Stop the Meh Pitches
2 things you must do to get the 'hell yes' or 'hell no'
I may be writing you from France, but that hasn't slowed down the work as founders are closing rounds and frantically preparing for post Labor Day fundraising sprints. I've been speaking with dozens of VCs and investors, diving deep into what's currently working, and further tinkering with the Performative Speaking process to fundraising.
This newsletter is about getting real and not sugarcoating things. Sugarcoating things doesn't do you any good and it's not my style.
The only thing I care about is you getting results. That's it.
Anytime I talk with a founder or begin coaching them the story is simple. The metric I track is a successful fundraise and a founder's ability to take that capital to build billion dollar businesses.
So let's dive into one of the biggest mistakes I see founders (even very experienced founders) make when fundraising and storytelling.
DEEP DIVE: Finding Your Batman
Rob Reiner’s classic 1986 movie Stand By Me is populated by some of the most compelling characters to ever grace the silver screen. You’ve got the plucky Gordie Lachance (Will Wheaton), the brooding Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), the loose cannon Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman).
And then there’s Vern.
Played by the now suave Jerry O’Connell, Vern Tessio is incredibly aggravating. For the entire movie, he’s afraid to make a move, is constantly correcting himself to appear more cool, and tags every suggestion with the refrain: “I don’t know, you guys.” If it was up to Vern, the boys would’ve reported the body to the police and never embarked upon their adventure.
I can’t tell you how many founders I’ve worked with over the years whose pitches sound like Vern wrote them. Their stories are safe, vanilla, and wholly uncompelling.
You might be asking...Robbie what's a safe and vanilla pitch? The sad truth is they are forgotten. But let me walk you through what it sounds like when I hear one.
Founder A: "We saw this problem in the market. People are looking for it to be fixed. I realized that I could solve that problem and it can be an exciting opportunity. We believe this has the potential to be a big business with lots of customers. The market is so big that all we need is 1% of it to be really successful. Our team is great and they want to fix it."
I could fill in the details of dozens of founders who have made virtually this exact pitch.
It's nice. It's safe. It checks the "template" boxes.
But it fails.
Don't blame the investor for passing on this pitch. The founder failed to inspire the investor. They failed to paint the big picture and make this a can't miss opportunity.
This happens a lot because founders want to minimize risk for the investor, so they decide to play it safe. They think by doing so, it will increase the likelihood of the partner investing (this is wrong...so wrong).
The real reasoning, though, occurs on a much deeper, psychological level. According to Psychology Today, the fear of rejection is one of our deepest human fears. We’re biologically wired with a desire to fit in and be accepted by those around us. And when we’re rejected, it confirms an ingrained worry that we’re worthless.
It’s the same reason why risk-taking characters—like the train-dodging Teddy Duchamp—are so appealing to us. A Flickfeast article points out that high-stakes heist movies like Ocean’s Eleven or crime dramas like Silence of the Lambs allow us to feel the rush of endorphins associated with a huge risk’s payoff without fearing the consequences.
But when faced with rejection in the real world, we create these guardrails that protect us so we don’t hear no. We hedge our bets, crafting a story that we hope will be liked by everyone.
The VC tells you something like “I really enjoyed what you had to say today”—and then you don’t hear back from them. And since you never received a firm rejection, you can justify the ghosting. “Something must have come up,” you think, or “maybe it was the market.” Perhaps they’re on vacation or they got slammed—anything to avoid the mental blow of the truth: your pitch just didn’t create the excitement and FOMO needed to get them on board.
Or you hear this dreaded phrase..."come back to us when you have more traction."
The issue is never the traction. Instead it's that the founder failed to make this a can't miss opportunity.
Here are two things you must do when crafting your story:
Accept You’re Not for Everyone
When Gotham City is in shambles, Commissioner Gordon throws up the bat signal.
Who answers the call? Is it The Punisher? Iron Man? The Ninja Turtles? Of course not. While all of these crime fighters could probably help, Gordon’s looking for one superhero whom he believes will protect Gotham best: Batman.
What you’re trying to do with your pitch is create your own bat signal that attracts the perfect investor. You’ve got to realize that you’re embarking on a relationship that’s going to last five-to-10 years. They’re going to be in your life—giving you advice, sending you emails, getting on calls, getting to know your family and team, and vice versa. You want that partner to be someone who believes in the future you see.
