Show Don’t Tell – Especially In Video Pitches

Every day I get emails from folks either raising money or telling me about their new idea and asking for feedback.  The conventional wisdom is that VCs rarely invest in things that reach them randomly (or “over the transom” in someone’s VC vocabulary – I can’t for the life of me figure out why that phrase hangs around.)  However, this isn’t the case for us as 10% of the companies we’ve funded in the past two years were initially from “cold call” email inquiries (Brightleaf and Organic Motion).  So – I’m very happy to get a steady stream of random emails – keep them coming!

I’ve noticed a trend toward more video presentations lately.  I looked at one this morning and it reminded me of the old writers adage “show don’t tell.”  This applies nicely to every pitch you ever do.  Specifically, I don’t want to hear you describe what you are going to do, I want to see it.  Or – if it’s not built yet, see an example of it.  It’s always better to point me at a URL, even if it’s a very rough prototype, as I can usually get a much quicker view of what you are doing by simply playing around. 

The video I watched today was a two minute segment of the entrepreneur looking into the camera and describing his business idea.  The idea was fine although I could tell within 15 seconds that it wasn’t something we’d invest in given the market he was going after.  I ended up watching the full two minute video to see if he ever shifted from “tell” mode to “show” mode.  He never did – the two minutes ended and the whole video was the entrepreneur describing his idea. 

In my book, this was a wasted opportunity.  I could have read one paragraph that contained the same content.  The entrepreneur didn’t take advantage of the medium (video) in any way.  While he did a nice job on the monologue, he wasn’t trying out for a TV commercial, a TV show, or a movie.  He missed the goal – get my attention and hopefully get me to engage to the next level.

For most of the great VCs I know, the way an entrepreneur makes a connection when there is no pre-existing relationship is to generate an immediate interest with the product.  That’s what happened for us in the case of Brightleaf and Organic Motion.  The entrepreneurs were highly credible, but more importantly we immediately got excited about their products, which caused us to be more interested in going deep and exploring an investment.

This is a repeating theme that for some reason isn’t said strongly enough.  The great entrepreneurs (and sales people) “show”.  Just think of how Steve Jobs does it.  Show me!

  • lpl9

    You write that CW re. VC investment choices does not hold for your firm on the basis that two of twenty companies funded reached you cold.

    But I don't think that statistic makes your point, at least not from the POV of the entrepreneurs!

    To give the figure meaning, you need to also reveal the sizes of the pools from which you selected these firms. Two firms from how many cold calls? Eighteen firms from how many introductions/referrals/etc?

  • I’m not sure your assertion is true.  I think it’s a relative measure (e.g. 2 out of 20 investments) that matters.  That said, we spend time with less than 1% of the stuff we see (per our desire to “say no in 60 seconds – see… and we invest in less than 1% of what we spend time with.

    • Brad, I am not so sure about the comparison. Videos engages additional senses…i.e sight and auditory and impacts more on the audience.

  • Hey Brad, I think video-pitches are much better on the receiving end because you (the viewer) are in control of when, how and how fast you watch the video. I've did it once for a Seattle 2.0 event last year to solicit sponsors and it was a 9min video describing everything. It saved me tons of coffees and viewers were able to get a much better sense of what the event was about than any DOC or PPT could ever do.

    Beyond that, I have a question for you: what kind a tool you see people sending you video? Do they send the video file directly to you? Or do they post to some sharing website? A concern would be privacy.

  • I like text better because I read so quickly but agree that if the video is well done it’s useful also.  I don’t really care what the format is – I’m fine with Youtube, or password protected on Vimeo, or Dropbox links.  Whatever.

  • Max Lybbert

    It sounds to me like the person making the video has been infected by MySpace.

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  • Brad,

    If an entrepreneur, like me, has pitched to you in the past and you said "no", how often, if at all, are you willing to grant another "hearing" some time later.

    I'm thinking of situations where the first pitch you hear is too early and it's not interesting to you but later, after the entrepreneur has morphed and/or matured the idea, it may have developed and things may have changed enough for you to be in a position to have finding interest.

    Bottom line: Are you open to hearing a "re-pitch"? 🙂


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  • FYI:there's the end of a parentheses on teh URL and it doesnt work to just click.… so here it is b/c it is definitely worth a reread.

  • Brad,____I am a bit astounded by your comment that you 'spend time' with one percent of the ideas you are pitched and invest in one percent of those you research.____Doing the math that means you see 10,000 deals to invest in a single one? So you spend over four weeks every year just on those one minute reviews to find a single investment?____If you spent an average of just three hours on researching those hundred finalists you could tie up another two months. Seems as each partner would only be able to manage two investments per year assuming he spent six months out of the year with existing investments, going to conferences and vacations. Have I got this right?

  • Well – a lot of the first 1% get rejected in less than 60 seconds – including the email that I write back which usually consists of one sentence.  While your 1 in 10,000 is directionally correct, I don’t spend anywhere near three hours on each of the next 1%.  I reject most of them within 10 to 30 minutes.  Once I’ve spent more than 30 minutes with something, it shifts into a new category.  So the bottoms up math doesn’t really work.That said, I only make about two new investments each year.  As a firm (four partners) we make between six and eight investments a year.  So that side of the math is correct.

  • I like text better because I read so quickly but agree that if the video is well done it’s useful also. I don’t really care what the format is – I’m fine with Youtube, or password protected on Vimeo

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  • I wish you could give me an example of how this entrepreneur could have better "shown" you. What would you have wanted to see?

  • Firstly thanks for the nice post detailing what the VCs are actually focusing on. I had the impression that we entrepreneurs are suppose to do a short pitch on the ideas we have. This really opens my eyes to using videos first to catch the attention of the VCs and then to "show" the stuffs in the video for a power packed punch! 🙂 Thanks!

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