You are not your pitch deck. You are not your perfectly manicured excel bar chart showing just that magical inflection point where your growth turns into a hockey stick. And you are not your minimum viable product. You are you. And that’s exactly the point.
In my position at Reach for Change where I manage an incubator for eleven outstanding Swedish social entrepreneurs, I hardly go a day without someone trying to pitch me on their new social venture (unfortunately for them they often start pitching in Swedish, rather than English, until they realize I speak worse Swedish than their five year old son). It puts me in a position I am truly humbled and honored to be in — one where people seek to share their passion, their ideas and their vision with me. And it’s not a position I take lightly.
And it’s exactly because of this position, where I get to see the best and the worst of pitches coming my way, that I have learned the most important lesson for changemakers preparing for investment or acceleration: please just be yourself.
I remember last Autumn I struggled through the most uncomfortable pitch of my life. She stood 9 inches away. She locked her eyes so tightly onto mine I was worried she would see all the way through to my temporal lobe. And for three minutes, she didn’t take a breath, didn’t talk in an ‘inside voice’ and simply rattled off fact after fact for why her health product would change the world. Truth be told, it was a pretty good idea. But the entire time she was staring deep into my occipital nerves, all I could think about is “wow, I think she might actually be a robot.” She was not someone I could imagine developing a professional relationship with (and even if we did, I would still fear she might actually turn into the Terminator at some point during our incubator).
At Reach for Change, we always make a point of showcasing the people in whom we invest — not simply the names of their organization. And in fact as we weigh the variables that make us likely to invest in a social entrepreneur, their personal characteristics play a huge role. Are they brave? Are they smart? Are they passionate? It’s a platitude much easier to accept on the investor side of the table than on the entrepreneur side (I know now as I’ve been on both!): ideas are easy, it’s the execution that’s hard (and besides, even that perfectly perfect idea will change drastically from conception to reality).
When we invest in social entrepreneurs with our time, our resources and our energy, we want to make sure those resources go to the best individuals possible. I trust that if we choose the right people, the right results will follow. And, selfishly, I want to work with people that are humans worth being around. On a great episode of the podcast This Week in Startups, Jason Cancanis interviewed three awesome incubator founders: Tumml CEO Clara Brenner, Highway1 CEO Brady Forrest, and RockHealth CEO Halle Tecco. All three agreed that they had strict ‘no assholes’ rules when it came to investing, and Clara specifically pointed out that she doesn’t have to give money to anyone, so when she does it’s because it’s someone with whom she wants to work. She’s exactly right — life is too short to be around self-centered or fake people.
I remember the first time I met the talented social entrepreneur Elin Wernqvist Roberts, the CEO of Barnsrättsbyrån at the Swedish political festival Almedalen. We met because she wanted some advice on how to successfully navigate the transition from a larger organization to a social enterprise startup. And though most social entrepreneurs with such a captive audience would have taken the opportunity to pitch their sculpted problem, solution, market opportunity pitch trifecta, our conversation under the Swedish summer sun was just that: a conversation. To be clear, we ended up investing in her because her idea to support some of the most vulnerable children in Sweden is a brilliant and much needed one, and her execution has been inspiring. But it’s that human connection that gave me confidence she was a person with whom we wanted to work.
Another example of the power of being human came at an evening pitch and mingle event we held for prospective applicants for our incubator. One entrepreneur truly stood out — not for his pitch, but for what he was doing between pitches. He was getting to know everyone else in the room, asking their stories and taking a genuine interest in them as people. By the end of the event, he had introduced potential partners, connected fellow collaborators and offered to help a number of fellow changemakers. In Adam Grant’s book Give and Take, he perhaps counterintuitively, but successfully, argues that it’s those that prefer to give more than they get that end up succeeding over ‘takers’ who always put their own needs first.
With money, recognition and support on the line with a pitch, it’s all too easy to feel pressure to be a taker. But trust me, the more you can just be a thoughtful, helpful, giving person, and step away from hyper pitch mode for a bit, the more likely you are to get the money and connections you need.
Because, in the end, you are not your pitch deck.