change them individually. To adapt yourself to the other side is probably not the right thing to do. Ultimately you have to be yourself and find investors who accept yand respect you for what you are. — Adam Quinton, CFO at NopSec Inc.


A3. Don’t over-focus on the negative comments.

We tend to take the negative comments we get as the truth. Even if you’ve had positive responses in the past, that one negative comment sits with you and you stew on it and start wondering, “Am I doing something wrong?” So are you really hearing that comment over and over again…or was it just this one guy? If it was just one guy—to Adam’s point—there’s probably other things happening. You made him feel uncomfortable and his reaction was to tell you that you were being overly aggressive. If it’s just one person don’t change anything about what you’re doing. I would monitor your feedback and if you get that response again then think about how to change your pitch. But one comment isn’t enough to change the whole way that you’re doing things. Jessica Lawrence, Executive Director of NY Tech Meetup


A4. You’ll hear a lot of odd responses, but keep pushing…pushy is good.

You can’t take every single “no” personally. Sometimes it comes from a bias. Sometimes it’s not a valid point. Everyone has different opinions. Throughout fundraising, you’re going to hear a lot of very odd responses. Some of them are valid, some of them aren’t, and that happens for both men and women.

Another thing is that great entrepreneurs aren’t always fantastically great people to work with, right? They tend to have somewhat contentious relationships…because they are pushy. They are aggressive. So don’t change that. Look at the people you want to work with — the investors, the co-founders, the staff — and find the people who will value that in you. Don’t change yourself based on an individual response. You will find there are a lot of investors who will want pushy, who will want to see that in you. That’s a very valuable asset. — Taylor Davidson, Director of kbs+ Ventures


Q5. Push isn’t pushy when it is combined with passion and focus.

You were a successful trader and what made you successful as a trader was that you were pushy. And what allowed you to get a film produced when you were 24 years old is that you were pushy. So you need to remember that is a strength. So maybe sometimes you are pushy…but that has allowed you to get lots of things done at a very young age.

The other thing I would tell you, from my experience, is that I’ve noticed that sometimes when I’m pushy—it’s because I want someone to approve me. I’m trying to measure up. I’m needy. On the other hand, I’ve noticed that when other people are excited about what they’re doing because it’s the most wonderful thing ever – I never think they’re pushy at all. So consider a quick reframe and say, “Okay. I’m just excited about this and I want you to hear about this.” — Whitney Johnson, thought leader personal disruption, author of Dare Dream Do

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