But not everyone is going to respond to your bat signal. I can’t stress this enough: THAT’S OKAY! By mellowing out your story in the hopes of attracting more fundraisers, you’re homogenizing what makes you special and unique. When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing nobody. Your view of the future becomes another vanilla vision in their stack of pitches.
Investors want founders who have strong views of the future with an opinionated approach to creating it. They aren't saying you're right, they are saying that IF you're right, the potential is massive.
Lean Into Yourself
Even if you’re not a huge reader, you’ve likely come across the name Chuck Palahniuk a time or two. He’s the guy who wrote Fight Club, the cult novel-turned-Brad Pitt film you’re not supposed to talk about.
After he published Fight Club in 1996, Palahniuk had a hard time finding an agent to represent him. Most found the author odd, his stories too grotesque for publication. “Ugly overkill,” New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin once wrote about Palahniuk’s writing style.
Rather than lighten up on his signature disturbing imagery, Palahniuk leaned into himself. He began throwing out severed plastic limbs and other odd items at his book readings. His stories became MORE gruesome. His 2004 short story, “Guts,” was so graphic and shocking, audience members would faint when they heard it. “Don’t take your foot off the gas until you hear glass breaking,” he once said.
Just as Palahniuk’s authenticity rocketed him to a red-carpet career, so will your dedication to your vision. Palahniuk’s work certainly isn’t for everyone, but he didn’t let that stop him. Neither should you.
When you go into a call with an investor, you’re not looking for them to go, “oh, that was interesting.” You either want them to say, “I’ve GOT to find a way into this deal” or “WOAH, this is definitely not for me.” You want a “hell yes” or a “hell no.”
Let me repeat that because it's that important. You want a HELL YES or a HELL NO.
This means you NEED a point of view. You NEED a perspective. You have to believe that you’re going to plant a flag and say “this is how I see it. This is what’s going to happen.”
Remember: when you’re fundraising, the goal is not to make everyone like you. Sure, they can like you on a personal level, but not like you as a founder in whom they want to invest.
What you’re trying to do is stand up and say, “this is who I am. I’m going to open up my heart and soul and show you want I’m about. I’m going to let you see inside my brain and exactly how I think, and I’m going to let you see with my eyes the vision I have moving forward.”
When you open up those three parts of yourself—heart, brain, and eyes—you’re going to connect with the right investor who wants to back you. And when you team up with that person, the adventure you embark upon together will rival that of the boys in Stand By Me.
RESOURCES for Founders and Storytellers
If rags-to-riches stories inspire you, I’d definitely recommend you take a look at Chuck Palahniuk’s life. He wrote Fight Club while working as a big rig mechanic and has overcome some significant tragedies. As in this Rolling Stone piece from 2005, he’s incredibly candid, vulnerable, and thoughtful in interviews—exactly what you should aspire to be when forming your own story. I’m hesitant to share the short story I mentioned above because it truly is gut-wrenching, but if you’re really that curious, I’m sure a quick Google search would yield what you seek.
It’s no secret we’re operating in a bear market, where reduced valuations are reality. But according to several PR experts, trudging through a down round doesn’t mean you have to circle the wagons. This Tech Crunch article shares several tips about how to announce a down round—and why it’s still important info to publicize.
Congress recently passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes $369 billion for climate and energy policies. This is the largest investment ever in the fight against climate change—and it could mean money for new companies. Check out what CNBC had to say about it here.
A quick ode to Kobe since it was his birthday week.
Kobe was the ultimate competitor and a perfect example for how elite founders look and act. One interesting thing about Kobe is he had 10 rules for life. You can look up all 10 but it's the final one that may surprise you. The one that finished the list because as we've covered, the way you finish is the way people remember you.
Rule 10: Learn Storytelling.
And now for one final Kobe quote that I deeply believe in:
"After all, greatness is not for everyone."
If you're here, I take it that you want greatness and will do what it takes. It's not easy. There are sacrifices. Many of them.
But it's the great ones who change the world forever.
See you next week and feel free to share with those founders chasing greatness.
I work with a small handful of founders to coach them through their fundraising and storytelling. We are highly selective and not cheap to work with. If you're interested to learn more about how we work with venture backed seed through series c founders, you can check it out and apply at the Founder Fundraising Program