Thursday, July 14, 2005

Commandment #7: Limit Yourself to the Baker's Dozen

Commandment #7: Limit Yourself to the Baker's Dozen

Loyal readers who’ve slogged it out with me so far will know that, partly by “tradition”, and partly due to the Hard Stop (Commandment #2), entrepreneurs usually have about an hour to get their message across in the first meeting with a VC (subsequent meetings vary in length).

Loyal readers also will know that entrepreneurs have lots to do to prepare for that first meeting (Commandments #1 and #2) and make it productive (Commandments #3- #10 (#8, #9 and #10 aren’t posted (or written) yet)).

Now, more bad news: entrepreneurs have to do all this in 13 (or fewer) slides.

I know, I know…..sounds impossible, but do the math: You have (roughly) an hour. According to Commandment #2, you should use a few precious minutes to find out “who are all those people”. Let’s say 5 minutes. That leaves 55 minutes, more or less. 13 slides = <5 minutes/slide. Not much time.

Plus, you’ll get questions (in fact, 9 times out of 10, it’s a bad sign if you don’t). This uses up even more of your precious air time (BTW, Commandment #10 (forthcoming) dishes on how to handle questions).

Now, in reality, actual mileage may vary. The “optimal” number of slides in your presentation may not be exactly 13, but the truth is that it can’t be much more than that or bad things happen: (1) you run out of time, (2) you look disorganized or (3) you end up handling the last few slides like one of those radio announcers at the end of a drug ad – speeding through 10 pages of fine print about possible side-effects in 3 seconds. Hard to follow, right?

More constraints: you don’t even really have all 13 slides to explain your business. In every first presentation to a VC, a few slides on stuff other than explaining the business are mandatory: (1) the team, (2) the competition (more on this in forthcoming Commandment #9) and (3) the financial projections. So, you really have about 10 slides to do your thing.

Remember, in the “religion” of getting VC financing, simplicity is a cardinal virtue. Keep this – as well as Commandment #3: Tease, Don’t Overwhelm – in mind.

All this said, we’ve done deals at Mayfield where, despite a lousy initial presentation (takes one to know one; I’m a lousy presenter myself), it was nevertheless clear that the entrepreneur had a great idea. But, is it ever helpful to meet a startup team that has clearly, cleanly and crisply distilled a complicated message down to 13 slides (or fewer).

Following Ten Commandments in only 13 slides is really hard. If you can do it, however, you’ve helped yourself more than you probably know.